INTERVIEW: THANDOKUHLE MNGQIBISA

What inspired the title of your book?
In 2007/2008 I wrote a poem that ended my writers block. The idea was that I was literally “frantic. Fanatically searching…” for that entity that would make me matter as a writer. I was exploring all tangible realms and philosophical existence. I described my thoughts as a “speeding vortex” to clarify that I had thoughts. Many thoughts. Each that could be sold to a crowd for applause–“snaps… And claps” but that wouldn’t let me win this battle because it was stagnant–competing against something foreign, using something foreign and undefined. It was at a time when I was just learning my confidence and was playing with rhyme scheme and rhythm. At the end of the piece I make it fun and silly to highlight how this poetry underground can actually be. I “surprise poets with their own demise…” because, suddenly, I’ve become SOOO relevant that my one big word kills all their many words. Lol. It represents a long journey from this philosophical place whence I come. It represents the shallow poet–the poet who broke free from the shackles of having to be deep and always recite poems that are great lyrically AND have an amazing message and gave birth to the woman who could do all that AND write about nothing… And make it sound good. The book is named after that poem. It is a symbol of the fact that I matter as a writer. It is literally that one big word.

 

How long did it take to compile the book?
Gosh. Many of the poems are a few years old. I started to think seriously about putting a book together late 2011 but the decision was finally made around March 2012 and the book was ready late October 2012. Normally it doesn’t need to take so long but because of the artwork inside it, I had to correspond with the designer consistently–we were changing things and adding and removing poems and all the complications that come with this kind of work.

What are some of the challenges you faced in compiling the book?
The biggest challenge is, as always, money. Printing the quality that I wanted was not cheap. You can choose cheaper options but even when it’s cheap to print the books, it isn’t free. The second biggest challenge was (and is) making the book available to people. Generally big book stores don’t keep self-published books. Getting it into book stores has been a full-time job. It’s exhausting! The other challenges are all the small little irritations associated with working with other people–your own ignorance and theirs. The first sample book I got was made with photocopier paper and the colour on the cover was peeling. I nearly swore at the idiot who made it. Lol. But my lack of knowledge regarding paper thickness and binding techniques etc meant that I couldn’t give him a proper image of what I needed. His lack of interest in the project, as a cog turning for a big company, meant that he wasn’t terribly interested in finding out precisely what I was looking for. Being employed full-time is also a rather big challenge. Sometimes I work 28 hour shifts and that often means I don’t have time to go and see the sample that is ready or I can’t have a conversation about what I need changed etc until 2 days have passed. It causes significant delays and is fairly frustrating! You don’t know how difficult it is until you know. I would recommend everyone do this for themselves at some point.

Did you have a specific audience in mind when you started compiling the book?
It’s strange. I’ve always had a soft spot for those just a little younger than me. I always feel as though I owe it to them to give them my eyes and experience so that, if they’re open to it, they can learn. But… People in their early 20s aren’t typically very receptive to differing opinions and learning that isn’t secular so, in the end, I felt that the 35 and upwards crowd would be more suited to my writing. From what I had seen from the various stages I have stood on, the older crowd likes my work a lot more than the younger crowd. The thoughts I have resonate more with them (when I’m not being intentionally juvenile, silly in the pieces) and that those with whom it doesn’t resonate could possibly pull out of their comfort zone just enough to learn, even from us (yes. That’s not a real word. Lol).

Also, I am very middle class. My poetry speaks of all the things I see… Including poverty… But I suspect that it may have a very middle class slant so I probably write for the middle class with their middle class issues as opposed to the many poets I’ve heard on Johannesburg stages who tend to speak to a disenfranchised group–especially relating to the scourge of poverty.

Having said that, I prefer never to limit access to my work by restricting it to a specific age group. Anyone who can enjoy, should.

What is your advice for any young writers that are interested in publishing their work?
Love/adore/worship your work first–get excited about seeing/reading your own poems. Understand them. Give them their time.
Be strong. It isn’t easy.
Save up. It isn’t cheap.
Define your goals and let them guide you. If you want fame–give people whatever will make them give you fame. If you want respect… Etc

How does one know when they are ready to publish their work?
Lol. I don’t know. I made the official decision to publish after performing at a TEWOP slam and having literary academics (the judges) come up to me and say “you should publish your work” afterwards. It felt like affirmation–that I had thought about it and someone else had agreed. It was then that I decided I couldn’t let my small-minded dreams and over-powering need to be smaller stop me from doing it.

Poetry has evolved over the years and now it seems like everyone has their own way of defining poetry, so what is your definition of poetry?
Personally, poetry is a way to make every day things sound interesting or look different. I think there’s a lot of emotional manipulation in poetry these days–crowds want that–it’s great. But I also think we forget that it doesn’t have to make the crowd gasp and cry every single time. It’s a literary device. Sometimes it’s a different vantage point of something fairly boring. That’s me.

Which authors/books have had an influence on your work and you as a person?
There are amazing poets whose work I love but who have had no influence on my work or myself as a person. And there are authors/poets whose work I don’t particularly love but have an effect on what I do. Starbook by Ben Okri had an effect on my writing. I don’t particularly like the book–I couldn’t finish it–it’s possibly too heavy for me, but it taught me a more narrative poetry-that things could sound beautiful without rhyming or using any of the “tricks” we use in poetry. Makhosazana Xaba is a BIG influence on my more recent poetry. She has a simplicity with words that makes the beauty of it unbelievable. Philip K. Dick has had an effect on me as a person or, to be more accurate, as a writer. His imagination is astounding. He always leaves me dumbstruck. He isn’t an amazing writer but his imagination makes all his stories worth reading. These three are the closest that I will come to letting any author influence me.

What lessons do you hope your readers will take from your book?
The main thing I want people to take away is that life sucks… But that it always gets better. I also want people to realise that we dream too small. Be an author. Dream bigger. Be what your voice tells you to be before you shush it and tell it never to gxbukela again. I want young girls to learn a bit about their worth. I want young boys to learn a bit about their worth. I want people to learn love. And anger.

Are you planning on publishing more books in the future?
Definitely. I’m already working on the second one. I’ve been on a bit of a writing spree. This one will have many shorter pieces. It will be more mature and more raw–there’s a lot of pain in it already even though it is only halfway to being finished.

I was also challenged by a publisher to write a novel. He said “real writers write novels”. Lol. I’m not sure about that yet. And I’ve also been toying with the idea of writing an autobiographical self-help coupled with some research surrounding the issue of spousal rape in South Africa. These would require an amount of focus that I currently can’t give them (the novel and self-help) , with the current book and work taking up so much of my mind.. But hopefully within the next 5 years. Keep up with me on
Twitter: @okuhle_m
Tumblr: www.thandokuhle.tumblr.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/DrThandokuhle
Website: www.thandokuhle.com
Email: info@thandokuhle.com
Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/search?q%5Bfulltext%5D=Thandokuhle+Mngqibisa

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