Fourteen Batswana poets and one visual artist have had the opportunity to have their work published in the prestigious literary journal, Prairie Schooner, a publication out of the University of Nebraska. This special issue of the journal is called Fusion #2: “The Womb”. It was co-edited by the managing editor of Prairie Schooner, Marianne Kunkel, and Motswana poet TJ Dema.
This is the second issue of the journal featuring this type of collaboration. In a press release from the journal the concept of Fusion is further explained. “Fusion is an opportunity to create dialog across geographical spaces and cultures through the sharing of art and writing. It represents an effort to create bridges and to do so by asking writers to think about the very things that connect (and) distinguish them in different parts of the world.”
The first issue of Fusion was a collaboration between the writers at Prairie Schooner and poets at Cordite Poetry Review, a publication based inAustralia.
Besides the poets, in this issue, three pieces from Motswana visual artist Sedireng Mothibatsela are included: Grahamstown 035, My Word 023, and Inkaba.
The theme of the issue is the womb. On this Kunkel says, “These conversations (on the womb) are serious, intimate and, as if we were discussing family secrets or money problems, private. Is the privacy we assign the womb fuelled by cultural respect or shame?…
I am struck by the poems emphasizing the womb’s role as a temporarily safe place for new life against a dangerous world; these poems are tender and startlingly sweet. The voices in the Batswana poems are also strong and urgent…
It’s clear that many poets featured in this special Fusion write about the womb without shame or hope for forgiveness. Rather than confess, they declare. Their poems are terrific examples of how to write about the female body—robust noise amidst oppressive cultural silence—and I am thrilled to bring them to you.”
Speaking about the history of poetry in Botswana, Dema says in her introduction to the issue, “Ownership of fertile or safe space and the ability to create life, art, and industry is a reoccurring theme in mankind’s story.
And despite the womb being both home and creator, there was a time when the word poko (poetry) or leboko (poem) conjured ideas of an elder man reciting at the coronation of a king. I say man because poetry inBotswana was for the longest time the exclusive domain of men.”
But now, she concedes, if you ask an average Motswana on the street to name a poet, more likely than not a woman’s name would be the answer.
That has changed, but, Dema portends, the tradition of oral poetry to still vibrant. “More than ever, this generation of (spoken word) poets falls withinBotswana’s traditional poetic form. The poets themselves may speak English and sport torn denims and statement T-shirts rather than cow-hide garments, but their passion for live performance remains.”
It is true that performance poetry is the home for most of the featured Batswana poets, but the page is not an alien place for some of them. Poets such as Barolong Seboni, Tiro Sebina andBobana Badisangare just as familiar with the page. My feeling is that performance and the page should not be distant cousins but different sides of a coin for a disciplined poet.
Among the American poets in this issue, only one male is found. I was pleased to see that Batswana men stood their ground on this topic, with half of the poems being written by men.
Batswana poets included in Fusion #2 are: Barolong Seboni, Tiro Sebina, Mandisa Mabuthoe, Karabo Masalela, Leshie Lovesong, Andreattah Chuma, Bobana Basisang, Tshepo Jamillah Moyo, Maya Roze, Legodile “Dredd X”Seganabeng, Mpaphi Angell Nthoi, Karabo Valerie Ferguson, Joshua Thatayaone Machao, and Tshireletso Motlogelwa.
One of the standouts in the collection is the two line poem, titled “Baby” by Karabo Masalela. It had such powerful resonance. Also it made me think of something I read recently about poetry on the page and the use of the white space.
This poet said that the white space is everyone else talking and the words we put on the page is our voice. The interaction between the words and the white space is an important aspect of any poem. Masalela seems to understand this.
I also enjoyed Andreattah Chuma’s “Loving Haiti from Afar” andBobana Badisang’s “Notelet to Feline”. I thought Tshepo Jamillah Moyo’s poem “Battleship” about the mothering of our children, our “kings and queens”, was also touching.
I think our poets have done us proud. If you want to read Fusion #2: “The Womb” it is available online. (http://prairieschooner.unl.edu/?q=fusion/womb)