I auditioned and got through to the next round. Then there was the performance in the cafeteria, in front of students eating lunch and playing dominoes, granted not the most conducive environment to do poetry. In addition, I was ill prepared, but instead of sensibly taking my page on stage , I chose to humiliate myself by not acknowledging my shortcoming and choking on the lines of my very magnificent poem.
The last time something like that happened to me was, well, Sunday. I got the call from Mbongeni Nomkonwana one evening. He is one of the founding members of Lingua Franca Spoken Word movement. He informed me that Jam That Session we interested in hosting a women’s day performance and since I was such a huge fan of the platform I agreed.
Legitimately I only have two poems centering on things female and thought I could write something inspirational/awe inspiring, but with time constraints it was not possible. Additionally I had mixed feelings about women’s day. Helen Moffett posted the following blog post, the day prior to Women’s Day , and every word of it stemmed true. Most of the female poets/musicians and writers I befriended on Facebook reposted her blog. She was right though. What was there to celebrate when in South Africa it has become part of the countries rhetoric that women are assaulted, abused, raped and sexualized on a daily basis and the seriousness of it all is lost on everybody?
I could not write. But would I deny myself the celebration of being a woman, I couldn’t. From my perspective women are royalty and should be treated that way. In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book titled Committed, she mentions a time when men stood each time a women entered the room, heaven knows why that social norm is now somehow non-existent. Women are so complex and simple at times, and mostly they are beautiful.
There are so many aspects of women that are just breathtaking and even though it is hard being a women in South Africa, since you always so aware that something terrible may happen to you ( and some really terrible things have happened to me), I do love being a woman. I love chatting, women do this, I love doing my hair, and I love getting dressed up and looking fabulous on a night out on the town with my girlfriends. I love that women nurture, raise nations and teach manners. I love that mothers, sisters, daughters and wives of every colour and creed were brave enough to march to the Union building in 1956 taking a stand for human rights. I’m even a fan of Eve! Good on her for giving Adam the apple ensuring that human beings have to be clothed and that men would have to work a little harder. I will also make no secret of it that I am of the opinion that female protagonists are always more interesting in literature, films and life. Women are phenomenal.
What better poem to recite than Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman? So that was my choice alongside the other poems I had. I was die-hard nervous, as if it was my first performance and perhaps it was because it was a huge task take on, I mean, its Maya Angelou for goodness sakes! Perhaps I was ill-rehearsed, perhaps it was all that, but as the wonderful Lingua Franca band played and I swayed to the music as I started reciting, the words just left me. If you’ve ever met me, you’d know that my poetry and basically my life is visible on my face. I cannot feign comfortably, but somehow I managed to push through, repeating lines and well resigning myself to the fact that I had blundered Phenomenal Woman in front of a huge crowd. Somehow I made it through, and luckily I had the band to save me.
The other two poems went off much better and I was comforted by the fact that the crowd was supportive and of course that I had fantastic friends who helped me to nurse my wounds. The best advice I can give to any performer that this happens too, is just to breathe. I forgot to do that and I could not center myself. Despite what I deemed a disaster, the audience would have been oblivious had I not said “Oh shit” slap bam in the middle of the poem. Keep composure, start again and if all else fails crack a joke about it, the audience always appreciates the fact that you are after all just a human being.
The show proved fantastic, some great poets, fantastic bands and it was indeed a celebration of consciousness, of different perspectives of women and of talent. Dejavu Tafari was set to perform at the gig too, and I would never miss the opportunity to see this ball of wisdom on stage, so I stayed while waiting patiently for her to recite her wisdom. Then something happened that through major zap signs at Women’s Day and used the most vulgar language as an attack on it.
A female rapper/singer, I don’t know her name (I’m not in the business of shaming people either, but this shouldbetold), pranced on stage wearing next to nothing. I get it, stage persona and all that, but what offended me was the fact that stereotypes were being perpetuated in front of my eyes. Miss rapper was on stage bouncing around in her tiny outfit in the most distasteful fashion. Additionally she had a sidekick who came onto stage and started twerking. I’ve heard the term twerk, but honest to God, I was just to lazy to Google this latest dance/internet craze even though the term sparked interest as the two male journalists from FHM got canned when they used the term in their racist/ sexist remarks on Facebook. When I however saw I live, while little miss back up dancer grinded on the floor of the stage for no good reason I just sat there in shock.
I was too sober for all of it. The singer was actually good and the production of her music was really good, but what she brought on stage just offended me. I have a poem titled Premium Poes, about the sanctity of women’s bodies and choices and the need for respect for those things, but those two ladies on stage negated everything I had delivered earlier in the day by sexualizing females in the way they had. At an event under the banner Women in Art, it just put a damper on everything.
I’m not even a prude. I will admit that when I go dancing with my girlfriends a tangible amount of bumping and grinding happens. I am not the virgin Mary either, and sexual guilt has been nullified in my book, but what I witnessed on stage yesterday was too much. I shouldn’t judge women, but some of those dancers in the accompanying sexist rap videos just irk me to the core. It’s hard to draw the line on what should be deemed acceptable, because one might argue that women are in control of their own bodies and what they choose to do with it. But what happened yesterday happened at the wrong place and at the wrong time.
I’m in agreement with Helen though. Fuck Women’s Day if we are unable to learn how to make things better.