One day, one day, I will love Mjele Msimang


NAME: Mjele Msimang

With the #PoetryLeague finale just a few months away (I know, right?!), the mid-season league results are out.

Sitting at No3 is Mjele Msimang. We had a young chat with Mjele to find out more about him and his work.

About Mjele
Mjele Msimang was born in Cape Town in 1995 and grew up in Cape Town, Italy, and Johannesburg. His early travel experiences influenced his interaction with the world, and the identities he inhabits right now are: poet, educator, and global historian. He began writing seriously in 2015, with his first performances in 2016.

His approach to poetry reflects the personal-in-political, the everything-in-political, and he believes in pushing boundaries in writing and performance. His work is deeply grounded in a love for poetry: the poetic form, what artists do with words, and how images make poems alive.

His politics are clearly present in his work: pro-Black, pro-Queer, anti-capitalist, pan-African. However, his work stems from the deeply personal way that these things imbue everyday lives. He works through questioning his own life as much as power structures, as well as relishing in the arcane and beautiful. He is working, slowly, on the very personal, political, urgent, and immediate project of loving himself.

KG: What’s been your proudest moment?
My proudest moment has to have been when I won Champion of the Mic while reading my poem, What is a poem?

The poem was a critique on performance, poetry and slam spaces, and was inspired by my frustration at the WNS space for rewarding poems that did not stand up to the intellectual and artistic rigour that I feel WNS prides itself on.

The poem posed as a road intertwining itself into various avenues of thought. It questioned what makes a poem a poem, who gets to tell what stories and why, and if we, as performers, sometimes shroud our anxiety behind a mirage of music, visual displays, yelling, etc. As I said above I performed the poem reading. In slam spaces, reading is typically associated with nerves, a lack of confidence, and not knowing the poem – so when I won Champion of the Mic with my eyes purposefully glued to the page, I felt like I had done something good for myself, and added something in the greater dialogue of the Word N Sound slam space.

KG: What’s been your worst moment and how did you get over it?
MM: There have been many bad moments throughout WNS – which have been concomitant with not making into the top 5. What I do is acknowledge why it hurts, remind myself why I decided to slam at WNS in the first place, and stick to that mandate – which is sharing my work, critiquing the space with compassion, and holding myself to an unbreakable level of honesty in my words.

KG: What made you decide to slam?
MM: There are several reasons that pushed me onto the slam stage this year but I’ll mention three. Upon looking at poetry’s trajectory in WNS, I decided that I wanted to challenge it with my flavour and understanding of poetry and performance. So one of the things I do is read, and I do it for three reasons:
1) to emphasise that reading is in itself a performance and that it be should respected as such
2) to distil my poetry, to extract it from the paper without secondary props. My poem must be able to stand on its own.
3) to teach and share knowledge about my experience in the world and the relation i hold to it.

KG: Whose been your top 3 poets other than yourself?
This is an interesting question which I find hard to answer. First of all, I don’t consider myself my top poet. Never have. Never will. Secondly, I assume the question is in relation to WNS poets and not poets outside the space? But either way, I don’t really have favourite poets in this space but rather favourite poems.

In the poetry continent, in which WNS is its own metropolis, I would say that Sabelo’s most recent poem on the WNS stage will count as a favourite because he was so honest and in himself during that performance. The fragrance of his words lingered in the room long after he stepped off stage.

The other poem has to be Journey Womxn by Manola Gayatri, who is considered a favourite poet. It was a poem about injustice, a poem that cried blood tears in the name of womxn, that broke open the chest with the raw anguish of it all. It stands as my favourite poem on the WNS stage because of the content, because of its substance, and the pure poetry of it all.

The other poem that sits high on my list has to be Linda’s poem about flowers. I don’t recall its name, but to see a man talk about flowers in such a way moved my heart. Outside our stunning metropolis, I would say my favourite poems by some of my top poets would be:

Ocean Vuong’s Headfirst,
Audre Lorde’s Litany for Survival,
Anthony Anaxagorou’s After the Formalities,
Sarah Godsell’s Liquid Bones,
Gbenga Adesina’s Painter of Water, and
Safia Elhllio‘s Self-Portrait With No Flag.

There are more poems and more poets but I really can’t add them all here.

KG: How would you describe yourself? Start your answer with “one day, one day…”
MM: One day, one day I will love Mjele Msimang.

KG: Is it a blow to the ego to not make it into the top 5 after having been the previous month? How does one come back from that?
MM: Definitely. But as I said in response to question 2, I acknowledge and accept why it hurts, but remain steadfast to my objective. I am here not to win the Champion of the Mic but to open the space in different ways and learn from it.


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