As part of the research we’re doing on the state of poetry in the SADC region, having interviewed poets (some of which represented collectives) from South Africa and Swaziland we’ve now moved to Botswana where we managed to do an interview with the founder, chairperson of Poetavango Spoken Word Poetry and the 2010 Bessie Head Literature Award Winners: Legodile Seganabeng. (Link; http://www.seganabeng.blogspot.com/ ). Lyrical Bacteria Blog (LB). Poetavango Director (PD).
LB: How can you describe the poetry scene in Botswana for the past five years? (In reference to other poetry scenes in SADC)
PD: Well, unlike in the neighbouring Zimbabwe and South Africa, poetry in Botswana is still on its infant stages, except, perhaps, for a very few individuals who worked exceptionally hard through the years to reach where they are now. Although different groups and individuals have always tried to break through and make their voices be heard, there hasn’t been a lot of support from within the country. This was mainly due to the fact that contemporary performance poetry and spoken word were still not yet very well understood and let alone appreciated. But things are changing for the better now. We see more sectors of the private and government bodies stepping up to assist the growth of this art form in the country. It’s a very encouraging development.
LB: One understands that you’ve schooled in SA for sometime, how did being exposed to poetry scene in SA impact on you as a poet?
PD: Yes, I studied in Johannesburg for five years (2001-2005). Prior to this time, I wasn’t much of a poet. In fact, I wasn’t a poet at all, though I can say I had a lot of interest in writing – you know, creative writing in general and nothing specific really. However, Johannesburg introduced me to performance slam poetry and spoken word, something that wasn’t yet there in Botswana back then. It really felt wonderful and truly fulfilling to just sit there and listen to poets spill their heads out. Now you can imagine how it felt like when the inevitable inspiration ultimately made me take the pen and the paper. Simply put, I don’t think I’d be a poet had I not stayed in Johannesburg at that particular point in time.
LB: What realization or goal led to the formation of Poetavango?
PD: came up as an initiative to fill in the gap that has been open for a very long time. It is this gap that has not made it possible for the nation of Botswana to know, understand and appreciate the art of poetry and storytelling. With Poetavango in existence and very felt nationwide, we are confident that our goals are being reached, one way or the other.
LB: One would just be keen to know why the name ‘Poetavango’.
PD: Poetavango Spoken Word Poetry is based in Maun, the tourism capital of Botswana. Maun is known as the gateway to the mighty Okavango Delta. So, we live in a region which is generally known as the Okavango. So the name Poetavango is just an amalgamation of Poet and Okavango.
LB: What role is Poetavango playing in the Botswana poetry sphere that a collective like Exoduslivepoetry! Poetry might have not played?
PD: I can’t talk for Exodus but the one thing I can state about Poetavango is that the group has strived to not only promote poets in their region but in the entire country as well. Poetavango believes that for Botswana poetry to grow, poets in the country need to hold each other’s hands and support one another. Hence, whenever Poetavango host shows in Maun or elsewhere in the country, they always involve poets from other collectives. Poetavango has also been working very closely with school-going children. We facilitate poetry coaching clinics in secondary schools and engage learners in poetry slams intended to encourage and mould them into better writers and performers of tomorrow. Poetavango believes that for poetry to really cement its stance in society, it has to start from school level.
LB: Being a community-based and non-profit making poetry organization how has the organization managed to sustain itself?
PD: It’s never easy. It’s a blessing that members of the Poetavango collective are all determined, focused and, most importantly, united. Even when our coffers run empty after donating away, we still look forward to more and better events in the future. So, we survive from a very small plate but we are able, nonetheless, to move forth with our mission without distraction or discouragement.
LB: One of your objectives is; 1.To promote Spoken Word Poetry- Taking poetry out to the people’. Which mechanism(s) has the organization employed since its formation to carry out the above-mentioned objective?
PD: Right from the onset, that is, in March 2008 when the collective was formed, we started holding free bi-monthly shows to the members of the Maun community. Please note that by then, very many people in our community had not yet been exposed to poetry before. So slowly we induced poetry into them. In no time our free session were packed by both locals and tourist. As time went on, we started moving around the country to do a few shows. Then one of the very successful ways we used was the Maun International Poetry Festival which started in March 2011.
LB: Tell us about The Maun International Poetry Festival (MIPF) organized and managed by Poetavango. PD: The MIPF is an annual poetry event that takes place in Maun, Botswana. We came up with this initiative after we realised that no matter how many bi-monthly shows we hold, the audience still hunger for more. Maun has indeed turned into the Home of Poetry and everyone wants to come to Maun for poetry events. Then we found it fit that we create a platform that can cater for everyone from across all walks of life; a platform with a wide variety of poetry and performances; a platform where every poetry fanatics from around the country and abroad can sit under one roof and bask to the same fire. That had to be an international poetry festival in Maun.
LB: Being the Founder & Chairperson of Poetavango Spoken Word Poetry, International Performers Coordinator for the annual Maun International Poetry Festival [MIPF] What do your roles entail?
PD: My main role as the chairperson is to try as much as I can to stir the collective of Poetavango to the right direction, to strive to see us grow and reach outstanding international standards. And this, I can assure you, is happening. I’m glad that I’m working with a team of young and energetic people. As the international performers coordinator for the MIPF I focus on scouting for international performers and dealing with them from the word go until the last day of the festival.
LB: Which poets from Africa and abroad have been hosted at MIPF?
PD: Other than our own Botswana performers, we’ve had poets from Zimbabwe, South Africa, USA and Jamaica. This year we were supposed to have additional countries like Haiti, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia and Canada. But due to the unfortunate postponement of the show, performers from these other countries could not make it any more. Names of those we hosted include Outspoken (Zim), Prince Shapiro (SA), Donna Smith (Jamaica), Upmost (Zim), Masoja Msize (SA), Clint Smith (USA), Zwesh Fi Kush (SA), Breezy the Goddess (Zim) and Aero5ol (Zim). We’ve also hosted, though not in the MIPF, award winning poet Beau Sia from the USA. Poetavango intends to bring to the MIPF as many representatives of different countries as possible.
LB: Apart from financial challenges what other challenges does the organization face in organizing the event?
PD: To be honest, financial challenges are our only hindrance. The MIPF is always set and ready to boom but finance always holds us back. We still hope to get more sponsors and donors. In that way, it would be easy for us to bring performers from across the African continent and abroad. Thank You You are welcome. One Word, One Aim,
More about Poetavango (links)
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