I spent a long time convincing myself that I do not suffer from FOMO. But it is after I had to leave the #CSPSlam right after the winner of the Open Slam is announced and the first thing I do after I check in at the airport is that I log into social media and search the hashtag #CSPSlam, to follow the One on One slam, Zewande BK Bhengu slamming agaist Ingonyama. I find #TeamZewande trending and I think to myself that, oh oh, I’m missing out on MALANGABS on a high. I then think to myself, I need to hear what Zewande BK Bhengu, the winner of the #CSPSlam Chapter 2 One on One slam, thinks about slams, poetry, South Africa and things nje, because someone might also want to know, but honestly it’s because FOMO stays winning. So I go ahead and ask him for an interview.
And here is what he had to say,
Why slam poetry?
An artist’s intentions are constantly evolving as the artist grows and the same applies to myself. My initial intentions with slamming was really to gauge where I was in relation to everyone else in terms of writing and performance. Once I started, because of everything that I was going through personally at the time, slamming became a way of healing and finding answers. It was at this time when I was questioning my position in poetry and in art as a whole and I suppose I was also figuring myself in life. After that phase, I really just wanted to solidify my place as one of the great in Spoken Word Poetry and the reason I continued to slam was so I could get recognised by the higher ups in the chain of art and also to get recognised by the general public. Now, my slamming is really a gateway to other things that I want to make possible for other people in and outside of the arts.
What does a movement such as The Current State of Poetry mean to you in this point of your poetry career?
I really must applaud CSP for what they are doing. Slams in general and without intending to glamourize poetry and poets in that we (the people) are not exposed to the work that goes behind getting on stage and slamming and elevating your work and yourself as an artist to Vus’muzi Phakathi levels. So what CSP has done is essentially stripped the idea that these God poets spring from the shadows already marvellous and fluent in the art. They have done this by making the poetry writing and performance workshops a pre-requisite to be part of the open slam and then opening the slam to young poets who want to grow. The youngest being 15 years old.
So, the whole gives tingling feelings all over, knowing that a grooming and growth is happening.
What is the feeling that stands between winning and losing a slam?
Confidence. I don’t know if confidence is a “feeling” though.
How was it preparing for a slam against Ingonyama having not met him or without prior study of his work?
Well, for one, I did not have as much time as I would have liked to. I was initially preparing to slam against Sbu Simelane and I had a very different set of poems which I had been rehearsing and when I heard that I would be slamming against Word Lord Ingo, I had to change poems. Beyond that, I have a lot of recorded poetry performance and interviews that are online and I knew he had access to those and would most likely be looking at them in preparation for the slam, so my thinking was that, I had to give him everything that he expects and more. I wanted to overwhelm him so much that he would lose his rhythm. Because as much as I had no personal experience of him, he had no personal experience of me.
And really, all was going well until his witchcraft kicked in in Round 3. You will remember that before I said anything in my third round, he hit his drum. (Witchcraft I say).
Many slams later, what is the one thing that is typical of a slam?
Vus’muzi Phakathi’s favourite hashtag is #DoBest, would you say, it’s doing your best that has got you this far?
No. In as much as I try, I always leave with a sense that I could have done better. I am of the thinking that I have a lot of room to improve in all areas and I am planning to. Perhaps attending some workshops may help. I don’t think I have done enough and certainly not my best. Even after winning, I still think I could have done better.
Do you think black poets carry the burden of the past?
I think all artists carry the burden of the past and I think that is perhaps a crucial requirement of being an artist: To be conscious of where you are in respect to where you come from (past) in relation to everyone else around you and the world. Whether you are ‘Black’ or ‘White’ or ‘Coloured’ or Asian. I do think though ‘Black’ artists are a lot more vocal, careless and vigorous in addressing the present state of ‘Blackness’ in view of the past. It’s really a marvel to experience coming from a history of being silenced to a present day of not holding back our thoughts around everything and anything. Do we carry the burdens of the past? I would say no. I think we carry the burden of the present but they may be informed by the past.
In Sticks and Stones you say “Fuck sticks and stones, protect me from words’. With what intention do you share your words?
I think a great misfortune is that I have never performed that poem in its full form (It is quite long) and much of my intentions with it have been lost in the snippet that is known. Regardless, this poem was written at a time when I was looking back into my past as a child, growing up to being the artist that I have come to be and I noticed bits and pieces of peoples words that really stuck with me. All that negative wrapped in something as simple and as potent as words and I carried all of them around with me. I was a boy in the rural areas of Bizana who did not play sports, kept much to myself, wrote poems, sketched, straight A scholar and did not entertain fist fight challenges much. So, I was called a few things along the way. Even in my adult life.
In one word, what are the challenges in poetry and what do you love about poetry?
What I love: Growth.