Poetry has lost its voice in the concrete jungle

2011-02-11 09:32

Circa 1999. It was a dingy spot in downtown ­Johannesburg.

It had two pool tables at the back and a bar running down the side.

The stage was small and the sound left much to be desired, but every Wednesday night, it played host to a group of people from different backgrounds, all excited about one thing: words.

Jungle Connection in Joburg’s Doornfontein was the first ­open-mic poetry venue I went to.

In the beginning, there would be 20 people in the room, all on the list to share their words.

Later, as it became a popular hang-out spot, poets would compete with guys playing pool at the back and those ordering drinks at the bar.

In addition to poets, comedians and rappers would come through.

It was the one place where you were given an opportunity to share your art, as long as you were there on time to get your name on the list.

It was at Jungle Connection that I first heard of David Kau and got to see Slikour and Shugasmakx from Skwatta Kamp.

Blk Sonshine also played there and Tumi (of Tumi & The Volume) was a ­regular with the collective P.E.R.M, which included Lebo Mashile.

It was a gentle, open space that ­provided an outlet for so many of us looking for places to share and ­engage.

More places followed, such as Bassline (in Melville), The Radium (in Orange Grove), 206 (Orange Grove), Cool Runnings (Melville) and Shivava Cafe (Newtown).

At some stage, I was attending three to four open-mics a week.

Shows were popping up countrywide, and we were all finding our voices and our feet as writers and performers.

It was accessible and easy for anyone to get up on a stage and share their thoughts.

In some ways, this became the very problem that seems to have drained the scene over the past five years.

The committed and dedicated shifted their attention to individual careers as they jumped on the bandwagon in search of fame, without the understanding that, like everything, poetry is a craft that needs to be worked at.

Fewer shows started happening and fewer people were attending. At the same time, rappers and ­comedians started performing ­regularly, growing their careers.

Performance poetry is similar to comedy in that it doesn’t need much by way of equipment, etc.

A technical rider for a poet or comedian is generally a microphone and water to keep the throat lubricated.

Comedians seemed to come ­together to build the platforms, each one, in a way, contributing to the collective.
Poetry, on the other hand, seems to have lost this.

There are no platforms for the young poets to learn their craft and build solid foundations for their work.

» Baffoe is the editor of Destiny Man

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