Laura Elliot once said that “Poetry, plays, novels, music, they are the cry of the human spirit trying to understand itself and make sense of our world.” This was made clearer at the Drama For Life Lover + Another Poetry Challenge. The challenge was “Man.Woman.Any[Queer]ies?”. Once the poets interpreted and broken it down the them, the result was poetry that was not only entertaining but also enlightening and forced the audience to re-examine and question their prejudices regarding sexuality and relationships.
Lover + Another Poetry Challenge is an annual event by Drama for Life which brings together poets from all around South Africa. The aim of the competition is to encourage the youth to talk about love, sex, gender roles, sexuality and HIV/AIDS openly.
This year, the finalist that slammed for the top spot in Johannesburg were Tsholang Bodibe and Xabiso Vili from Gauteng, Musawenkosi Khanyile and Busiswa Mkhize from Zululand, Che Keet and Precious Serekego from Free State, Anele Kose and Naledi Raba from Western Cape, Bongeka Zuma and Rodney Roskruge from Kwa Zulu-Natal and Yonela Faba and Simbaredi Chiwanza from Eastern Cape.
To kick off the night on the right note, the audience was gathered outside the theatre door and was welcomed by Malika Ndlovu. To set the tone for the night, she recited a poem titled Next Door which address gender-based violence. Now, with our appetite for poetry awakened, we went into the theatre and the waited in anticipation for a memorable slam.
The first poet to step up on stage was Musawenkosi from Zululand. After a shaky start and problems with the microphone, Musawenkosi delivered a moving poem about a homophobic man who throws the bible at his neighbour’s homosexual son boy. In an ironic twist, the bible falls open on Matthew 7 verse 1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” To make matters worse for him, it turns out that his son is also gay.
With that bible verse in mind, we were urged to be open-minded about what we will hear in the course of the night. The poems that followed spoke on falling in love, relationships, violence, corrective rape and coming out of the closet. They questioned homophobic behaviour and discrimination against homosexuals. They posed questions that most of us run away from.
In one of her poems, Naledi Raba asked,
“What if the wheels were turned and being heterosexual was a crime and you could be punished for holding a man’s hand as a girl, and breaking your virginity with the opposite sex was illegal?”
She further challenges society’s use of religion to condemn homosexuality,
“If you have never met God how would you know what the right way of living is?”
Xabiso Vili asked,
“Don’t they know we love just like them?
Is love different when expressed by heterosexuals than by homosexuals?”
In his poem, Che Keet provided the answer
“Heterosexuals romance is not the poster for how relationships are supposed to be.”
The beautiful thing about Lover + Another Poetry Challenge is that it’s not limited to poems in English only. That night we had 2 poets who recited in indigenous African languages; Anele Kose in isiXhosa and Bongeka Zuma in isiZulu and they had the crowd going crazy. To top it all off, Bongeka donned traditional Zulu attire.
Busiswa Mkhize recited a poem in isiZulu and English about the labelling and name-calling homosexuals are subjected to. She came out wearing cargo pants, a sports t-shirt and sneakers. This played on and challenged gender-roles and stereotypes about what a woman is supposed to wear and what a man is supposed to wear.
Besides the finalists, we were treated to poetry by one of the judges, Donna Smith and winner from of the 2011 edition of Lover + Another Poetry Challenge Kline Smith. In addition, Pearl gave a stunning dance performance. The accompanying music, her dancing and the manipulation of the body epitomised poetry in motion.
After the first round, we were left with Tsholang Bodibe, Anele Kose, Naledi Raba, Yonela Faba and Xabiso Vili in the top 5.
Khalil Gibran was right when he said “Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.” The poetry we heard was not only brilliantly written by it was full of love, joy, pain and anger.
Xabiso talking about love between two women,
“If the moon knew how to dream we would live in eternal darkness because it wouldn’t want to awaken from dreams of you two.”
Naledi talking about corrective rape, patriarchy and God’s silences at the suffering of the LGTB community,
“I said no 7 times. There were 3 of them, so I said No for each ear and one for God just in case he had balls…”
After all the emotional, honest, confrontational and gut-wrenching poetry, Naledi Raba from Western Cape was crowned the winner of Lover + Another Poetry Challenge 2013.10.14
All in all, the event delivered great poetry and lots of joy and laughter, thanks to the host Jefferson Tshabalala, or should I say the flamboyant, glamorous and melodramatic J-BooBoo?
Drama for Life has to be commended for the amazing work they do and their contribution to the discourse regarding sexuality and relationships. Lover + Another Poetry Challenge is an important event that we will always look forward to in the poetry calendar. It is my hope that the conversation that was initiated and stimulated by the amazing poets would continue and not end with that one night event.