Meqoqo: Slam poet Tshiamo Malatji in conversation

‘We need to look at the world differently’

Meoqoqo today features a budding young poet, Tshiamo Malatji, who recently earned a spot at an International Slam-Championship in Atlanta, America.

Linda chats with this 17 year old artist about his craft to wrap up our Arts theme for July 2015.

Poetry journey

I meet Tshiamo just weeks after he earned himself a spot at an International Youth Slam-Championship in Atlanta. He doesn’t waste time in breaking the unfortunate news on his victory.

“I am very excited to have been presented this opportunity, but I want you to know that my trip to Atlanta may be cancelled due to lack of funds”.

Our Meqoqo continues despite this unfortunate news. Atlanta or not, Malatji is a young blossoming poet whose voice is budding and thank heavens I am not a cat because I am very curious to know what inspires him, what has drawn him to spoken word poetry and whether or not this literary giant is a normal 17 year old teenager.

According to him, his immediate journey of performance poetry began this year even though he has been fascinated by words since childhood.

“I remember learning how to read in pre-primary, how to speak and those kind of things. I think that’s when it started,” he reminisced.

The quarterly orals hosted by his high school, St Andrew’s, also acted as catalysts.

“During those orals I just felt like writing more of performance art and then I entered a public speaking competition, that I won, and that really inspired me to want to do more. So yeah technically it all started in English class. I also remember being inspired by a theatre show I watched when I was younger,” he says.

When asked to define this genre of art that he is passionate about, Malatjie simply says that he thinks that poetry has to describe something in a different way.

“You look at the world in a different way from somebody else. I think that anything that looks at the world differently is poetic,” he says.

Malatji looks up to a poet called Michael Lee from the United States.

“He’s a wonderful poet and he was one of the people who I watched when I started my performance poetry. I used to have his videos on replay. He still speaks to me till today. I still have his poetry on my phone,” he says.

He says he writes about what he physically sees in the world: social and political issues. Topics range from xenophobia and gay rights to murder, rape and violence and other things he observes.

“I try and paint them in a way that doesn’t seem too extreme but in way that makes one try to think about the way we treat one another. So what I try to do with my work is not necessarily to make you like or not like certain things but I try to actually make you think about how we treat one another. I also try to look at some wonderful things in the world like rainbows and waterfalls. I write about how I feel about them and I think and that is where the poetry is coming in,” he says.

Tackling hierarchy through poetry

Poetry should make people think about how they see the world and what they accept as true. “It should also enable us to see that there are other ways of thinking,” he says.

He then singles out hierarchal systems in schools, making a reference to privilege of authority that pupils gain because of their grade, as something he views differently within his own world.

“I don’t think hierarchy like that should exist. Some of my poetry tries to paint out hierarchy and make it flat. Personally, I feel like it is an unfair that grades determine the authority. It is a system that is based on something that nobody can control,” he adds.

After High School

While his passion for spoken word poetry is undoubtful, Malatji is also equally fascinated by the world of science.

“I’m actually torn between the two worlds. After high school I am going to pursue a degree in Astrophysics but I’m also going to continue with poetry. I think that it is possible for us to be both academic and creative,” he says.

When he isn’t on the podium inspiring others to think or attending science conferences and expos, Malatjie spends his leisure time with friends watching movies.

His next performance is at the Bloemfontein Civic Theatre on 8 August.

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