How have poets fared in 2016? EPHRAIM NYONDO engaged Poetry Association of Malawi (PAM) president Nyamalikiti Nthiwatiwa to get his perspectives.
We are on the tail of 2016. How are you poets ending this year?
I guess there are more small victories to cherish than things that would make us mad for the poetic year ending. A new leadership was ushered in July without ‘shedding blood’. We immediately got to work especially on the administration side of things. We conducted trainings for our poets in all three regional chapters, we reviewed our constitution, had a board meeting and held a well-received show in Lilongwe- since being elected in July.
Individually, many poets were able to cut their CDs and launch them—perform at non-show events, poetry shows still drew the numbers. Personally, I participated at the Polokwane Literary Fair in South Africa.
On a sad note, the conclusion of Cultural Support Scheme through Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma), means that we have to immediately start looking for support for office space, administrative duties and support for some of the activities we have planned for the first quarter of 2017.
In the same breath, let me express my gratitude to the Cultural Support Scheme which has propped us up for the past years. Another sad thing is that piracy still continues to haunt us and the powers established to check this monster seem to be sleeping on the job, or are overwhelmed, are plain indifferent, or I do not know.
How much do you know about poetry books, anthologies, or albums this year? Does the trend make you happy?
Record keeping is one area our tenure of office is interested to work on. I do not have hard figures, but I can assure you that apart from many recorded singles, we have been releasing at least 10 CDs annually for the past three years as poets. We need to do much more on the written format though because I did not hear anyone releasing an anthology in the year. There could be an anthology out there, but I did not hear about it.
There was a movement recently of local poetry performances that was attracting huge crowds such as gospel shows. How can we explain its rise and what should we learn about poetry performances in the country?
That movement did not start this year. It is the persistence of poets old and young over the years. If you ask me, I will tell you it was the Chiphwelemwe in 2002 which put the first commercial show in the Great Hall, Zomba, then with support of Stanley Kenani. The growth in numbers is thanks to new poets coming up and the older ones still blessing us with their craft. These shows attest to the fact that we are rich in oral culture, poetry elevates stuff that needs expression in this country, poets are messengers carrying the not so easily expressed psyche of the populace out there. Besides, poets have not been bought yet, so people would still listen to us to speak their truth to power.
English poetry continue to attract few in the country. As a poet why do you think this is the case especially happening in a country where English is taught from primary schools?
To the contrary, English poetry grew in the year and has built up its own audience. And from my high-priestly purview, I see English as a formidable growth area. We now have a few joints for spoken word—Kwa Haraba in Blantyre opened in the year, and the resuscitated Living Room Poetry Lounge in Lilongwe. Chigo Gondwe is also trying to host poets at her place Jacaranda in Mzuzu. English poetry is steadily gaining traction. You may recall that we also had BluntFyre in Blantyre which Linda Gabriel and I used to host in Blantyre in 2010/11, to a substantial audience.
We, however, need to check the social strata that is developing between both practitioners and audiences of English and the vernacular. We must insist on the obvious fact that English, Chichewa, or any other language, are just vehicles carrying our poetry. Poetry itself is conscience’s water, and like the chemical fluid it can take different forms.
As a poet, why do you think this is the case especially happening in a country where English is taught from primary schools?
The problem is not just about English poetry. Look at our Chichewa poets. They are not mentored in formal institutions beyond the few instances of poetry they meet in the books. But since Chichewa, Chitumbuka and Chisena are our mother tongues we would go on indulge our gift in those languages, raw as we may be. Now you can relate to my response above that somewhat the languages carrying our poetry expose strong nuances of which school you attended, its affordability and our own upbringing. Look, there are no phonetics classes in public schools, meaning if I attended a different school my confidence in a language that offers such lessons may be low. But then, that’s not a hard fact. I know of quite a few poets who have taken the initiative to train themselves to write in a language they were not exposed to early. It is called learning. n