Poetry Potion had the privilege of talking to a Soweto Poet, Mafika Gwala (who isn’t from Soweto). He started writing in the sixties and published extensively with titles such as Jol’iinkomo (1977) and No More Lullabies (1982) and he has edited Black Review (1973) and Musho! Zulu Popular Praises with Liz Gunner (Michigan State University, 1991).
Poetry Potion: When did you first start writing poetry?
Mafika Gwala: In the sixties…
PP: What was the poetry scene like in the sixties and the seventies?
MG: Well, the situation was tense so the poetry was also tense. Unless it was a love poem.
PP: Was your work mostly political?
MG: No, when I started it was just poetry meant for expression. The poetry I wrote then kept politics in the background. It evolved when we noticed that the authorities were having second thoughts about us [they started to pay more attention to what poets were writing]
PP: How do the current poets compare to your generation?
MG: There has been some rebelliousness; there is some direction through Kwaito, Hip Hop and fusing that into poetry. There has been a difference.
PP: Is the difference positive?
MG: There are controversial issues that separate the men from the boys. The one weakness we have to poetry is that it is so subjective. If we had more objectivity it would be better.
PP: What inspires your poetry?
MG: When I started writing, I started with short stories, so it looks like I’m inspired by the stories.
PP: What are the issues, in your stories, that inspired your poetry?
MG: When you write a story you don’t wait for an issue, you simply find some situation interesting then you write.
PP: Young poets don’t feel in touch with older poets, is it true that older poets do not care about younger poets?
MG: It’s not true, because a number of young poets come to me for help.
PP: In your biography, you say about ‘The Children of Nonti’ that it an English poem written in isiZulu. What do you mean by that?
MG: The whole texture of the poem is Zulu [even though] it is written in English without breaking the [English] language.
PP: What would you say to the young poet about the craft of poetry?
MG: By writing so freely, they must be careful not to fall into [the] trap of language rape. I call it murdering language because they destroy the old convention without thinking of how it would be if everything was anarchy around us.
PP: Would you say free form poetry is bad poetry?
MG: There are good poets [using] the free form, just like in our generation. The one [who is] honest to the theme that he or she chooses is the one that becomes a good poet.