Inside the exciting Sweden x SA Poetry Exchange

Hear My Voice is about to host the local leg of the Sweden x South Africa Poetry Exchange. We know exactly how exciting and challenging international projects be so we caught up with founder, Ishmael Sibiya to find out more about this exciting project.

How did your partnership with the Swedish Embassy come about and how has it been working with them?
The initial introduction happened when we hosted the Pretoria leg of Koleka Putuma’s “Collective Amnesia” tour. The embassy graciously offered to contribute towards the event and going forward our relationship grew, with us managing one of their flagship projects, the “#HerStory Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon”. The Embassy of Sweden has been very supportive with the poetry exchange and their support has gone beyond just funding the initiative and “waiting for results”.

Tell us about the guest you will be hosting? 
The visiting individuals are some of Europe’s leading slam poets. They were recommended by Maria Bjork of the Regina Theatre who has been organising the Ordsprak – Uppsala International Poetry festival for more than a decade. The festival has partnered with HMV for this particular exchange.

Henry Bowers is nationally known and acclaimed as one of Sweden’s best poetry and hip-hop acts. Kung Henry’s poetry and music breaks down the wall between high culture and mass culture as he takes influences from and refers to everything from horror films and children’s stories to classic masterpieces and great philosophers, everything combined with a dose of humour.

Olivia Bergdahl is a Swedish spoken word-poet and novelist. At the age of 28, the former Swedish Slam Champion has spent 15 years on stage and released both a poetry collection and a record, lectured in creative writing and received national acclaim thanks to her debut novel “After the Echo”. Awards from Swedish Radio, appearances at the Royal Theatre and continuous tours through Sweden, Europe and the US – proves Olivia as one of the most experienced and extraordinary, Nordic performers of live poetry today.

Amer Sarsour is a Swedish-Palestinian poet whose work is often written in the Swedish language. He has been performing spoken word on some of Sweden’s most influential and prestigious stages in the past seven years. His poetry is often political and deals with matters concerning existentialism. He currently lives in his hometown Uppsala and is a student of the art of discourse, Rhetoric.

When putting together the itinerary for their visit, what considerations do you make, how do you decide on what would be great for them to do? What are you hoping they will gain from their visit?
We try to ensure that we reach as wide of an audience as possible and strike a balance between workshops, performances as well as the usual “touring” activities that showcase our beautiful country. We have also ensured that we involve collaborative activities with other art forms and industries such as the partnership with the Nirox Foundation which will see us host a one of a kind workshop at the sculpture park where poets and visual artists will collaborate by interpreting each others work and the work displayed at the sculpture park. A lot of discussion is also had with the traveling artists in order to get an idea of what they would like to experience as well.

Why are international exchange programmes important for our local arts scene? 
They enable the facilitation of the exchange of ideas, experiences and best practices across nations, races and genres. It enables our local artists to learn and share with their counterparts enabling growth and one to move out of their comfort zones. Having facilitated exchanges to multiple countries since 2013, I’ve seen the positive effects first hand; artists going back to their communities and taking action to build their communities, themselves and fellow artists. One can never take part in an exchange and still be the same person afterwards.

So what is the competition process?
Poets must be between the ages of 18 and 35 and be residing within the City of Tshwane in order to be eligible to enter the competition. There are two elimination rounds at each audition. All poets take the stage for round 1. The lowest scoring 50% are then eliminated and the rest advance to the 2nd round which takes place shortly afterwards.

After round 2, the poets’ 1st and 2nd round scores are added to determine the overall top poets who advance to the semi-finals taking place at a later stage this year. Between 5 and 10 poets are chosen to advance.

The auditions are judged by a mix of volunteer judges and finalists of previous seasons of the competition. The semi-finals and finale will be judged by panels of highly esteemed practitioners in the academic, literature and performance arts industries.

A share of R50 000(1st place: R30 000, 2nd place: R15 000 and 3rd place: R5 000) is up for grabs and the 1st place winner will also form part of a delegation of poets who will be traveling to Sweden later this year as part of the 2nd phase of the Sweden_South Africa Poetry Exchange.

The Sweden SA Poetry Exchange takes place from 19 – 28 Feb, please tell us what we can expect and which events we can attend.
Audiences can expect a lot of knowledge exchange, great workshops and performances! A majority of the events will be either free or on a “pay what you can ” cost model with the exception of the Sweden meets Soweto Poetry showcase taking place on the 27th of Feb at the Soweto Theatre which will cost R50 (students and pensioners pay R40). Tickets can be bought at the venue or online at

The Tshwane Speak Out Loud Youth Poetry Festival will take place at various venues around Tshwane, and will consist of a mix of performances, workshops and panel discussions focused on the various aspects of the literature and performance arts industries. The visiting poets will feature at a majority of the events. The Festival itinerary can be viewed at

On the last night of their stay in South Africa, Swedish artists Henry Bowers, Kung Henry, Olivia Bergdahl & Amer Sarsour, will be joining us at our first Poetry Corner show of the year.

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