Keorapetse Kgositsile Poetry Café will play host to a variety of powerful writers

The last time we caught up with Hear My Voice was earlier this year when they were bringing Henry Bowers, Olivia Bergdahl and Amer Sarsour to SA in partnership with the Swedish Embassy. Plenty has happened since and their relationship with the Swedish has kept growing.

We sent Phomolo Sekamotho some questions to find out what this amazing poetry house has been up to and all the magic they have heading our way real soon.

We certainly had fun hosting Henry, Olivia and Amer at Poetry Corner earlier this year, how was your experience with them? Any fond memories you can share?

The three individuals are professional artists and more importantly, they’re really cool human beings who made our job a whole lot easier. It was remarkable to witness different audiences reiterate that though some of the performances/poems were delivered in Swedish, one could still resonate with the emotion of the poem, thus giving flight to the notion that no matter where one comes from – we all feel in the same language. This also supplements the importance of having these international exchanges, to be able to learn, teach and note both the similarities and differences.

Since then, Hear My Voice has been behind some awesome poetry experiences like the #NotASingleStory Exhibition and the Poetry & Jazz Picnic at the Nirox Sculpture Park, hosting Flow Wellington’s GauTrained book launch and the continuation of the Last Thursday’s poetry sessions. What have been some of your highlights in the last few months?
The events mentioned above were fun to curate. They had their ups and their downs. Some could have been better and some remain a work in progress. What’s important is being afforded the opportunity to express and collaborate with different organisations, trying different things, making mistakes and learning. I guess the highlight is witnessing the evolution of ideas from concept document, to ‘I do not think it will work’, to ‘trust us’ and eventually to life.

Having worked in a space like the Sculpture Park, what would you say is the importance and the benefit of taking poetry into different spaces and fusing it with other artforms like jazz?
I think for a long time poetry has been a subject of neglect. The major problem being that poetry is not perceived as an area of major investment, thus limited funding and the causation of dependability within the industry rather than the exploration of other growth avenues [I must concede, this is changing]. With collaborations such as poetry and jazz or art and academia, ours is to reiterate that poetry is as much a part of the conversation as all the other art-forms… And, in the same breath, poetry is a solid stand-alone item.

You recently put on a killer show “Bodies Under Siege” as part of the Vavasati Women’s Festival. Tell us all about that and how the poetry community responded to the stellar line up?

Just this morning I saw a status update that read; “still recovering from ‘Bodies Under Siege’.” The feedback has been positive, from the audience members, the artists and the State Theatre itself, it’s been good. I think with Pretoria you’re never really sure if the audience is going to show up, but for this particular showcase they did and we are thankful. The support that HMV has been receiving is amazing.

The production was spearheaded by our very own MoAfrika Mokgathi-Mvubu, who chose the all women jazz band and had a major say in putting together the stellar line up. It was an outcry by women directed at society. It was reflective of the many issues that still face women in our societies today.

From an internal perspective, we were happy with the outcome – we believe the objective was met but we understand that there’s always room for improvement and that is the nature of events.

The SA Book Fair is coming up. Tell us about your involvement there and what we can look forward to on 7 and 8 Sept?
What SABF represents is in line with our vision as an organization so we are really excited to be a part of this year’s edition. HMV will be facilitating the inaugural Keorapetse Kgositsile Poetry Café as part of this year’s SABF. The Poetry Café comprises of 4 events over two days (7th and 8th September), two of which are free entry and will play host to a variety of powerful writers and poets from all over South Africa including Antjie Krog, Lebohang Masango, Lebo Mashile, Flo Mokale, Siphokazi Jonas, Diana Ferrus, Flow Wellington, Makhosazana Xaba, Katlego Shoro, Xabiso Vili, MoAfrika ‘a Mokgathi, Roche Kester and Mutle Mothibe to name a few, as well as an array of fresh talent on an Open Mic session entitled We Recite What We Like. These SABF poetry events culminate with a session entitled Poetry Legacies, dedicated to the legacy of Prof. Keorapetse Kgositsile, fondly known as Bra Willie, for which a poem was specially commissioned.

More details on the Keorapetse Kgositsile Poetry Café  and the overall South African Book Fair programme is available here.

We’ve recently seen some collaboration between yourselves, us, Current State of Poetry and Fresh Impressions in bringing poetry lovers a feature on Massiv Metro. What is the importance of such a collaboration and where would you like to see it go?

Collaborations are key, they have the potential to be cool. Being approached by CSP is/was a step in the right direction. We hope that such collaborations will be fruitful for everyone involved, we hope they’ll bring about knowledge sharing – a sense of cohesion and more importantly – we hope that they’ll elicit unity within the industry.

We are mad excited to see your relationship with the Swedish embassy continues to grow. Tell us more about Athena Farrokhzad’s SA tour and where we can catch her live?

Athena Farrokhzad’s visit is part of the Sweden_South Africa International Poetry Exchange. The first phase saw the visit of the three Swedish poets and Athena’s visit is the second phase. We are trusting that it’ll be a huge success with phase three on deck. We have prepared a variety of events with most of them being free and accessible. The tour will see her visit and take part in activities in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town. As you may already know, this exchange is made possible by the Embassy of Sweden in Pretoria as well as the Swedish Arts Council. Other partners on board for this particular phase are Open Book Festival (CT), Jozi Book Fair, Uhlanga Press, the American Corner as well as African Flavour Books. The full itinerary can be seen here.

Big up on all the hard work! How can people support Hear My Voice initiative?
Money is an enabler, and so we need money to pursue some of our regular programmes such as Last Thursdays Sessions and other school programmes. We have a long-term vision of sending poets into schools to facilitate poetry workshops. The realisation of this particular programme hinges on money. Transport costs and remuneration has to be considered. This is also an attempt to make poetry a sustainable prospect for both poets and organisations within the industry. Anybody that wishes to support our programmes may do so by clicking here. No amount is too little.

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