PHILLIPPA YAA DE VILLIERS
An urgency to action
What I love about Danyela Dimakatso Demir’s critique of Our Words, Our Worlds, is its thoroughness, its enthusiasm and its respect. This groundbreaking anthology is a feat of immense importance, and just one of Makhosazana Xaba’s wonderful legacies.
I am not one for debate when it comes to poetry. Because I’m deeply implicated, I have discovered over the 20 years that I’ve been involved in the scene, that little is to be gained from entertaining conflicts, the resources are so thin on the ground and often, the thing that’s bugging you is not an issue after you’ve had a DMC over a glass of wine. There are some assumptions that many young poets have held dear that make me quietly vomit, like the idea of the ‘poetry industry’ and I’m too invested in my friendship and support of these lovely people to try to draw them into a debate. People are hustling, and jostling and making poetry what they want it to be. I’m doing the same in the quiet corner where I am treated like a king, and I’m also making it what I want it to be.
Because I was adopted I tend to romanticize ‘blood’. Because I was raised by white South African nationalists, I may idealize those who grew in the Movement. My parents were atheists, so I know that I definitely romanticize the idea of church, unlike Danyela. Yes, church is authoritarian, patriarchal and stifling for many people, and then they leave, and find another path. For many people church is a place of acceptance, support and solidarity, an institution that fosters positive change in their lives. It’s especially kind to sinners, alcoholics and old people – society’s discards. Our ‘church’ is secular, called that because it takes place on Sunday and most people reportedly felt better after the Jozi House of Poetry session. Myesha’s principles of absolute honesty, tolerance and integrity went a long way to giving people an almost spiritual sense of release, where many made contact with parts of themselves they had never really experienced, or had repressed so successfully that they had forgotten they were there.
I think it’s a bit of an old-fashioned Richard Dawkins atheist who equates the emotional benefit of communal spiritual practice as intellectually suspect. I read the references to ‘holding’ and ‘support’ in the various parts of the book as the heirs of the Black Panthers’ notion of radical self-care, endorsed and developed by thinkers such as Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, Alice Walker, bell hooks, Angela Davis and many more. In their formulation, these acts of caring are highly political – praxis realized creating the conditions of the desired change in individuals. It also echoes the voices of the #Rhodesmustfall and #Feesmustfall movements, which called for non-violent ways of engaging, even if we disagree.
Like Danyela I’m a bit sceptical though. I feel that we’re trying to use language to do several things at once, and while that is possible, it has led to a proliferation of dare I say it, boring, uninspiring poetry that sounds like an ad. I find myself writing them myself, because of the earworm of social media. As a generation steeped in edutainment, for example, we have witnessed the banalization of words that used to thrill us and inspire us to daring acts and dreams, words like ‘democracy’ and ‘community’ that now signal cynically proffered cheap t-shirts and arid expanses of intellectual drought, hunched over phones outside the closest free wi-fi. I feel you, Danyela. I just don’t see the point of debate for the sake of debate. I am feeling an urgency to action that has no time for ideas for their own sake. As I age, I have less tolerance for chit chat as I have a lot of work to do.