Vuyelwa Maluleke is a Wits Drama graduate who has found her artistic home in poetry because it gave her the licence to create and direct the story. She has been a storyteller and an avid reader since she was a young. Vuyelwa uses her poetry tell the story of the women she sees all around her… Vuyelwa made a name for herselve by competing as a performance poet on platforms like Word N Sound in Johannesburg. As a recent Brunel University African Poetry Prize “shortlistee”, Vuyelwa’s voice is set to resound around the world. Poetry Potion quizzed her about her craft.
“we are people too not just bodies…”
Poetry Potion: How did you come to poetry or how did poetry find you?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: I consider myself a storyteller, be it in my acting or poetry. Poetry gives you the words for your own stories; it is the most liberating, solitary experience. But my poetry arises whenever I speak to someone and think ‘you are [an] asshole because…’ and ‘oh, this is how we hurt each other’. When I feel like I haven’t heard that character tell that story that’s when I reach for poetry.
PP: Can you remember the first poem you shared in a public setting? What made you sure, pushed you to get up and say this is my poem? Talk about what the poem was about and how you felt.
VM: Sure, I’ve had many failed starts, embarrassed myself so much. I’m ducking under [the table] just thinking about all of it. In my first year of varsity, I was a terrible cliché but that is how you begin. It is how you find your voice, while you read the good stuff. There was a poem, ‘dear ex lover’, and [I] doused the audience [with] mediocre poetry, but I loved it enough and then I forgot the lines mid performance because there are no cliff notes in slam. After every try I said ‘you can do better, let people hear you do better by their stories’ and that is what I try [to do], always.
PP: You were recently shortlisted for the Brunel University African Poetry Prize, how did you feel when you were told?
VM: The Brunel University African Poetry Prize was [an] affirm[ation] of my work and my attempts. I was very grateful and blessed by it. It made me feel like I could show my parents something concrete, at last, and say “see, people will read your stories”. I’m a black woman writer, with old school parents who allow me to be an artist and believe [in] it.
I was grateful.
PP: One of the shortlisted poems is My Mother Says; is it one of your favourites? Talk about what inspired it and what are your hopes for it
“My mother says
you do not need a gun to hurt him
do it when you are a sober morning
when your voice is as beautiful as a broken violin
make it go further than your nails under his skin…”
VM: I hate to say what it’s about, that poem. I feel like it stops people from getting what they want from it. But it’s about a friend, and love, and mistakes.
PP: One of your poems, about choosing names that rare difficult, Big School, is one of my favourite poems. It’s such a powerful poem that always reminds me of Magoleng wa Selepe’s My Name and a few other personal experiences.
“Look what they have done to my name…
The wonderful name of my great-great-grandmothers
Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa
The burly bureaucrat was surprised.
What he heard was music to his ears
‘Wat is daai, sê nou weer?’”
What inspired Big School? And do people usually go insane after hearing?
“Today, her misty glasses are lowered for a scowl at you as she asks,
‘What is your name?’
her voices flows through the folds of cake and tea and her neck to you
but you’ve practiced saying your name on a playground with friends…”
VM: Well it depends, if the audience is black, and their names are in one of our vernacular languages they are the story. If they are white and they are a Michelle, and have asked black children ‘for an easier name’ they are the student and the lesson. Sometimes people don’t like to hear the ‘this is how you offend me, make me small’ talk
you answer through custard cheeks with your parents promise for you
and when they ask for something easier know that all promises worth making
should dry your mouth out and you are a language without acronyms…”
PP: I know you as a performance poet, when you perform your poetry, what is it that you hope to achieve? Is performance a big part of your life?
VM: I love performance; it is the one time I get to share my solitary life. Share the stories. If people leave with the thought ‘I hate it because’ or ‘I love it because’ it means they listened. They were moved to a response, a no or a yes
Performance poetry is part of the dream, always. But this year has been filled with acting, shooting and auditioning. I’m a trained actor so that is my bread and butter. I want performance poetry to be the dream and the food, but it’s not there yet.
PP: Will we see a book, or anything in print one the days?
VM: Well…there is talk of a chapbook. I will shout about it when it’s done.
“to the plus size girl I once was
the full cream, double thick and then some girl
the girl I barely see on bill boards, that size sixteen girl
honey, I wish someone could’ve told you just once that you’re a wonder…”
PP: Now that you can add, the Poetry Prize shortlisting in your bag of achievements, what else are you looking to do next – more prizes, or?
VM: I don’t know. As long as I’m making work, telling stories…
Follow Vuyelwa on twitter, @vee_m_words to find out where she’s performing next
this article was published in our print quarterly number six, Poems For Freedom.
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