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Kgebetli Moele

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category

When we run dry



There is a Sotho proverb that warns the fish to hope for mud, as the water dried while it was not looking. It is not cynical at all, merely a friendly warning to the fish – who of course is not really a fish. It is a warning to humans to be prepared for the unthinkable, hence we have insurance and life cover. It is a hope that we will survive in the mud when the water runs dry.

Today, I was crisscrossing my mind, searching for answers that I already know. Why would I perform such a futile exercise? Well, because I have discovered that the world is full of lies and half-truths. I was reviewing the answers I already have, for they may all be wrong.

In all our lives we have lived a dozen lies believing them to be true, to the extent that we do not even question them. On the rare occassion we do question them, we only have professors, pastors, teachers and parents to ask. Professors tell you theories. Pastors teach us the word that they themselves don’t even understand; they can never give a reason why Noah cursed Canaan. Teachers who teach because they were taught that way. I was told that children come from aeroplanes. I was a child; I believed the foolish explanation, and when an aeroplane was flying past I asked for a “toy” baby brother to play with. These lies made me a fool because being fooled was part of my upbringing.

That is another issue altogether. Here and now: How much creativity is in an individual? My girlfriend – the only female intellectual I ever kissed, born on a farm, raised by a grandmother on social welfare and a graduate of the University of the North (please, on your feet, a round of applause) – the one who loves to read books. She shared a tear when she read that Timbila had shut its doors. She knew, read and loved the poet Vonani Bila, mostly because of Dahl Street and the poem in which Vonani was healing his raging but helpless self after his apartment was broken into and blaming “Boys from Seshego”.

She also fell in love with all the closet poets that Bila presented on an international stage.

Again on your feet: A moment of silence for Timbila and Vonani Bila.

My girlfriend, she commented: “Bila’s creativity has run out, it is all dry and now he can focus on important things about life and living.”

The statement had a load of implications, so I pretended that I did not fully understand it. But I did, hence this question: How much creativity is in an individual?

My colleague, the great Zukiswa Wanner, believes that every living soul has one book running within their veins. She characterises a writer as someone who has written a book and an author as one who has written more than three books. I asked, what about manuscripts? She gave a short answer: “Manuscripts do not count.”

The argument was filtered to this: Everyone can do 60 minutes of stand-up comedy and lift many people out of their miserable lives. Come the 61st minute, the comedian will have shitted out all that he had naturally and now has to think hard. If they make it to the 121st minute and we are still dead, laughing ourselves out of our miserable lives, it is true creativity. Most comedians are stuck under 60 minutes with just a one-hour DVD and the second hour, you can’t even stand to watch it to the end.

Bila is a creative individual. I defend Bila. That is one of the things that Timbila could not avoid; it was run for the sake of creativity, it traded on creativity rather than profit. As great as all his poets were, they did not make a substantial living from their publications. He was happy when some of us worshipped them and the world knew them. Sales and academic recommendation were far away from Timbila’ modus operandi. I think. I know that Bila was not tired of being a poet – it is in his blood – as Mpho Ramaano is. Yes, we do not have any more offerings from Ramaano but ask any woman who provokes his men what kind of praises flow out of his mouth.

Give any writer money and a story and ask them to produce in a month. My girlfriend thinks that I can never offer anything more powerful than what I already have on the table. I say, test me and see if I cannot grant you another Book of the Dead, one which has nothing to do with HIV/Aids but is equally powerful and revelling. Test me and find out how many manuscripts are laying waste and gathering digital dust in my digital drawer. Try me and see how many books I have stored in the compartments of this head basket.

When you see Timbila and the likes close down it is not because talent has run dry but because the rain never came to water it. If you don’t see any more of Moele on the shelves, just know that the investments are returning negative in this rented life.

Vonani Bila has talent, immense talent, but this life is for rent and we have to pay.

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‘Timbila, don’t find rest’ – A love letter to a now deceased poetry journal



Words of Tears

In the last instalment of Timbila – Volume 7Vonani Bila closes the editor’s notes:

It starts with reading. To foster a South African literary tradition, we need to harness all efforts to build a national writers’ association, to encourage a culture of translation, and support multilingual literary journals like Kotaz, Timbila and Botsotso. We need to build libraries and literary museums in rural areas. Let us honour the rural communities that gave us great writers by giving them education facilities, essential social services, and the opportunity to read.

This is after a rant about all the great writers that are products of de-privileged rural South African communities. This was the vision and the basic purpose of Timbila, a role that it wanted to fulfil: unearth and nurture voices in any language and domain. That critical word, “was”: Timbila is no longer with us, the living. The lifeblood that was beating there has fallen victim to the obligations of life. People do grow and maybe Timbila was another folly of youth.

This folly that I have fallen in love with; her tune invaded and extended my time in the loo.

He drinks me like wine
the kind he’d buy
glances at his watch
as he gently taps my emptying bottle
and strokes the unbroken ‘O’ of its lips

The harmony of that Timbila presented the fifth dimension of life, knowledge that words are not for academia and William Shakespeare was not meant for school but for life.

Just one more gulp –
He speaks: I swoon
and spill out the corners of his mouth

It has in its short life unearthed some of the greatest contemporary voices of our democracy. Timbila presented us with the likes of Vonani Bila – the passionate poet who, himself lost and starving within the cracks of this illiterate country, created a platform for the footpath/street corner wordsmith to be realised as a poet. An applause, please.

Goodenough Mashego – a rural wordsmith from rural Mpumalanga. He, who made Shatale township a beautiful living being, caressed and made love to her. Cried in her arms and ridiculed him when he became inhuman.

He takes a handkerchief
and carefully
wipes the mess
before it lands on his shirt.
Smiles apologetically:
A bit of caution, my dear.

The list is endless, Myesha Jenkins – the woman from America who divorced the first world for our beautiful economy class country. Makhosana Xaba – she made a mark because of Timbila, Mpho Ramaano, Mbongeni Khumalo, Kopano Dibakwane, David wa Maahlamela, Moses Mtileni and, from the dungeon of life, Timbila saved and presented to the nation Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho, who to this day possesses no power to disempower. The list goes on and on.

by a thirst
that only the devil could
He drinks me.

I would never have crisscrossed the minds of these poets but because Timbila presented them with love and care I knew their deep thoughts. Timbila did not remodel the poet for purposes of exploration but in order to harness and harvest what was inside.

He drinks to the very dregs
of my youth.
And – lost in psychedelic illusions –
exposes the man-child
and his games.

As one who has fallen in love with words, words enjoyed in moments, verses of life, these words more potent than a shot of angel dust or a pull of nyaope.

Futile, I hear you say, but satisfying and addictive. Addictive because you can never get enough of it. You always need it and when the supply goes, WHEN THE SUPPLY CLOSES SHOP, you are left with a scorching headache and nowhere to doctor it. Yes, you can browse your favourite bookshop but Timbila, like angel dust, is never in the mainstream. Drugs are illegal and if one supplier goes another sprouts out but in the case of Timbila, of words, it is exclusive, for very, very few.

My beautiful girl, the bone of my bones once said it as she un-boned herself from my bones:

Poetry doesn’t feed babies

Yes, black men are a virile lot and babies need be fed.

Yet I chose to play –
I allow him to swallow
me in exchange
for this mockery of love:
I am his Venus today,
His piss tomorrow

Timbila, don’t find rest.

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An Obituary of a Living Man

James Woodhouse, editor and publisher at Kwela Books, resigned. Resigned? Or rather, was fired about a month ago. I think and believe that he was fired as he never even sent a goodbye email. He deserted this ship in deep sea and vanished.

I got to know James Woodhouse by phone when he called in 2003 after he read the hard copy of my manuscript “Aborted Foetus Growing”, standing at 98 000 words in size 10 font. By his words he had just finished reading a series of dead manuscripts and he looked at the thickness and the font size of mine, shaking his head. He was not going to read it, but then he was compelled to read it. The opening pages touched him and on the morning of the third day he gave me a call. Since that day we were communicating regularly.

Room 207 should have been with us by 2004 but the then-Kwela publisher Annamarie resigned and Nelleke became publisher. There was a relationship that grew between me, James and Nelleke, and my then-girlfriend warned me about the relationship. “These people are working, you are just a job to them, nothing more.” But the relationship was personal, at least on my side.

When Nelleke trashed the book and proved my girlfriend right, James was there to give a comforting hand. There was a relation there that was not business, but it was business. Today I only have these words to comfort me and continue to travel – to borrow from Titlestad – this lonely trivial road.

James Woodhouse loved words, words moved him and made his life whole. He left some the most important things in life, that you and I would consider first and foremost, just to deal with words – words, from manuscript to publication.

And here I am in tears for losing for a word-man in my life as a living being and writer.

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