Speaking your truth shouldn’t be seen as a radical act – Koleka Putuma

From winning this year’s PEN South Africa Student Poetry Prize, to being placed on the cover of City Press Trending, as well participating in the New Voices/New Visions festival by The John F. Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts in the USA, let’s not forget performing on a train as part of Any Given Sunday, and having her poem Water published by Austrian magazine Bildpunkt, 2016 is undoubtedly an eventful year for the amazing talent that is Koleka Putuma.

On Tuesday, the former National Slam Champion will be performing at The Orbit, alongside our very own CEO, Afurakan for Out There Poetry Sessions, hosted by Myesha Jenkins.

We caught up with Koleka ahead of the show.


KG: It’s been quite the year for you so far. What have been some of your highlights?
KP: Experiencing the theatre for young audiences festival in DC.

KG: What have your international travels taught/shown you about the arts here at home? Are we on the right track? Are we as backward as people insinuate?
KP: Backward-oh wow! The arts scene here is dope AF. We could do with a stronger support system from the government etc because in other places the arts scene is like full on funded and backed up. But the work produced in this country is edgy and honest.

KG: It seems like in some of your travels, when the topic of politics and race dynamics comes up, a lot of toes get stepped on. Your poem Water was censored out of a TED talk, for example, and you’ve been on the receiving end of what can be called hate mail. Has that affected the way you share/choose your poems in new spaces?
KP: Yes. I am more prone to interrogating my choices, more now than before. But in my process of asking myself why I want to share a particular poyem in a particular space, I am mindful not to censor myself or preempt the audience’s response. People have all of a sudden dubbed me as controversial pohet or as a trouble maker, which is confusing really. Speaking your truth shouldn’t be seen as a radical act, it should be seen as normal and necessary. I think we need to start normalising people speaking the honest to god truth, and whatever truth means for you.

KG: How do you feel about Afurakan’s work, and and how do you feel about sharing a stage with him?
KP: In the list of people we call ama-veterans, he is considered to be such, or at least headed in that direction. When people open their shows with one of your poems, you must know you are dope. People literally say some of his older works back to him when he recites. That says a lot. His work cuts through all the bullshit – that is rare in a lot of poets, old or young – and I love his work for that. For its honesty, and its complicated simplicity. Uhm, I am nervous and excited and honored to share the stage with him. I admire him as a person, as an older brother, as a friend, as an activist and shaker in the world.

KG: There aren’t a lot of instances where one could say they’ve heard you perform your poetry with music. How do you feel about merging your poetry with jazz music? Is there a particular sound you’re going for?
KP: I have no idea what to expect, to be honest. I have done music collabs before, but obviously it’s different with each musician or space you encounter. We’ll see what sound(s) come out on the night. Haha.


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