Poetry slammed

poetryHave you ever heard the type of poetry that gives you goose bumps and sends you unexpectedly into a trance;....

the type where you just have to laugh in disbelief that anyone could come up with such lilting lyrics and resounding imagery?

I just had that experience at the House of Hunger poetry slam – the competition where young poets and spoken word artists take to the microphone to show off their skills.

One participant, who calls himself Mugmumopus, stands before the crowd and recites a satirical poem about politicians and their many hypocrisies:

I am a vegetarian, but meat is what I like eating in the dark, he says, ploughing into the many double standards that political leaders offer.

Another poet tells so vividly about listening to some jazz on a kombi ride into town, how the bass beat elevates him into another world where hes dreaming awake. As he recites the words, his eyes are shut and he wears a smile of ecstasy. You cant help but get swept up in his dream.

Lazarus, the eventual winner, tells us in the opening line of his piece that he doesnt write poetry but that rather, he recites notations of Gods thoughts. Everyone buzzes in anxious wait for the rest of his poem.

Zim poetry disappoints

This is the South African edition of the House of Hunger poetry slam, held every last Saturday of the month in Johannesburg. According to the slam coordinator, Linda Gabriel, the competition began in September, taking its name and philosophy from the House of Hunger poetry slam that has been running at the Book Caf in Harare, Zimbabwe for many years.

But looking at the astounding quality that the South African edition has to offer, it is almost too depressing to mention the deplorable state that the Zimbabwean version of the contest is now in.

I had the opportunity to be in Harare at the beginning of February to witness this sad state for myself.

Imagine a poet coming before an audience to recite a Valentines Day poem from his hardcover exercise book and stating the following:

Valentines Day is a day commemorated on 14 February every year; It is a day when lovers exchange gifts of flowers and chocolates

That is NOT poetry, but rather a boring oration on the facts of things.

Another poet came to the microphone to deliver a nauseating piece in which every line had to end in -tion, so that we had nations using Ambi lotion; we had interpretations of colonisation and privatisation, and every other such line that you can think of. The poem would have been clever if it had made more sense. But sadly, it was all a jumble of hopeless words.

Turning in his grave

Dambudzo Marechera, the poet and writer, after whose acclaimed novel the slam is named, must be turning in his grave.

I say this because I know what quality the Zimbabwe House of Hunger slam has offered in the past.

At the height of the nations political turmoil, the House of Hunger became literally that – a house where hungry souls converged to feed each other with words of anger and encouragement; a symbol of protest where performers such as Godobori,

Comrade Fatso and Outspoken held the crowds in awe with their incisive thoughts and clever rhymes.

I will never forget one poem by the spoken word artist known as Upmost in which he described getting off the kombi from the city centre to Borrowdale because the conductor had decided to charge whatever fare he wanted.

A solitary figure, he chose to get off and walk the long journey home because he wasnt prepared to feed into the system of greed that had heightened the anarchy and strife in Zimbabwe.

Carrying the mantle badly

Today, none of those poets still perform at the slam.

And no one expects that they should have to. A new crop of poets and spoken word artists should have sprung up to carry on the mantle. But sadly, it seems the new crop didnt receive the all-important nutrients to ensure a useful harvest. Instead, they are completely clueless about what makes good delivery of poetry. Elocution, emotion and entertainment are all seriously lacking.

For the sake of the future of poetry in Zimbabwe, I hope that those with the experience and expertise begin to sow back to the youth of our nation. It is only that way that we can sustain art initiatives and be sure that young people comprehend the great reverence with which the arts must be approached.

I am raising my hand up. I hope youll join me so that together, we can do something for the sake of the future. – Kubatana

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