We congregated in Harare for an intimate seminal workshop, Dissecting the Urgency of Voice where we asked and answered questions about the significance of poetry and offered ideas about the role of digital media and pop culture in its evolution. The workshop which was moderated by poets Wadzanai Chiuriri (Black Pearl), Tanatsei Gambura and Tendekai “Madzitatiguru” Tati together with media practitioner Elliot “Twist” Tafira taught us 5 vital lessons about the craft:
- A sense of identity is a sense of direction.
This is as important for poets just as it is for other artists. Individuals need to know how to identify themselves so they know what to align themselves with. Think of it as one’s guiding principles or core values as an artist. Ask yourself, what sorts of things do I draw attention to with my work? Who are the consumers? What kinds of events/publications are suitable for me? Without answering these and other vital questions, you will be a stray ship rolling with the waves. A participant remarked that in the creative industry, “tinoshandiswa, tirikuitiswa” (loosely translates to we are being used) but this can largely be avoided if one has a strong sense of self. If you know yourself and take yourself seriously, the world will be forced to take you just as seriously. Own who and what you are whole. You are an urgent voice.
2. Art can, should and does pay. Know it.
It turns out that many emerging artists don’t even know that their art can be a commodity if they wish for it to be! What? Where this is a given for established artists, there are still others who are yet to dive into the exciting (rightfully theirs) world of being paid to do what they love. Well, now you know. Yes, you charge a price and issue and invoice and draw up a contract and set your own terms. Your product is just as valid and as valuable as any other. Artists should declare their own value and be confident in setting a price. Payment in “exposure” is a non-starter and is quite frankly degrading to accept unless, of course, you are being deliberate and looking for it. Otherwise, it is important for poets to come together and set a standard with regards to the issue of payment. Again, it’s about how seriously you take yourself.
3. We can’t live as compromisers and conformists.
Although by all means, we encourage that poets make money for their time, work and efforts, we strongly advise that we guard against swaying towards capitalist (yuck) tendencies. Poets are compromising integrity amongst other things for the sake of monetary gain, especially when it comes to gigs funded by huge corporates. Sometimes, money needs to be deleted from our heads because really, it should not be the reason that we do what we do. The art becomes about who has made a name and what they can be used by corporates for, no longer about the beauty of the craft itself. How will we ever grow as a community and impact the change we want to if our priorities are askew? Who doesn’t have bills to pay or a family to look after too? Take heed.
4. We need to talk offstage and offpaper too.
How ironic it is that us word-wielding warriors aren’t actually talking to each other. You know, talking – enjoying casual conversations amongst ourselves as both poets and simply as human beings. We are not connecting with each other and that is worrying. We are stewards of the wealth of words and we should look after each other and be sources of support. That can’t happen without us engaging in the conversations that need to happen. It is upon us to first collaborate with a vision then fund ourselves and our work. It belongs to us, and to look at each other with contempt is nothing short of silly. Where will the learning and growth happen if not in the cafes with a coffee, the living rooms on the couch, the combis on the way to slam jams? There is power in shared ideas, and most of that happens behind the scenes. Get behind the scenes and talk.
5. There is no such thing as too much noise.
And truth be told, we are not making enough of it. It’s time to cultivate a culture of continuity, sustainability and permanence in our industry. Without making use of all the opportunities and platforms we have to share our work and bring people together, we may as well be quiet. Poets should also share and endorse each others’ poems and projects. After all, like we said, what are we without each other? We can’t expect to be recognised for our art or efforts instantly, but with due diligence and a presence that can be felt, we’ll be as influential as we want to be. Make noise, do the things to be done and trust the process.