This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of facilitating d’bi.young anitafrika’s poetry book launch of Dubbin Poetry: the collected poems of d’bi.young anitafrika (Spolrusie, 2019) at the South African Book Fair. As I welcomed everyone to the space, introduced the audience to her and joined them in applause, she took her heels off. She began to sing and walk among the audience. She moved effortlessly between song and poetry and even monologue. She looked deeply into each person’s eyes and held their gaze. She drew laughter and tears and a deep silence that held us all enchanted. She was a wonder to witness.
The past weeks have been particularly horrible in South Africa and, if you are a woman in this country, then it has been this way for a whole lifetime. Here, the murder and rape of women and girls is a casual and everyday occurrence. We live in the country where the South African Police Service (SAPS) will allow violent mobs of men to loot and commit arson almost everyday as shown in the recent wave of afrophobic unrest yet, teargas and assault women who are protesting for their human right to live. This is just the norm here. So, when d.bi was reciting a poem about love, and mentioned Uyinene’s fatal visit to the South African Post Office to collect a parcel, I broke down and the tears would not stop coming. I had successfully managed to hold myself together that weekend but the gross inhumanity of South African life really shook me up once more. But what is remarkable is that I have been angry and and cynical about our situation but d’bi’s words allowed in a glimmer of hope. I cried but I felt hope that love is indeed the revolution and it doesn’t ask us for anything too grand. It just asks that we love and hold each other through this; that we offer simple gifts of kind words and deeds. It’s hard but small acts of goodness can hold and begin to heal us through this.
And that is what poetry does.
As a poet, myself and many others will simply stand in front of the microphone and read or recite from memory. This is the first time that I had seen the method that d’bi uses and it makes absolute sense. It allows the poetry to breathe and live and tangibly move around the room while carrying person on a journey of their own self-reflection. The method is beautiful and from my view in the audience, I could also see how it is difficult. It demands that one truly be a seasoned and humble performer who can connect with people in that way. And, of course, to be that kind of performer, you need to be that kind of human being, first. That is the part that is not always so easy. But like I say, d’bi is deliberate and delicate in her work and I am in awe of the amount of control she has of herself and her craft and of the room. She is a study in discipline, brilliance and a creative practice of love. May she always be blessed.
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Thank you, Hear My Voice and South African Book Fair, for the invitation.