The African Book Review met with finalists for The Brunel University African Poetry Prize to discuss their poems, inspirations, and hopes for the future of African Poetry. Here’s our interview with Vuyelwa Maluleke, a South African poet with a gorgeous poem (which may or may not have been) about love, intimacy, and violence.
ABR: What inspires you to write poetry and what inspires your poems?
MALULEKE: I am the daughter of civil servants, my mother is a nurse and my father is a retired policeman. They have always told my siblings and I stories, they are the best storytellers I know. When the electricity would cut, my father told us stories to keep us happy in the dark with just a candle on. My parents have always inspired me to want to tell stories, because that’s what poetry is. I want to write stories about them, for them, and the township I come from because no one is writing to us/of us.
ABR: Your poem “My Mother Says,” which is a finalist for the Brunel University African Poetry prize, is a powerful and intimate poem that touches on domestic violence. I really liked the lines, “Girls like you are always attractively disfigured/ all your holes are on the inside and no one visits the wounds.” Can you talk a bit about the inspiration for this poem and the process of writing it?
MALULEKE: I’m laughing because I didn’t write “My Mother Says” as a domestic violence poem. I have a couple of those and they have a certain voice. That you read it as such is interesting to me, how we can pick poems up and make many meanings for them. I don’t know that I should fix a meaning to it. Except to say it felt like the journey of a love that limps its way through other people and doesn’t find a place.
ABR: As a South African poet, how has South Africa influenced your works, and what do you think the future of poetry in South Africa is? What ideally would you like it to be?
MALULEKE: I love the politics of South Africa, every street has a history and you can’t walk without someone’s poem in your head. Man, you can’t walk next to, or past people without a poem in your head depending on how they say or don’t say hello to you. I cannot speak for the future of South African poetry…I would like for more South African poetry to make it into our classrooms, especially spoken word poetry. There’s a reach/language/expression that spoken word has that could save people and make open what was closed.
ABR: Do you have any favorite African books/ books by African authors? Any that have particularly influenced you or that you just love for some reason?
MALULEKE: I love Chimamanda Adichie. I love how she tells stories.
ABR: Can you talk about your future projects and things you are currently working on?
MALULEKE: I am an actor/spoken word artist, in no particular order. That I’ve been shortlisted is a blessing, and a testament to the idea that trying things outside your comfort zone will surprise even you, the dreamer. Right now I am working on a production for television in South Africa, I am always writing. I am constantly trying to tell stories .
Vuyelwa Maluleke is a Joburg-born writer and poet who grew up in a township. She describes herself as a storyteller: “It is when I am most honest. It is also the hardest thing to do for me, to hand my work over so publicly to audiences. But the sharing between the audience and myself generates an immediacy that is like church. There is so much magic there.” She has performed on various stages in Johannesburg, and graduated in 2013 with a BADA from the University of Witwatersrand.