Revisiting Our Words, Our Worlds: Writing on Black South African Women Poets, 2000 – 2018 edited by Makhosazana Xaba (GoodReads)
I cannot myself
To come to this country,
my body must assemble itself
into photographs and signatures.
Among them they will search for me.
I must leave behind all uncertainties.
I cannot myself be a question.
(page 23 of The Dream in the Next Body Kwela Books, Roggebaai, 2005.)
This poem by poet-scholar Gabeba Baderoon is one of those poems that truly capture universal experiences. I cannot read it without my brain positioning me in a long arrivals queue at some international airport as I approach the security counter. My body assembles itself as I read it just as it has over many years of travel and being searched. Having loved this poem since it was published I was pleasantly surprised when it inspired this poem:
We cannot ourselves
To come to this land of literature,
Our ideas must assemble themselves
into poems: on paper and on stage
Among them they will search for us.
We must leave behind all uncertainties.
We cannot ourselves be questions.
Both poems appear on page 297, in the “Afterword” I wrote for Our Words, Our Worlds: Writing on Black South African Women Poets, 2000 – 2018, (OWOW) an anthology I compiled and edited. In the afterword I share, in broad strokes, a journey of influences that I went through from conceptualisation until the publication of OWOW in July 2019. Margaret Busby was one of my inspirations in this journey. In her endorsement of OWOW she wrote:
“One of a kind, Our Words, Our Worlds shows that Black South African women poets possess an invincible power. Kudos to every voice in this collection – for owning the silences, raising the issues and braving the voids. This collection excavates histories, imagines futures and empowers the present.”
Like these two poems in conversation, OWOW is in conversation with Busby’s work on two monumental anthologies she compiled and edited, Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Words and Writings by Women of African Descent from the Ancient Egyptian to the Present which came out in 1992 and the 2019 sequel New Daughters of Africa: an international anthology of writing by women of African descent. Talk about braving the voids!
The poem “We cannot ourselves” captures the emotions I have felt since entering the literature scene as a writer in South Africa. Compiling OWOW was my feminist enactment of a decision that as poets, we are not, questions.
A quote from Baderoon’s introduction to OWOW: “Our Words, Our Worlds derives its power from vividly documenting this seismic change in national culture through the words of poets themselves, the very ones who have crafted a new politics, economy, theory and ethics of poetry.” (p. 3) My emphasis.
Since July 2019 eight reviews of OWOW have been published. Is this what Baderoon meant when she wrote:
“The collection is a remarkable intellectual achievement, destined to become an instant classic of South African literature”? (p. 2)
Makhosazana Xaba is an anthologist, essayist, poet and short story writer. She has published three collections of poetry and her 4th is forthcoming in 2021. She is the co-editor of three short story anthologies and one on life writing. She edited two poetry centred anthologies: Like the untouchable wind: an anthology of poems and Our Words, Our Worlds: Writing on Black South African Women Poets, 2000 – 2018 (OWOW).OWOW has received unique public acclaim. Xaba’s poetry is taught at South African universities, is anthologized extensively and has been translated into: IsiXhosa, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, SeTswana and Turkish. She holds a MA in Creative Writing (with distinction) from Wits University.
This month’s blog is curated by Jen Thorpe.
Jen Thorpe is a feminist writer. Her first novel, The Peculiars (2016), was long listed for the Etisalat Prize for Literature (2016) and the Sunday Times Fiction Prize (2017). Her second novel, The Fall, was published in July 2020. Thorpe has edited three collections of feminist essays – My First Time: Stories of Sex and Sexuality from Women Like You (2012); Feminism Is: South Africans Speak Their Truth (2018) and Living While Feminist (2020). Her writing has been published in Brittle Paper, Saraba Magazine, Jalada, and Litro. Find out more via https://jen-thorpe.com. Jen is also the host of the Living While Feminist podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, or wherever you get your podcasts.