‘your uncle is a hatcheti
buried in my crotch
I encountered her when I attended the Naked Word Festival in Cape Town early June. She was really amazing. She recited a poem ‘mom’s language on fire’ – which really caught my attention. When the show ended, I went to speak to her and asked her if she would be interested to talk to us on our podcast about her work and she agreed. We recorded the episode, which was filled with all sorts of moments. Subsequent to the recording, I had various conversations with her and this is one of them.
I think, maybe that I am a writer. For the most part I am a person. Womxn identifying. Maybe a god complex – I regard it a necessary intothyselfness. I am deeply spiritual. A body of love.
Also, the current CSP national slam champion. Also one of the ten poets published in the 2017 New-Generation African Poets box set by the African Poetry Book Fund. I have published a few poems in various journals, most recently Phato in the Icelandic journal, Pain, by Vala Press.
When did your love affair with literature and poetry begin?
We had a book with most of the fairytales and for some reason, my grandmother held off on letting me read it. And while she was doing that, I was secretly reading Shakespeare. I discovered Sylvia Plath and Chinua Achebe at 12 and that pretty much transformed my interaction with literature. Their work made me want to contribute to this magnificent art. I was also intensely lonely and writing helped me imagine other worlds, imagine company, imagine people like me. Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. I realised quite late that it was a gift, and that it had its work. And now I am doing the work.
You’ve recently published an anthology of poems entitled ‘I know how to fix myself’ – the title is very interesting. Do you want to share how the title came about?
I realised that I know the steps to heal myself. I know how to fix myself. I know what is broken: blood (ancestry – personal, political, social, economic – as it manifests itself, and how to fix it). I recognised the agency and the antidote (until cure): to see and be seen. I began to name the experiences, the faces, coloured into the memory, stretched the old picture. Laid us out, bare, brave, at last, pointing at what hurts. And when I read all these devastating poems, all I could think in between the crying and purging was: i know how to fix myself, I know how to fix myself, I know how to fix myself.
One of my favourite poems in your anthology is ‘my aunt on leaving my uncle of twenty years’ . It is a commentary of love and domestic violence. How do you feel about womxn who stay in situation that society may deem to be abusive?
This is complicated. On the one hand I think that womxn are not powerless bystanders – though social conditions and power dynamics create violent circumstances from which one may not easily break out, I think womxn have agency. I think my aunt knew when to leave. On the other hand, when we’ve had multiple adverse childhood experiences, we may never know when to leave. Sometimes we live in the constant repetition of our childhood tortures. And it’s hard to say, “I deserve kindness” when you have never been seen. So you know, it’s complicated. Sometimes our omission of defense – refusal to war is on purpose.
You are the reigning champion of CPS Slam, tell us about that experience?
It’s wonderful. Winning. You feel heard. I felt heard. Especially because of my style of writing and I guess style of performance. I didn’t think my work had a space in the poetry space in South Africa and it was great to discover that it did.
And we know that you are slaying the poetry scene hard because you went it WOW, how was that experience for you? How is the poetry? You got to meet Ebony Stewart (one of my personal favourites) how is she and how was the experience of only womxn and poetry?
I mean, American “world” championships mean “Americans and the others”. There were 96 competing poets and only five of us travelled from the world. There was also this expectation of narrative. It felt like I needed to respond to specific expectations. The listening wasn’t all too great. The judges couldn’t recognise the personal as political.
Ebony is wonderful.
WoWPS is wonderful. Womxn are so kind. So compassionate. People asked how I wanted to be called. If I wanted to be friends.
How do you feel about the poetry scene in South Africa?
We’re doing great. I’m really proud of the quality of poetry.
I’m incredibly proud of the Cape Town poetry space. I’m proud of the CYPHER which trains young poets so consciously and intentionally. It’s beautiful.
I know how to fix myself is a truth-telling workshop to help people pinpoint the areas of their torture and engage the agency to fix those plagues. When we name the things, call them what they are, tell the truth about them and ourselves, we find our medicine.
I need help to raise funds to get to Portland. This is an important platform and my workshop will be specifically for womxn of colour who struggle with mental illness and I think this is so important because WOC constantly have to labour to look well, unless someone can benefit from exploiting our pain. And it’s so important to see ourselves as full colour humxn beings with full experiences – that are sometimes painful, instead of as just subjects to pain. If you would like to donation, please follow this link https://www.gofundme.com/ashleys-opa-workshop
Where do you see yourself as a writer? What hopes do you have for yourself as a writer?
I want to always be brave enough to tell the truth. To go to the difficult places.
Any advice to young writers?
Write your truth. Don’t tell anyone else’s story. Don’t use anyone else’s metaphors. “Pass the mic”. Be compassionate. Don’t harm others with your words. Don’t exploit your pain. Your story is big and important.
It was such a delight talking to Ashley. To follow her on social media just look for @afrofiend on Instagram and Twitter and Ashley Makue on Facebook.