Interview: Clinton Smith



Please briefly tell us about “Fly Language and what the purpose of this initiative is.

Fly Language is an initiative by Washington DC Commission on the Arts and the nonprofit organization, Split This Rock, to bring high school poets in DC to South Africa for two weeks of cultural exchange, advocacy training through the arts, and youth empowerment. We have 4 teaching artist and 5 students spending time in both Pretoria and Johannesburg.

How have your visits to South Africa influenced you, your view of the world and your writing?

I think that any time you meet and exchange with people from different backgrounds, it enhances both your perspective and your ability to empathise with a wide array of people. I’d like to think that this larger and more open perspective is represented in the growth of my work and its ability to resonate across cultures.

What is the one thing that you love about our poetry scene in SA that you haven’t been able to experience anywhere else?
When I moved to South Africa in 2010, the poetry community welcomed me with open arms. I don’t know where my life, much less my poetry, would be without the year I spent living in Joburg. Something that I really love about the South African poetry scene is the sense of urgency and purpose that so many poets carry in their work. You can tell that the things being touched upon are hugely important not only for the poets themselves, but for the community, the nation, and the continent. It inspires me every time.


In your years of traveling and performing in different countries, what would you say is the one thing that remains constant with poetry and what is forever changing?

Wherever you are and whenever that is, when people speak truth to their lives and the lives of others around them, the world gets a little bit better each time. I truly believe that.

What would you like for the student poets that you are traveling with to learn about our country?
You are part of an art form that is so much bigger than you. South Africa has such a rich oral and artistic tradition. We are here to learn from that and understand the ways in which we can more effectively inter weave art and activism, as so many have here.

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