In an experience that she defines as “life affirming,” the winner of South Africa’s first National Slam for your life champion at the National Art festival is making great strides in establishing herself as a prominent figure in our spoken-word scene.
Speaking about the event held during the National Arts Festival Grahamstown, 21-year old Koleka Putuma says that it’s “great to finally have a space where artists from different parts of the country can come together and learn from each other, challenge each other and share their work on stage.”
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet up her – on behalf of Live Mag – at the Word and Sound poetry session this past weekend. Looking both elegant and delicate, there is definitely something compelling about the confidence she oozes when performing on stage. The dynamic manner in which Koleka performs her poetry is enough to invite an audience of any kind. Every word, expression and gesture feels so genuine and authentic. I would expect nothing less from someone who describes herself as passionate, rooted and stranged.
The Port Elizabeth-born, Cape Town raised poet and performer is currently completing her final year at the University Of Cape Town, studying towards Theatre and Performance degree. Koleka considers herself fortunate to have been raised in a city as culturally diverse and rich as Cape Town. She says that it has taught her a great deal about people, cultures, independence and social skills. “My childhood was church-ed out and beautiful… confusing at times, but mostly beautiful,” she adds.
Koleka started writing poetry when she was in grade 9 for a Life Orientation task and hasn’t looked back since. Inspired by her personal (and even other people’s) experiences, Koleka’s writing forces her to shift her perception of the world and adjust how she lives. Among the many things that Koleka hopes to achieve with her writing, she would like to make people aware of the fact that “we need to be discerning of self-inflicted slavery, and how it can not only cripple us but those around us.”
— #PoemsForGaza (@Afurakan) August 2, 2014
Koleka defines poetry as “the thing we use to see ourselves and understand the constant motion, chaos and beauty around us.” And that is part of the reason that she hates the idea of people requesting her to perform for free. “It’s baffling, I’m still trying to figure out on how it is that one could live on exposure [alone],” she explains.
Although Koleka won such a major competition, she claims she has Glossophobia – the fear of public speaking. “I dread public speaking. It actually makes my stomach tight,” she adds.
Being highly influenced by religion, her mother and Allen Ginsberg (in that order), she says that she has pushed herself to excel in everything she does. The Badilisha Poetry X-Change, SlipNet InZync Poetry Sessions and other independent Initiatives are among just some of the many things that she has been involved in with the aim to excel.
When she is not performing or learning about it and theatre production, Koleka facilitates writing and performance workshops at schools and community projects in and around Cape Town. “I try and make the effort to live outside of what I do artistically; I find that the work is more informed that way,” she says..
In the South African context, Koleka believes that the art form is certainly taking a more explorative and interdisciplinary direction. “I think poetry will no longer be a medium that may even be named or termed ‘spoken word’ or even ‘performance poetry’. The poetry scene – from where I am observing and participating from – is definitely expanding, not only in quantity but in quality,” she explains.
In the near future Koleka aspires to work with Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie because she views her as someone who is “fearless and unapologetic in her work and [in] life”. However, 10 years from now Koleka says she has no idea where she will be. “I have no idea, even next week is a mystery to me. I hope to travel, I hope to publish. I hope for a lot of things, which may or may not come to fruition 10 years from now, it’s best to stay present I think and do the work that is in front of you” she adds.
And to everyone who is yearning to become a recognised poet and writer, Koleka’s parting words are “keep at it… This has been the reason for my growth. The continuous process of writing and finding spaces to share my work and being open to feedback has shaped me tremendously.”
Follow me on Twitter: @simplybobontle
And find Koleka:@KPutuma
S/O to @WordNSound for the video and tweets