Join us now, step into her world,
Where poetry’s banner is unfurled.
Malika Ndlovu, our honored guest,
Her words, a treasure chest.
In this interview, we’ll intertwine,
Her thoughts, her art, her rhyme.
Let’s explore the poetess’s mind,
A journey of words, rare and refined.
Q 1 : Could you share a bit about your journey as a poet? What initially drew you to poetry, and how has your relationship with this art form evolved over the years?
A 1: I think I have always had a love for words and sound in relation to each other, whether as poetry, story or song and I grew up in a family where all of these expressions and a love for books, reading and creativity was natural in our home. My first published poem (about dreading a visit to the dentist) was in a school magazine when I was 10 years old and I can recall the lines over 40 years later 🙂 In a recent academic journal article about my beginnings, I explain how the Eurocentric and classical poetry diet I was fed at school was always interwoven with my own free verse, like a river that began flowing through me from childhood to this very day. The river has certainly grown and taken many bends. It has also been a therapeutic and self-discovery process over the decades.
Finding and asserting my own voice and freedom to experiment with various styles and applications of poetry has continued to be the foundation of my work as a multi-disciplinary artist who sees/reads and hears poetry everywhere…not only confined to the page or a literary artform. My work is published and produced in a variety of ways locally and internationally and although writing poetry can be a very solitary, intimate craft – I thrive on collaboration when the poetry extends itself in ways beyond the page. OrigamiPoetry as a concept and our first offering of the poetry pocketbook with Kyoko -san, is one of those joyful collaborations.
Q2: Your work covers a range of themes, from identity to social issues. How do you approach the process of selecting and exploring these themes in your poetry?
A2: Because my art is a life practice and a way of being in the world, it’s less of a cerebral selection process for me and more intuitive and spontaneous resonance with certain events or experiences that compel or inspire me to write on the relevant issues or themes. In some ways my poetry collections could be read as biographical – as they speak to a time in my life, my learning journey as a woman, a creative, an artivist and a mother engaging what was happening in the world around me, socio-politically and personally.
When the poetry is commissioned work, a tribute or for a project with a specific agenda or framing – the themes could be whatever the client requires and I have had some wild briefs…poems for gatherings of cartographers, tax administrators, medical professionals, winemakers, urban architects and various corporate products…to give you a sense of how encompassing the work can be.
Q3: In addition to poetry, you’re also a playwright. How does your approach to storytelling differ between the two mediums? Are there any specific themes you find yourself drawn to in your plays?
A3: The structure and dialogue format of a play script and poetry are significantly different, although the born poet in me always finds ways to weave in the poetics 🙂
I would say my theatre works are more multi-media in the storytelling, since this involves the *semiotics of lighting, sound effects, music, movement and sometimes projection of imagery or text…aside from the live action or dialogue on stage. So I write knowing what other elements I have as storytelling tools on stage and work towards a balance or harmonious flow of these. Poetry is like water to me, flow and rhythm is central too – but the poem structure/form can take many shapes like water in different containers and I guess far more compact and concise than a play …unless working with *epic poetry, of course. All of my work is an ‘organic’ or intentional weaving and mirroring of human experience, unique or universal. I believe that everything – all of humanity, the more than human and the natural world are inextricably interconnected. So I guess whether poetry or play…I am hoping to create work that resonates widely, evokes empathy, inspires and unveils. For many years my mantra has been ‘healing through creativity’ – and I apply or affirm this through my writing in subtle or more overt ways, depending on what’s needed…context. I began my career as a theatre maker, performer and playwright …but my last play Sister Breyani was written in 2008 aside from a Covid-era collaborative work with 5 other writers. My plays definitely focused more on identity (race & gender or gender based violence, belonging, transformation), intimate and family relationships/dynamics against a wider SA socio-political backdrop and history. Women’s personal stories and herstories feature predominantly and a feminist take on social issues generally. I realise more in retrospect that humour played a major role in this form of storytelling on stage. I know I have written witty or satirical poems but none I can think of were straight up funny or hilarious :)))
Q4: As a curator, you’ve been involved in projects like BadilishaPoetry.com. Can you tell us more about your role as a curator and how it has influenced your creative outlook?
A4: I studied arts project management and curation like stage directing was a delicious extension of this work. I have curated multi-media and festival events, but the digital realm was a wonderful growth leap for me in 2011, producing and presenting podcasts featuring African poets from the continent and *diaspora. I love studio /voice work and enjoy doing audio book gigs too. Definitely digital platforms and social media by extension, have reshaped how we can reach audiences and grow archives to document what we are producing – in more swift, economical and exciting ways. I still think there’s nothing like face to face and live audience interaction. And the more simple and authentic the better. This is also why projects like OrigamiPoetry appeal to me.
Q5: Poetry often has the power to evoke emotions and provoke thought. Could you share a particular poem of yours that holds special significance and explain the inspiration behind it?
A5: Spinal Secrets is a favourite for its *topography, a simple column of 1 word per line like vertebrae in the spinal column – yet speaking in depth and breadth to the significance of each one. The pic attached of the poem installed as part of a joint exhibition with artist Patrick Bongoy at the Southern Guild gallery last year, was a particularly special expression of the poem. In the past I have performed the poem as a movement piece on stage or as part of a sound bathing process during a workshop.
Q6: The collaborative project “Origamipoetry” with Kyoko Kimura Morgan is intriguing. How did you find the balance between your poetic expression and Kyoko’s origami interpretations in this project?
A6: The balance was easy 🙂 Mostly because Kyoko and I have a long and loving friendship and celebrate each other’s creative expression in whatever form. Also, I have encouraged her to ‘own’ her creative writing voice, which I find so captivating in its succinctness and stark imagery, bears such deep wisdom in its simplicity. As someone who can flood pages with words, I am drawn to the opposite…I loved the poetic challenge of letting 4 lines – 1 stanza …be enough for a page and trusting that it was. As I mentioned I thrive on collaboration, so this specific ORIGAMIPOETRY pocketbook of poems – was a beautiful conversation between us as artists, our poems speaking to each other and the origami objects she created as catalyst for us both was a fun approach. We both enjoyed using the objects or images as writing prompts.
Q7: Could you tell us about a specific moment or experience that has had a profound impact on your growth and development as a poet, playwright, and curator?
A7: In a career spanning 3 decades , it’s hard to choose one …:) but after my SA theatre and arts management diplomas, studying theatre in Amsterdam in 1999 and 2000 grew me exponentially – as it was my first international trip and lead to many more work -related travel opportunities aside from my personal, intellectual and creative growth by exposure to so much more in the arts world.
The poetry journey highlights that spring to mind are how poetry helped me process profound grief from which my poetic memoir emerged : Invisible Earthquake : a woman’s journey through stillbirth (Modjaji Books, 2009) and decade later in 2019 being honoured in “Our words , our worlds – Writing on Black SA Women Poets 2008 – 2018 ( UKZN Press, 2019).
Q8: How do you see the role of poetry and the arts in addressing social and cultural issues, especially in the context of your South African heritage?
A8: There is a long tradition of the arts in SA as a form of social activism for liberation, transformation and social development , education and heritage preservation. I am proud to be part of that arts lineage and to make my contribution in my lifetime. The arts in their multiple forms/genres make an invaluable contribution to society’s health and growth and consciousness – as creativity is at the core of our humanity and its cliche but artists offer a mirror to society.
Q9: Can you share some insights into your creative process? How do you navigate writer’s block or challenges when developing your poetry or plays?
A9: I may feel depleted creatively sometime, but I don’t believe in ‘writer’s block’ and actively facilitate other’s unpacking this notion to free themselves creatively. There is infinite inspiration in this world – the inner and outer universes that exist. Our bodies and nature for starters feed us relentlessly with possibilities for creative imagination and exploration.
Q10: Moving on to the upcoming event, could you give us more details about the book launch here at the Deckle Edge Art Store? What can attendees expect from this event?
A10: An intimate offering of original poetry inspired by origami – a delicious current of live music accompanying this celebration of handmade gifts, intentionally made for each reader / receiver to savour long after this gathering – literally taking a pocketful of poetry away with them. “Origamipoetry” celebrates the art of simplicity, of the handmade, the power of creative intention, the joy of collaboration and of slowing down, taking the time to listen, to pause.
Q11: Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring poets, playwrights, and curators who are looking to make their mark in the world of arts and literature?
A11: Trust your intuition. Take risks. Play wildly. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn from as many artists as you can. See the unknown as a welcomed ‘darkness’ or unseen realm of infinite possibility. There is nothing original except your truly individual way, your authentic voice and vision…so there’s no need to compete or feel threatened. Only you can do/be you.
You can follow Malika on Instagram @malikandlovu
*Semiotics: Semiotics is a way to understand how we communicate using signs and symbols. It helps us see how things like words, pictures, and gestures convey meaning, and it also explores how these meanings can change depending on the situation or culture. It’s all about figuring out how we understand each other, even when we’re not using words.
*Epic Poetry: Epic poetry is a genre of poetry known for its lengthy and elaborate narrative style. It typically recounts the heroic deeds, adventures, or significant events of legendary characters. These poems often explore universal themes such as heroism, fate, and the human experience, and they use elevated and majestic language to convey their stories.
*Diaspora: A “diaspora” refers to a group of people who share a common cultural or ethnic background but live in different parts of the world, often due to migration or forced displacement. These individuals and communities maintain a connection to their shared heritage and identity, even though they may be living in different countries or regions. Diasporas can be formed for various reasons, including seeking better opportunities, escaping conflict, or preserving their cultural traditions. They often contribute to the diversity and richness of the places they settle, while also keeping their cultural roots alive.
*Topography: Topography refers to the physical features or layout of the land’s surface. It includes things like hills, valleys, mountains, rivers, and other natural characteristics of the Earth’s terrain. Essentially, it’s a way of describing the shape and elevation of the land.