Home News Project showcases vibrant, multilingual work of city poet

Project showcases vibrant, multilingual work of city poet

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International Mother Language Day was celebrated on Wednesday and the AVBOB Poetry Project showcased the vibrant, multilingual work of Sizakele Nkosi, poet, children’s writer and creative writing lecturer at Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley.

Sizakele Nkosi believe poets should use language that is true to them. Picture: Supplied

WHILE South Africans are proud of having 11 official languages, it is generally accepted that publishing books in indigenous languages is challenging, especially when it comes to poetry.

International Mother Language Day was celebrated on Wednesday and the AVBOB Poetry Project showcased the vibrant, multilingual work of Sizakele Nkosi, poet, children’s writer and creative writing lecturer at Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley.

Nkosi has facilitated poetry and jazz sessions through her House of Siza platform for years. Her debut collection, “u-Grand, Malume?” was published by Botsotso last year.

Most of the poems in the collection are in English, but its title tells us that Nkosi has a fine ear for the gritty, cosmopolitan slang of Johannesburg’s city streets.

These are poems firmly rooted in our present moment, but Nkosi also looks backward, preserving what is in danger of being lost.

“’u-Grand, Malume?’ is used as a respectful greeting to men. It is a way of checking in on one’s uncles, the older men who play such a critical role in black families.

“But I grew up without an uncle. My uncle Mandla was killed by the police in the US and my uncle Jabulani disappeared in exile, fighting for the liberation of black people in South Africa,” Nkosi said.

She explained that the collection is inspired by the language, the everyday lives of the people.

“These poems are my way of preserving and celebrating the people in the township and bringing my uncles’ spirits back home.”

Several poems are first presented in isiZulu, her first language, and then translated into English. “I wanted to write in a language that is accessible to the people I’m writing about.”

As someone who moves between languages, it is not surprising that some poems presented themselves in isiZulu first and others in English. But even the English poems carry traces of isiZulu, both from KwaZulu-Natal and from Soweto.

A helpful glossary has been added to make isiZulu words more accessible to an English-speaking audience.

The important thing, she says, is for languages to keep moving.

“I believe poets should use language that is true to them, that expresses them. If we write in English, it should be the English that we use every day. Our indigenous languages shouldn’t be stuck in some pure form either.”

In “Music Tour”, Nkosi memorably shows what it feels like to keep moving forward while simultaneously looking back and honouring what went before. She takes the reader on a musical road trip through the streets of Soweto.

She is optimistic about the future of poetry in indigenous languages.

“There is still this false belief that black people don’t read. This collection is proof that they do. These poems have already sparked conversation and critical discussions about our current social realities,” Nkosi said.

The AVBOB poetry competition will reopen its doors in August. Since the project’s inception, it has been committed to promoting poetry in all of South Africa’s official languages.

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