The written word has long held an aura of defiance. Some of the earliest rebels were those with a pen. And many of the most notable philosophers often kept their writings to themselves. They feared their ideologies, which were of the result of their contempt with the times, would result in their deaths. Sometimes work that we praise today, from poems to books and philosophical ideas had hidden beginnings.
We now live in more liberal times. What we say, while it might not always be liked, is often accepted. Writers have more freedom of thought but it is the spoken word artists who have real courage.
Imagine writing out your painful thoughts, arranging them into something driving and poetic and then standing in front of a room full of strangers and belting out your deepest thoughts.
Could you do it?
The term spoken word comes from the United States. Basically, it is a performance art based on words. It’s not necessarily poetry but the feeling is still the same. These words stir emotions and make people either squirm or they have the power to make people feel inspired and empowered.
Words in my Mouth is an organisation that has given artists the freedom to do just that. To speak freely. They are an inspiring group bringing out the best in young writers. They don’t do it for the money; they do it because they are passionate about the spoken word.
Words in My Mouth gave me a moment of their time to find out more about the initiative.
I first saw Words in My Mouth Poetry Slam on Facebook, and I was instantly intrigued. So I emailed them a few questions to find out more about their initiative.
Can you tell me how the Words in My Mouth Poetry Slam started? What inspired this organisation?
Words in My Mouth Poetry Slam was inspired by the lack of opportunities in terms of poetry in and around Nelspruit especially spoken word poetry. When we put up our first show we needed something that would speak to people. So a close friend of the founder suggested a bible verse in Isaiah 51:16 which reads “I have put words in your mouth and covered you in the shadow of my hand”. So that’s what we based it on hence the name “words in my mouth”.
Who are the founding members and can you tell me a little bit about their backgrounds?
The founding member of Words In My Mouth is Menzi Mkhonza, a semi-well known spoken word poet from Nelspruit. He has performed at Innibos, released a small collection of poems called “The Pressure Of Love”, and is now currently writing his full-length collection called “Less Than A Stanza”. Later he collaborated with Noah Phiri, an artist from Nelspruit who also is writing a small collection of poems called “Anonymous” and together they play the role of facilitator and coordinator. They run workshops, recruit new poets and mentor them, while also teaching performance. Both of them are under 21, with Menzi being the eldest.
When was the first session held and how was it received by the audience? Has the initiative grown a lot since the early days? Have there been any challenges?
On the 6th of April 2017, we had our very first slam at the former Stoep Restaurant. It was well received by the audience which led to our first publication on Nelspruit Post. It was also a night where new and not so confident poets got a chance to grow into their performance.
To our surprise, it has grown, and poets from Pretoria are starting to come to perform in Nelspruit and experience Nelspruit poetry. That led us to host Koleka Putuma, best-selling author of the book “Collective Amnesia” only a month after our first every session. We’ve also hosted Joseph Alexander Brown, an international poet from Zambia. We recently had Busisiwe Mahlangu, a Tswane poetry slam champion as part of our Slam Week. So we have grown fast in our first year facilitating poetry.
We have faced a lot of challenges. We came in with the idea that the poetry will be soft and calm. But when Koleka joined us she exposed us to the rawness of poetry and very open-minded topics. But that led to the customer’s at Stoep leaving during the slam. The other thing that we struggle with is funding or sponsorships. Sometimes we lack finances to pay our photographer. No one else gets paid in the organisation. Even when we run workshops, our facilitators do it out of love for poetry. This also takes a knock on our marketing because the only way we can make money is with gate takings.
“We need people to witness the greatest authors while they are still young and haven’t moved away from Nelspruit.”
Who can take part in the sessions?
Last year we did a lot of recruitment but this year we are making it an open mic event so anyone can come. But people must be warned that it’s an open-minded slam organisation which opens up a lot of conversations that people are scared to talk about.
Finally, what does the future hold for Words in My Mouth Poetry Slam?
“Our slogan is “We gonna continue the slam!”
Essentially for us, that means we will keep reading, writing, teaching and learning. We do not know what the future holds for us but what matters is the now. We are already the biggest slam organisation in Nelspruit! It goes without saying that we are preparing for success now.
I have always believed that Nelspruit needs more art, poetry, and open, honest conversation. Words in My Mouth is a breath of fresh air in a town starved of art and in desperate need of something different; something to take people out of their comfort zones. And it is unsurprising that it is the youth of our town bringing these concepts to the table and making them a reality.