Thursday, October 11, 2007

Jo'burg, South Africa: Day 4


At first, it could have looked like the midwest, the streets of Jo'burg, and it did. BMW's buildings, flawless roads. But that's only because for the first two days, we stayed on the highways. But, after the show at the Market Theatre, we drive through the veins of Jo'burg to drop home an elder, Zwesh, who teaches with each breath. I want the drive to last forever, how I love inhaling his wisdom.

It is five of us in the car: Teba driving, Linda in the passenger seat, Zwesh, me and Ishle. It's night life. We drive through a poor area, where the clubs are. The streets are packed with young people walking with the current, walking towards a good time. Linda is having an intense conversation about her country Zimbabwe, her mother. I feel more drowsy than I've ever been but I am stimulated. We round the corner to a main street in the hood, and it's flooded with cops, pulling every car over. Every one draws in a breath.

I watch Teba's jaws tense. Over the past couple of days we've had conversations about South Africa's cops. In fact, its an aspect of South Africa that many people resent the most. Not all, but many cops are thugs. Like in Jamaica and in Haiti and, they pull folk over and take whatever money they have. Recently cops stopped Teba and rifled through his wallet, asked him for his last 20 rand. Teba said no and they looked through his car for more stuff to take. They ended up taking his CD that he recorded.

We are stopped by a woman cop. She has no malice in her eyes; she is doing her job. She asks Teba for his license and looks at his tags. Everything is up to date and she allows us to go along about our way. Not two minutes later, we are stopped again by a male cop. This cop is angry, speaks to Teba more harshly. Teba's jaws tense up again and he tells the cop that we've been stopped already, his voice sandpapery with a slow building rage. Zwesh, who is Teba's mentor, calms him from the backseat. He sees what I see in this cop. He is angry.

He tells Teba to pop the trunk and get out the car. The energy in the car is tense. Teba does as asked and the man searches the trunk. A car full of artists, all he finds are musical instruments including Ishle's guitar, Linda's mbiri. I finally exhale when Teba climbs back into the car and continues us to our destination.

It's Sunday and I have a gig at St. John's College Poetry Festival. I know nothing about the institution, except that I'll be working with high school kids and a "motley smattering of adults" was the organizer's quote. I have two workshops and a performance to deliver. A broken traffic light on the floor makes me sad. It reminds me of a broken body. I ask Teba if he's seen this before. He says there are dismantled traffic lights all over South Africa, that its not an unsual scene. I have never seen such a sight, not even after the slew of Florida hurricanes that I have lived and slept through.

There's young boy in the street with a sign that says: "My dog was arrested for eating neighbor's chicken." He needs money to bail his dog out. It's so bizarre, I don't know what to think. I'm wondering if its a gimmick like the richest homeless man in Tallahassee, the one off High Street with a sign that says: "Why lie? I can use a drink." I wonder: is this boy trying to be funny or tragic?

The streets around St. John's college are canopied by trees and the streets are wide and clean. It turns out the campus is so big, we end up way on the other side. I'm supposed to be there by 11:30 to teach my workshop. I'm technically on time, but on the wrong side of campus. I see rugby fields, flower gardens with bird baths. What is this place? I wonder. What kind of high school is this? It seems to be for the priviledged.
Teba is on the phone with the organizers, trying to figure out where to go. I get out the car and walk over to the flowers. I grab a handful of South African dirt and sprinkle it into a plastic bag, for my roommate Kristine. She asked me to bring her back dirt. It is dark and moist. My hands feel cleaner for having touched it.


I walk into a workshop 20 minutes late, 20 people anticipating my arrival. No time for intros, I dive right in. I haven't taught since last semester, at Juilliard and I realize how much I've missed teaching. Like performing (and teaching is a performance of sorts) I don't need to do it all the time, but I enjoy it when I do do it. Joy the organizer was right, it is mostly high school kids with a motely smattering of adults. They are quiet, and seem a bit nervous. I wonder why. I ask them to raise their hand if they've ever written poetry. One girl raises her hand. No wonder. I realize that with this group, I must start at the very beginning, with my Thich Nat Hahn exercise. I make them write so much, their hands hurt. Lunch time.

I get the scoop from Joy, the organizer. St. John's College is an Anglican boarding school for boys. It was originally a monastery, peppered with monks. On our way to lunch, Joy tells me that all of the girls present at today's festival were bused in from other schools for the purposes of the poetry festival. The campus is breathtaking. What a gift. I am never surprised but always astounded by how the other half lives. On the other side of St. John's College is the ghetto. Teba says that a few ghetto youth were bused in for the poetry festival also.


The auditorium is packed with mostly students, but also faculty and parents. I have a great time presenting my work and speaking to the kids on an inspirational tip. I do a vast array of my work: immigration poems, Why Won't Glenda Pray, Locksmith. I answered the students' questions at the end. Their questions were very stimulating: "How have you been received in South Africa?", "What is the business aspect of poetry like?", "Were you born a poet, or cultivated as one?" A really young boy asked: why did you choose poetry? I replied, "It chose me darling. I have nothing to do with any of this." He nodded. I think he understood.

Do you know these students bought more product from me that afternoon than my prior two shows combined? They bum rushed my table as poets bum rush the page.

By my second workshop, which I taught right after I performed, I am mentally exhausted. This second group is much more rambunctious than my first. They are buzzing with energy. I mistake a gerund for a present participle, which an English teacher kindly pointed out. Oh, our thousand parts of speech! After the workshops the group gathers together to say cheese!


I made one goal and one promise before I left Brooklyn. The goal: to fill my small suitcase with CD's and empty it with sales. The promise: that I would leave every rand I earn in Africa, and return the suitcase full of Africa. Teba takes me to the African Arts and Crafts market, a warehouse of stalls filled with goodies and good people ready to bargain. Earrings made of ostrich eggs, rings and bracelets made of bone, and cow horn. Necklaces made from rare green amber. Sandals made from horned mammals. Dashiki dresses from Africa to Taiwan. Sculptures carved from iron wood, the hardest wood in the world. I patron a handful of stalls, bargain with the best of them and make new friends who I will always come back to and patron when I return to South Africa. I am no terminator, but I will be back.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Jo'burg, SA: Day 3, continued...

3:00pm - The Market Theatre

The topic for the panel discussion is poetry's role in society at the present and in the future, a nice, wide topic. Each of the us distinguished panelists is to give a 5 minute presentation about our take on this topic. After that, we would open the discussion up to the audience. Ishle has something printed out to read. Vonani we ka Bila has a speaking agenda prepared. Sticks Mdidimba, an elder has books out, ready to recite from. I find myself unprepared, not sure of what to say. The plan was to feed off the other panelists organically. Now I'm a bit nervous, feeling like I recieved the wrong idea of the program.

To be honest, I'm not really that fond of panels. People can be really pretentious on them. I tend to feel like the *real* conversations happen after the panel, or after the poetry reading after the panel, around a round table over some stiff drinks. That's where I feel real life takes place, discussions peppered with organically grown jokes. There's also something about the panelists sitting in a straight line that seems unnatural to me. In other words, though they are important to have, I find panel discussions contrived, though I like how informal Teba (who was moderating) makes it. He introduces us briefly and from the heart and we journey into our discussion. And a good one it is.

Vonani talks about the need for poetry to have some level of social awareness-- patriotism was the word he used. Patriotism is a word that is generally like nails on a blackboard to my ears because I fear that blindness that often comes along with patriotism. But, i think what he means is simply caring about the country you live in and having a poetic that is bent towards that caring. I dig what he is saying. Concern for a place and the people in it greatly enriches poetry.

Ishle talks about reclaiming the Korean culture that she was ashamed of as a child. She's gone from a shunner to a preserver of her culture. She has learned a handful of Korean songs and she sings them in her sets. She read a beautiful essay about this. Very moving.

I discuss poetry's responsibility to be available/acessible to the world and by accessible I mean physically and mentally. At the end of the day, poetry can't change the world if its not in the world. And it can't enrich people if they cannot understand it. My major point is: we have a responsibility to get poems out there in the world, to monitor the pulse of poetry in our society and do everything to keep that pulse going strong. I also urge poets to be diligent about the craft of poetry, to chase excellence, and to write what's inside you and not other people's impositions on your aesthetic.

I realize as the discussion continues, more and more people are filing in. I love that so many people have come out to the panel discussion. I am delighted by the amount of young people present as well, there on their own accord, asking poignant questions that stimulate me head and toe (but nowhere in between, promise).
I am enjoying the intellectual and spiritual energy of the people in the audience, in the room. We really have a nice vibe going and I'm thinking: wow, aside from the panel I was on with Walter Dean Myers years back, in Chicago, this is about the dopest panel I've been on. Of course, there's always that someone in the room who tries to stir things up. A man in the audience proclaims that there are no leaders in the poetry community and poets should be teaching math and economics with poetry, using poetry to uplift the community and until poets start doing pragmatic things with their work, he will bow to no poet. It seems he's a bit mad at us. The room grows tense with a silent and sensible resentment, but nothing erupts. A couple of the panelists address his anger gently and indirectly and we move on.

Speak the Mind Poetry Session, evening 2.

The usual backstage camraderie: sharing makeup and food, taking pictures, doing strange warm up exercises, cracking jokes and laughing a bit too loud, leaking into the audience to enjoy each other's work. I love finding people that I can be silly with. Julius, the host of the evening and a well known radio personality is my kind of silly. We make silly noises all evening. He has a 10 month old daughter named Azania, "Black People's Land." She has a mohawk, just like his!

I also vibe really well with a brotha named Thandeka Vabaza, affectionately known as Nkqo, or "knock knock." He's a hot, a well-known local poet, and the first poet to open up and bless the evening, poems in his traditional language, Xhosa. So, I couldn't understand what he was saying, but I loved watching his flourishings. I told him this later. And his rare energy coupled with mine (and not to mention his freckles, those pesky puddles of melanin!) is an exciting combination. Langa hushes us backstage a few times because we're laughing so much. Nkqo doesn't know it, but I consider him my muffin. Linda Gabriel, a poet from Zimbabwe, has the most mesmerizing speaking voice i've ever heard, after James Earl Jones. Her voice is a room filled with incense smoke, a sweet smelling heaviness. We connected really well the first night and decide to collaborate on stage this evening. She plays the mbira, a thumb piano. Backstage I practice my poem "Friendship, Magic, and Revolution" with her playing alongside. Music to both our ears.

There's Lesego, a South African theatre and soap opera actress. We were together on Noeleen's show yesterday but didn't get to vibe until now. Turns out she's quite the celebrity, but I don't know that. I just know her as Lesego, a poet. She's a beautiful woman. I leak into the audience to watch her perform her pieces and she is a goddess. She performs like an absolute pro....well, becuase she is. Actor and poet is a potent combination. She has her performance down to a science: it's nuanced, well-timed, and polished. I learn so much from 10 minutes of just watching her, mesmerized.

And there's wonderful Langa, who brought me here to South Africa, the organizer of Speak the Mind Poetry, his private energy, his quiet warmth, his sensible anger, his steady, uncanny leadership. I didn't really get to spend time with him until day 4 because he was so busy with the festival. It was great to build with him after things wound down. He and Teba are best friends. They've known each other since Capetown, since they were young boys.


It is about time for me to go on. Because the program is running behind, Langa tells us that we each have 10 minutes on stage. Used to doing anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour, a 10 minute feature is always a crisp surprise but it's also maddening when its a particular evening when you have so much to say and it seems so many poems in your repertoire say them just right. I have about 40 poems in my immediate repertoire, 75% of those memorized. 10 minutes means a lot of decision-making.

I love crafting a set. I never do it until I get to the venue and sort out own vibrations. I sit in the dressing room, poems, just pushing through the pores of my skin, and I pick the ones that speak to me most at the moment.

I'm feeling nervous, much more so than last night.To release the nervous energy I dance to myself, drop down into awkward stretches, cock my backside in the air and wag it. Really strange stuff, but it works like a cough drop on a raw throat: temporarily.

I'm nervous because I'm wrestling with the idea of doing "Crying Over Spilled Milk." I actually hadn't planned on doing that poem on this trip: i hadn't factored it into my rehersals. Standing backstage with my hands around my ankles and my ass in the air, my name about to be called, I'm find myself now examining why I hadn't intended on doing Spilled Milk--basically i'm performing therapy on myself before i hit the stage.

Have I outgrown the poem? Has it outgrown me? Maybe I'm afraid of putting myself out there like that in a forgein place. What is South Africa's position on abortion? Will I be shunned and rejected? Am I afraid of bringing the dark and not the light?

Two things inform my decision:

1. The night before, after my feature I was whisked upstairs to interview with this hip hop talk show, Black Rage. A very nice brotha interviewed me, raw and personable with dimples, forgot his name. In the midst of the interview he compared me to the other poets of the evening by saying that my work seemed much more lighthearted. He meant this in a complimentary way. However, his observation left me stunned, and I began to crawl into my head to brood on it. I wasn't offended by him or the observation, but it's often shocking when you find out something new about how you are percieved. And I've found that African folk can be very open about their perceptions of you. I dig that.

I think of all the times I wrote lines of poems and entire poems that ended up being really funny to audiences, the shock i've felt on stage several times. I found Africans laughed at some lines that have never gotten laughs before in America. This must mean that somethng is and/or isn't translating but I don't worry about it; it's just a bit perplexing at times. Come to think of it, that night, my pieces, even if the subject matters weren't light, were funny to people. I think every piece I performed had some element of laugher in it, even if humor wasn't originally intended. I answer him this: that my work isn't all lighthearted and last night's set perhaps didn't well represent the various tones in my work. I was determined the change that the next night.

I learned something about myself: that i don't want audiences to come away thinking that my work lacks intensity and that all my poems are funny. That's a very important, but one-dimensional aspect of my personality, but it is not all of who I am. I walked away from the interview determined to bring the dark next time, along with the light. To have light and dark exist in the same place, side by side, as they do in all of us. I think of Lucille Clifton's quote (Lucille means light, and light she is!): "my poetry strives to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable."

I only had 10 minutes to accomplish this. Bet.

2. Also, ever since Azania played Spilled Milk on Metro FM the day before, I'd gotten emails and messages on my website, expessing how moving it was. It re-instilled in me the power of that poem, and reminded me of what a universal experience abortion is. There will always be people who are ready to have sex and not ready to have babies. There will always be women who aren't ready to give birth to the 7 pound result of a rape. Though I don't write poems in "Spilled Milk's" sytle any more, and the style in which its written is no longer relevant to me as a writer, I was reminded of Spilled Milk's relevance to the world.

So I decide to do it. By the time Julius announces my name and I walk onto stage, I know it will be the second poem of my set. And it is. And all I could do is shake my head, smiling inside, when an audience member laughs at its emotional climax. Another part not meant to be funny, but is to certain people. I decide to take refuge in the fact that other people's laughter in my case may be a difficult thing to escape. And I guess that's not the worst thing one cannot escape.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Johannesburg, South Africa, Day 3


When Teba calls my hotel room to say he is downstairs in the lobby, this time, I am ready. I have a TV appearance on a talk show, Morning Live, South Africa's equivalent of Good Morning America. Back to the SABC building I have grown to know so well. Back in the make up chair I go.

I tell the make up artist that I've worn more makeup in the past two days than I have in the past two years. This is not an exaggeration. I have these permanent dark circles around my eyes; i've had them since I was a child. I have grown to understand them as mine and here to stay. She blotted them out, penciled and smeared makeup heavy around the eyes, poked my eyeballs with her brush. Then she says (as if reading my mind) said, "you're a poet, so we must accentuate your eyes."

I am to perform a poem on the show, follow it up with an interview with one of the anchors, and close out the show with another poem. I try to trick my mind into forgetting that the show is live, that i have plenty takes if my tongue stumbles over the cracked sidewalk of a poem. After makeup I find a glass wall that I use as a mirror to perform in front of. I run the poems over and over again. This is something I never do: perform in front of mirrors. Ever. This time, it is all I have. At performances people focus on your words. TV cameras are all about the face.

It is time. First I am asked to perform my first piece. I have chosen "To a West Indian Woman with a Blade." I perform for the camera (and the camera crew) as if I am performing for a crowd of people. When the camera people clap, and I realize it is over.

I am then to be interviewed by Sherwin Bryce-Pease one of the anchors of Morning Live. He is sunny, like Florida and very sweet. I stare into his freckles; they somehow comfort me. I think of my parents back in Florida, and wished they could share this moment with me. Their youngest child is so far away from home, experiencing all of this on her own. It makes me feel strong and lonely at once.

Before the camera rolls, Sherwin mentions that he visited my website and read my blog. He gives me some constructive criticism on an aspect of my website, and I appreciate how effortless it comes out. I adore his openness. I like to know people's true experience when they visit anything that represents me: from a poem to a website. Constructive criticism is rare. This is a quality that I've adored about South Africans in general. It is a quality that reminds me of Trinidadian people as well. If you ask a South African how she is doing, she will not say she is fine when she is not. It doesn't mean she's going to then tell you all her business, but she won't lie either. If something you're doing isn't up to par, they will let you know. And all I can say to that is: Give it to me, Daddy!

The interview begins. Sherwin asks me about my perceptions of South Africa and I realize that though I've been here for 65 hours now, I haven't been able to see much of Johannesburg. Since I've been here, it's been back and forth between the hotel, tv station, radio station and the market theatre, where I performed. I haven't yet walked the streets, or talked to kids, or haggled at the market, or drive through the inner city. My experience so far has been very limited and I recognize this now as I speak.

The interview ends before it begins. I am left with so much more I want to say. But I am grateful, because I have one poem left, and it's only fitting that I let my poems say all the things I can't. At the end of the show, I perform "Signs." I felt much more comfortable this time around. I am able to harness the same energy I usually have on stage, in front of a crowd of people. I remember that I am not performing for just a camera and a crew. South Africa is watching. I know I nail the poem when the crew claps raucously at the poem's ending. Their energy is astounding and makes me smile.

When I return to the waiting room where the show just aired, Teba is beaming and holding my stuff. The room is buzzing. He says softly "That was divine. The show was focused on you." I didn't see it that way at all, but I'm on the inside of it all, looking out. He's outside, looking in. I've seen none of the footage I've produced. I have absolutely no idea how I come off on television.

Because I'm not a morning person, and a Saturday morning person at that, I assume that most people are in bed, snoring through Morning Live. I am wrong. For the rest of my time in Johannesburg, people of all ages would stop me in all the places i walk, telling me that they saw me on Morning Live, and how my poem touched them.

I am always grateful when someone tells me my work touches them. As confident as a performer as I've become I still make no assumptions about how people will receive my work. It is my general understanding that no poem hits every time in every situation and every poem can fall flat in any given situation. A poem's success is nothing I take lightly or for granted.

The next time someone asks me if I've been on Def Poetry Jam, I will say no, but I have been on Morning Live!


Teba, Ishle and I are at the Market Theatre. Ishle and I are buying necklaces from vendors. There are vendors everywhere, selling everything you can and cannot think of. Bowls carved from iron wood. Beaded chickens. Spears and spoons. They are there precisely to target people like me: the American consumer. The mentality of liking something and having to have it, having to take it home with you. That beast awakened within me and Ishle both. But another beast was alive in well...the beast at the pit of my stomach growling for food. I had to feed that beast first.
Teba is hungry also we decide to sit down in a nearby resteraunt and eat while Ishle continues shopping in the market square. Teba's been driving me around all over the place, and i know it has been difficult to carry on a deep conversation while trying to preserve our lives. When we actually get a chance to sit down and break bread, watch each other's eyes and talk real life, Teba and I connect and I know now that I have found a brother for life. He is the person I spent the most time with in Africa; in fact he was my introduction to South Africa. He was the one waiting right outside customs with a sign that said my name. If you know him, or if you ever meet him, you will know that I have been blessed to have such an introduction, such an escort. One can't ask for a better introduction to the African continent.
Our intense conversation at lunch makes me realize now what I must do while I'm here--to soak the people up. It is always less about the place and more about people, because the people make the place. I am here to connect with people, my people. My energy falls open like a trap door. I have fallen in love.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Johannesburg, South Africa, Day 2

7:30am --Pretoria Hotel, The Wanderers

The hotel phone jolts me out of a stiff dream. I am stunned and bleary eyed. I had a devil of a time falling asleep. The night before, I had spent hours watching and analyzing British News and South African music videos, comparing them to the news and music videos back home. Perhaps not the best way to try falling asleep.

Teba is on the phone. He says he is downstairs in the hotel lobby. I am scheduled for an interview at SABC; we’re supposed to be there at 8am. I overslept. The alarm clock on my cell phone hadn’t gone off; I'd set it wrong. No worries. I'm downstairs in seven minutes.


This is the building where all Johannesburg television and radio takes place. SABC-South African Broadcasting Company. I was to do a live interview on a show called 180 degrees—an arts and culture talk show. Jo’burg is cool this morning, similar to autumn in New York. An unusual cold front hovered over Johannesburg for the entire time I was there. Last night's rain washed every car clean.

Everybody on television wears makeup, yes, even boys. Cosi, the makeup artist goes light. She can tell I am not used to makeup, or even fond of it. She brushes back one of my twists and says, “You’ve started your hair. How pretty.” Her locks river down to her back. She receives a phone call on her cell phone—it’s a friend, wanting to chat. I’m thinking, at 8:15 in the morning? My friends know better. She rushes her friend off the phone and as if she overheard my conversation with myself and says: “I suppose because I am a morning person, I have morning friends.”


Desiree, one of the hosts of 180 degrees shakes my hand when I approach the set. She says she will be interviewing me. She is pretty and clipped. All business. I am a bit nervous and tell her this. She doesn’t understand. “But you’re a poet,” she says, right before the film begins to roll. Her eyes scan the teleprompter as she reads in a speaking voice. Meantime, I'm wondering why poets aren't allowed to be nervous about things.

The interview is like lightning and fog. Quick and nebulous. Maybe I’m still back at my hotel with fluttering eyelids, carving out a dream. Maybe Desiree and I aren’t vibing so well. She asks me to spit a verse and I am caught off guard. I don’t think poets are allowed to be caught off guard either, but I was. I say a few lines that don’t represent me well, but they’re all I can think of. Desiree is unmoved. So am I. She made a strange comment about the poem, and before I know it the interview is over. We shake hands. Goodbye.

I wouldn’t say it was an unpleasant experience, just a rough draft. I am determined that I’ll be ready for them next time.


I am told that I have a radio interview next with Metro FM. I am relieved. It means no makeup. I washed the gunk off from earlier that morning. The studio is sophisticated and comfortable. I sit down across from Azania, the host. She has been playing tracks on my CD for the past few days. She says my poems are on the mark and many words too spicy for the radio. She is incredibly warm, like my mother’s bread, straight out the oven.

Later, Teba tells me what the name Azania means. After Apartheid, there was a push to rename South Africa “Azania,” which means, “Black People’s Land.” The name change didn’t happen, but there are many females in South Africa named Azania.

Radio personalities and television personalities are like night and day; television is the day, and radio is the night. Maybe it’s the nature of having a camera in your face that makes that extra layer necessary. And on TV you just don’t get as much time, so everything is more rushed, condensed—it’s hard for them to dig. I don’t want to dichotomize the two, but they really are different. While Azania plays my poems and songs for the people, we are talking behind the scenes. Our conversations are intimate and stimulating. And our interview on air seems to be an extension of these conversations. Azania’s questions are real; I can rub them between my fingers. I open like a trap door.

Azania plays Crying Over Spilled Milk (the radio version). It’s a real experience to hear it after these years; after I put out CD’s I don’t listen to them—so I haven’t heard that track in about 4 years now. I remember recording that track with Doc D in Tallahassee in two afternoons. I remember reciting the poem for him and him just sitting there for two minutes without talking, deep concentration. Then he stood up suddenly and got to work, and I watched him carve the music for the track out of silence. Amazing.

Azania sees that my mind is in another place. I think she thinks it's THAT place. It's not. she asks me if I’m okay and I nod yes, because I am more than okay. Spilled Milk is my favorite track and after all these years I'm still happy with it, overall. After the poem ends, the phones begin to ring. People want to know where they can cop the CD, people want to know the name behind the voice.


We’re on our way to 3Talk with Noeleen, a popular talk show host in South Africa who is often compared to Oprah. In my hotel room there is a magazine with her on the cover.

Ishle Yi Park and I have not seen each other in about 2 years. We met once at a LouderArts event and we spoke for a bit and connected quite well. Soon after, she moved to New Zealand and now she’s back in Queens, where she grew up. Ishle and I are catching up, here in South Africa of all places. How you been girl? Ishle’s been a gypsy, traveling everywhere with her guitar slung over her back and a handful of Korean songs. Finula is also in the car with us, Finula, a poet from Capetown who is also part of the Arts Alive Festival. We are all to be on Noeleen’s show, along with other poets. When is Oprah going to have a bunch of poets on her show? Oprah's sleeping on us.


Back in the makeup chair. This woman lays it on thick. My skin groans underneath the weight of the brown powder she smears on. All of the poets of the Arts Alive Festival are to interview with Noeleen in pairs and spit a piece. We meet more artists there: Samm Farai aka Comrade Fatso from Zimbabwe and Lesego Motsepe, a poet and popular theatre and soap opera actress. Lovely woman.

Noeleen has a large presence. She has a big body, big voice, big smile, a big laugh. She’s sitting in her chair on set and interviews everyone in pairs. She’s good. She has that extra layer on her that TV personalities have, for sure. But, she's got good energy and has been briefed on everyone, clearly. Her questions are informed by everyone’s bios. When it is my turn to interview with Noeleen, they take a chair away and it is me and her alone.

Noeleen and I are vibing well. Her questions are engaging. I’m much more myself with her than I was with Desiree earlier that morning. I’m awake and enthusiastic. When Noeleen asks me to spit a verse I’m ready for her this time. I spit a few lines from an old favorite, Coffee Eyes. After the commercial break, I am then joined by Ishle and Lesego, who also spit verses. We end the interview with Noeleen asking me about my forthcoming young adult novel, Seventeen Seasons. I am delighted that I had the space to be able to talk about it. Plug!


We are rushed from Noeleen’s studio straight to our performance at the Market Theatre in Newtown. The show has already started. We are hungry (I personally hadn’t eaten since 10 that morning) and a bit cranky. I found myself fighting back bitchiness, what happens when I don’t eat. I wasn’t the only one. There was Zena Howard from the UK, who was also cranky. Finula was introverted. Ishle, annoyed. But we all got along because she shared in a common hunger.

I am not sure how I am going to be on stage feeling this way. My head feels like a beach ball, colorful but full of air. My stomach is growling like a dog tied to a pole.

Langa promises he will have food sent to the dressing room for us. By the time I have to go on stage, the food hasn’t arrived as yet. I fill my belly with water to trick it.


It’s interesting what happens when the announcer calls your name. Everything falls away and falls into place. My hunger propels my forward. I transform my hunger into a beautiful weapon. It is just what I need. I transform all nervousness into enthusiasm. It is just what I need.

I feel entirely comfortable on stage. I feel at home with this audience. It is a mature, warm and listening crowd. I am having a fantastic time on stage. Before I know it, the fifteen minute timer in my head goes off and I know it's time to do my last poem. I know how long each of my poems last so it helps me time my sets, leaving room for a little banter. I close out my set with Locksmith. When I return to the dressing room, it smells scrumptious with Ishle’s perfume and finger foods.

After the show, we drive to the Bassline to mash up some real food and enjoy each other's company. At the end of the night, we are wrung dry, exhausted. I have a full day ahead tomorrow--I have to be back at SABC at 6:30 in the morning to sit in the make up chair once gain for my interview with South Africa's Morning Live...our equivalent to Good Morning America. We return to our hotels, and sleep.