‘Poems are Alive’: Aïsha Trambas Interviews Thabani Tshuma

By and | 31 October 2021

AT: Yeah, in my experience, ideas of corniness and cheesiness are much easier to identify with than the vulnerability of honouring how we really can and do truly influence and expand each other.

Is there anyone else that you’d like to shout out or express gratitude for in how they’ve shaped your journey with poetry so far?

TT: Whew! I have a whole dissertation worth of gratitude and shoutouts, haha. I try make the people I’m grateful for know their value to me and thank them often but for the sake of giving a clearer picture of what’s shaped me I’ll highlight a few key players. Georgia Kartas, my ‘Artner in Rhyme’ – we co-curate Thin Red Lines and they are largely one of the main reasons I kept writing poetry. Around the end of 2018 I was ready to put poetry down for good. Then Georgia, whom I’d met once before at the Melbourne Spoken Word Prize that year, asked if I’d like to meet up to write sometime. For some reason I agreed and went on to make some of my best work so far and start up a poetry showcase! They drive me, inspire me, and I think most importantly of all, always believe in me.

So many of my contemporaries inspire me. I definitely borrow tricks from folks like Manisha Anjali, Scotty Wings, Jamali Bowden, Bill Moran, Jahman Hill, Lay the Mystic and so many others!

AT: ‘Artner in Rhyme’ – I love that 😭, and the fact that you’ve found such a supportive collaborator to enliven new spaces and ideas with.

That brings to mind how your practice has expanded since you first began open-micing and sharing your own work publicly, and very prolifically I might add. You became a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow working on a debut collection, Cultural Nomad, and have since been running more workshops and holding your own events.

Are there any other particular roles or skills that are starting to emerge for you alongside being a poet and word-worker, or are those kinds of definitions and divisions, like facilitator or curator for example, somewhat arbitrary/unimportant to you?

TT: I’d say ‘with constant curiosity’ is the most accurate descriptor of my practice. Something that fascinates me about being an artist is the relationship to self. There’s Thabani the ‘artist’ vs Thabani the ‘person’ and the layers of overlap can often make it difficult to distinguish between the two. And while they’re not intrinsically separate, they serve different roles in how I navigate the world around me. I’m yet to feel like an established poet, haha, and I often wonder if I ever will. Maybe that’s partly the old imposter syndrome talking, but on the other hand it’s something I find difficult to quantify. Where do we draw the line?

I have found that curating has opened my eyes to the logistic difficulties, things like funding, and venue accessibility and all the behind the scenes work that I definitely took for granted as an attendee. All arts workers do so much and deal with so much that never gets acknowledged when the credits roll.

Moving into a space of workshops and facilitation as opposed to performing has been fulfilling in a new and beautiful way. It’s one thing to have an audience resonate with your own work, but in workshops, it’s bringing out the light in them and empowering people to become inspired by their own narratives and their own truths. While the result can be similar, that distinction in method for me has been such a breath of life.

AT: Speaking of method, I saw that you were part of hosting an IPCS reading group this year: ‘Poetry is the method of our future community’. That title is very moving to me, and I’d love to hear you elaborate on what was behind that title and intention, and what ‘convening’ that group was like.

TT: I always retort on the irony of an institute of post-colonial studies. It’s an incredible space filled with phenomenal minds though. The group concept was born in collaboration with Carlos Eduardo Morreo, the IPCS executive officer and one of my favourite minds to bounce ideas off. Our general modus operandi is critical discourse and analysis of poetry, its function in society and the ways in which we can use the artform as a vehicle for sustainable social change.

For me, poetry is so multifaceted in its effects, it can be archival, reflective, a call to action, an access point of relatability. Like many things, when we intersect them with capitalism their efficacy becomes a lot more complex. It’s a broad stroke to claim poetry can change the world, but I don’t think it has to. A piece can change a person and oftentimes that’s enough to trigger the domino effect to larger scale change. Like I said earlier, I share because things were shared with me when I needed them most, so my writing is essentially a product of the storytelling tradition I belong to, there’s a carrying in that.

As a method it works on two levels, one in craft where we look at language itself, its histories and the connotations that meaning presents. Next, we look at using poetry to build community, poetry as something that can bring people together in an accessible way and hold space for critical conversations and connections.

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