Spier Poetry Festival: Quick Q&A with Keorapetse Willie Kgositsile

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Why is poetry, and the celebration of poetry, important to you?

Poetry, as I see it, is a celebration of life as creative activity. Hence the importance of the celebration of poetry. Poetry celebrates life through the aesthetic ordering of language comparable to the way music does through its aesthetic ordering of sound. Perhaps that is why poetry aspires to song, to ritual. A piece of literary art identifies itself as a poem because of how, in it, language is handled to explore its possibilities at its most expressive. The what, ie content, simply leads the reader to what the poet’s imagination was most responsive to at the moment of the birth of the poem.

Is it a poet's responsibility to write engaged literature?

Since literature is the exploration of lived experience, whether imagined or real, through language, one could argue that literature is always engaged. How it is engaged is often where problems arise. A writer with a sense of social responsibility is responsive to, and explores, social issues. At the risk of plagiarising myself I’m tempted to say when you write you are proposing, affirming or opposing certain identifiable values; what you produce is engaged.

Will you please share one of your poems, or a part of it, with our readers?

For Sterling Plumpp

When Harriet Tubman
heard the thunder of the guns
and saw their terrible lightning
and the blood and the dead bodies
your voice was there

Your voice was born and borne
in the muddy waters of the delta
way before a brother had been
through enough to resolve
he would rather drink muddy water
sleep in a hollow log
than go to New York City
and be treated like a dirty dog

Sterling, we dub you itinerant
as troubadour here to testify
when your mojo hands call
we must go to reclaim our history
and resolve that no force on this planet
will ever fold our life into banknotes
as we create our future full of laughter
and purpose

As Baraka says: we own the night
and the day will not claim them
how could you not testify
when your voice is parent
and son of the blues

  • Chicago poet Sterling Plumpp was born January 30, 1940, in Clinton, Mississippi. 
  • Harriet Tubman was a slave an abolitionist and a Union spy during the American Civil War. The American Treasury announced earlier this month that her image will soon be featured on the $20 dollar bill, replacing the 7th American president, Andrew Jackson.


Professor Keorapetse Willie Kgositsile, considered one of South Africa’s most distinctive poetic voices since the l960s, is South Africa’s National Poet Laureate.

The dancing in other words / dansende digtersfees is an annual international poetry event, curated by Breyten Breytenbach and Dominique Botha, and composer Neo Muyanga. The 2016 festival will take place on Saturday 7 May. Click here for more information.

Al singende en dansende na die Spier Digtersfees 2016

“Die fees sal weer eens ’n bevoorregte ruimte bied vir die vervlegting van stemme waar ons sal droom asof ons vir ewig gaan lewe.” – Breyten Breytenbach


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