“Give your poems names. They are your children.”
Tumelo Khoza, on her facebook page, 22 January 2014.
One of these children, a poem titled “This Young Man” plays with the nursery rhyme “This Old Man”. A poem about reversing the roles and a woman approaching a man she fancies…
“This young man
He played one
He played knick-knack on my tongue
With a knick-knack paddywhack
Give a girl a bone
This young man came rolling home
May I recite by hear to you
And what’s hidden in it
Just 59 seconds of your time
Before I ask for your digits…”
[restrict]Rustum Kozain has described her as a fearless poet, a description that many who know her would agree with. Her work be it in poetry or organizing, is about challenging the norm, about being vocal and standing up to be seen.
Though currently based in Chicago, USA, Tumelo is still one half of the brain behind the poetry event Cup O’ Though. She spoke to social and cultural activist Mensa Maseko about her work in poetry.
Menzi Maseko: Where are you based right now and are you still involved in any poetic activities?
Tumelo Khoza: I am currently based in Chicago, IL, USA. Poetry has always been an art I am involved in, wherever I go.
MM: What does poetry mean in your life?
TK: Poetry is to me, what breathing is to Man. Life.
MM: Do you think that as a poet on stage and on the page, you are able to express the full range of your thoughts and experiences?
TK: Most certainly. Through language (and all that it encompasses), I am able to shape my thoughts and experiences in poetry.
MM: I have noticed that you are very close to your little sister, does family life play a significant part in your work, if so, how so?
TK: Family is a part of me as a branch is part of a tree. I cannot separate myself from family, and as I grow older, I find that they are worth appreciating and praising all the time. It’s important to me that they know and understand how thankful I am to be part of their tree.
MM: So being so far from home, how do you cope homesickness?
TK: By writing. Writing and reflecting. I have found socializing to be such a challenge, being in a country where nobody knows you at all. I am getting there, slowly but surely. Meeting a lot of people who remind me of a lot of people back home. It’s heart-warming, and with each encounter I have with enlightened people, I do not feel the gap of being away from home.
MM: Have your skills as a qualified performing artist expanded or limited your style of creating poetry?
TK: They have enhanced my style completely, and they continue to do so in ways I cannot fathom. When I was in university, one professor, Prof. Deborah Lütge, told us that every artist has their own signature, just as everybody is an individual. That made sense to me. I also acknowledged that I do have a signature as an artist.
MM: Do you still remember the first poem your ever wrote or recited?
TK: I do. It was a poem dedicated to my three best friends at the time. I was 11 years old, in Grade 5. Not once, back then, did I think that a door that leads to my destiny had been opened.
MM: Do you ever experience the notorious writer’s block and if so how do you overcome it?
TK: There’s no such thing as writer’s block. Every poem is written at a time it is meant to be written.
MM: Has living in another country altered your world-view or perspective in any way?
TK: Right now, I’d say that I am finding myself appreciating my roots more than I did before. Because I have so much time to write and reflect, I am able to write detailed emails and have lengthy phone calls to and with family and friends back home. If anything, I want nothing more that to let the world know how beautiful South Africa is. That’s not to say it does not have its own flaws, but no country is perfect.
MM: South Africa’s poetry scene has expanded very much lately; do you think that this has added more quality or just quantity to the various sessions mushrooming around?
TK: That’s a funny question. I have been told that we may all write, but not all of us are writers. In the same breath I will add, however, that there certainly are some phenomenal poets in South Africa, across the country. Wordsmiths who are impeccable in their craft; who have readers and listeners in the palm of their hands.
MM: As a co-founder of Tea Cup and organiser at Cup O’ Thought, what challenges and opportunities have you come across?
TK: Tea Cup was founded by Thando Mlambo and I in 2011. It serves as a platform for artists in different genres not just in Durban, but the rest of the country as well. This, however, is not just limited to South Africa, we have hosted artists from neighbouring countries and from as far as Canada. We have encountered financial problems, which we always seek to overcome. We have been able to keep the shows running from our own pockets, with the undeniable help from Alliance Française de Durban, Ewok, Nosipho Mkhize, Lara “Gemini Poet” Kwela, Poetry Africa and the phenomenal support of the people who live in the beautiful city of Durban. I can honestly say that we are blessed.
MM: About your recently published book and CD, Roots of an Apple Tree (2013), do you have confidence that having your voice heard and read would have a greater or lesser impact on your audience?
TK: When I was growing up, I read a lot of poetry books. I was also introduced to one of my favourite poets through multimedia mediums such as television, audio/CDs, radio, and the like. I wanted my work to be available both on paper and in audio, as we are living in a world that is forever progressing when it comes to technological aspects. I also feel that people still read and have bookshelves in their homes.
MM: Is there any poet you would ever hope to collaborate with on stage as a Spoken Word Artist: It could be a poet, musician, illustrator or whichever medium?
TK: Oh my goodness, there are so many. I would be honoured, however, to share a stage with my mentor of eight years now, Malika Ndlovu. She has been such an inspiration to me since I met her in 2005. We are comets in the same universe.
In the past year, Tumelo moved to Chicago where she is working with children as an au pair. But despite being away from home, she has kept herself busy by connecting to the poetry community and working with groups such as Generations of Progress and various poetry sessions. She’s writing and performing and all we can do is wait to see how her work will grow from these new experiences. Hopefully soon, there’ll be another collection of poetry or a CD. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date.[/restrict]