In the early days of the poetry scene, when I discovered that one could get up on stage and share one’s writing (which I had been doing from my early teens, scribbling my random thoughts on pages), I used to write in the region of three poems a day. The majority of them weren’t very good but within them lay the building blocks for not-so-crappy poems, whether through pulling out thoughts and lines as inspiration for other pieces or repeated editing to mould them into something coherent.
“The first draft of anything is sh*t.” – Ernest Hemingway
In those days, as more and more open mics cropped up around Johannesburg, from Jungle Connection to Bassline (in Melville), there were multiple stages that were gentle and nurturing enough to accommodate new poems on the regular. As a result, the distance from my page to the stage was much shorter because I could test out new performance poems, in particular, which formed part of the writing process. What seemed to make sense on writing didn’t always flow on reciting with people staring at you.
Life has a habit of taking you down paths that are seemingly out of sync with your purpose, paths that only make sense with hindsight. After a decade of being totally submerged in the poetry scene, I stepped away to focus on those other paths, many of which involve different styles of writing. The further I drifted away, the harder it became to write poems.
Now, a good 5/6 years later, I’ve been contemplating dipping my toes back into the space, the hardest part of which is actually the writing. Having spent the last 5 years actively writing for magazine, switching back to writing poems is painful, but, as Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
As the first part of the journey back into the poetry realm, I have started reading poetry again. There’s a beauty in rediscovering my love for the written poetic word from Amiri Baraka, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Nikki Giovanni, Aja Monet and Sonia Sanchez to Saul Williams, Lebo Mashile, Carl Hancock Rux, Joolz Denby and Don Mattera. I’ve also started buying more – Warshan Shire’s Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth is brilliant, albeit short, and Chorus, edited by Saul Williams, is also a great addition to my collection. The more I read, the more the random lines pop into my head at all times of the day.
I have also had to constantly remind myself that writing is like a muscle and that, in the words of Jane Yolen, it is important to “Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.”
I used to write poetry every day as the last thing I did before bed. I would sit in bed and just let everything spill onto the page, without editing and without judgment. Occasionally I would type into my phone but I generally tried to actually write in a notebook. I then transfer to digital when editing. While it is taking time to get that rhythm back and sticking to a writing schedule – primarily because my work involves different forms of writing – it is getting easier.
It seems so simple. To write better. Read. Write. But it works in its simplicity.
[Kojo has as many online platforms as he has Voices In his Head, so before this gets out of control click here for more]
Of Ghanaian/German heritage and raised in Lesotho, Kojo is an entrepreneur, writer, facilitator, content architect, former magazine editor and speaker, who has worked and run businesses in a range of sectors including Retail, Management Consulting, Publishing, Events, IT and Media (Television & Print). He has a B.Commerce (with majors in Economics, Marketing and Business Administration) and he speaks on various topics such as Understanding Media/Content in a Digital World, Re-defining Success, Finding Purpose, Identity and Fatherhood.
He was poet laureate for Gordon Institute of Business Science [GIBS] and has performed extensively over the years having been a part of the poetry movement, particularly in Johannesburg, in the late 90s/early 00s.
He published two collections of poetry [“Voices In My Head” and “…& they say black men don’t write love poetry”] in 2005. He has been published in poetry collections in the US, Brazil and Europe, has facilitated poetry workshops and as well as various poetry properties.
Kojo is also a founder of Project Fable, a content design and insights consulting company.