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The Commercial Exploitation of Poetry is Necessary

10 October 2017 KAYA VOICES


By Shitshembiso Mabasa

Words are powerful, we all know this and, as Africans, we have used spoken word to code, document and pass on wisdom and history across generations. Each era adds new lines to a continuous story; however, we have to create from a position of power in order to have a legacy worth continuing and preserving.

Poetry is important, however, in South Africa, it’s just like teaching; there is no glory and honour in being a poet in the time we live in. Poetry has been marginalized into a hobby and a niche art form.

Poetry has to be commercially exploited in order for it to be an industry.

The fear of selling out, or keeping it real, limits growth, the value is in commercial power. Poetry must open its doors to the masses to ‘double their dollar’, the underground vibe has kept poetry in the dark, yet it’s the root of Rap and Traditional Music.

In this week’s edition of Karibu, Mike Siluma spoke to the founders of Word N Sound, Thabiso Mohare and Qhakaza Mthembu on the 7th Word N Sound International Poetry Festival 2017. One of the poets who are part of the Word N Sound Poetry league complained about having to work a 9 to 5 and still do ‘this poetry thing’. This can be changed if those in poetry think outside the box and look at poetry as a service or product – now, what is the best way to break through?

The answer is distribution.

This is evidenced by award-winning poet and theatre practitioner Koleka Putuma who has taken the South African literary scene by storm with her debut collection. Described as “survival poetry”, Collective Amnesia has sold over 2000 copies in less than 5 months and is prescribed for study at tertiary level in South African Universities. This unprecedented feat was primarily accomplished through her innovative distribution efforts and the Collective Amnesia Book Launch Tour which saw her do everything from Bookstore Launches to Intimate conversations in people’s lounges.

Listen to Koleka Putuma on Late Nights with Bridget Masinga

Poetry must be treated like content and how it’s distributed determines the value of the audience. Poetry promoters need to focus on expanding the range of consumption mediums of poetry and tap into existing groupings that are missing a movement of spoken word. Poetry can exist in any social grouping, just as long as it adds value or provides a medium for that social grouping to plug into it as a form of expression. For example, poets who watch the premier league can create football poetry and use social media to leverage large following to brands interested in football fans. That is basically a poet being a digital influencer.

In 2004 actor, musician and poet Masoja Msiza performed his football-inspired poems during a Bafana Bafana game at the 2004 AFCON tournament in Tunisia. In 2010 Wimbledon appointed Matt Harvey as the first ever Poet In Residence, and Word N Sound CEO Thabiso Mohare performed his own brand of poetry during the Africa Cup of Nations 2013 Opening ceremony.

If you can write and you are also creative, you can get paid if you know how to exploit your skill outside the traditional lines.

Poets need to look at what they can plug into or reference in the commercial space and, in that way, build as a unit. Poetry doesn’t have to be limited to open mics and theatres when there are multiple mediums to distribute content.

Shoutout to Word N Sound and other poetry organizations for the work they are doing.


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