‘Poems are Alive’: Aïsha Trambas Interviews Thabani Tshuma

By and | 31 October 2021

AT: Am I missing anything else major that is part of your public poetic practice?

TT: I feel like that covers all the bases. It’s strange, I often feel as if I don’t ‘do’ enough but I suppose that’s a by-product of grind culture that links an artist’s value to their creative output. That’s been one of the pandemic plus sides for me, coming to terms with accepting that I don’t need to always be churning things out. Some times are better suited to observation, reflection and listening to the world around me.

That [Wheeler Centre Hot Desk] collection is still in the works though! I’ve since abandoned the previous title as the work has evolved, but hopefully the world will receive it soon. I have a final draft together, now I’m just working on finding the best avenue to bring it to full term.

AT: I look forward to reading it in its final form! I’m curious to know whether you experience writing for the page versus the stage differently, and what you take into consideration between or across these forms?

TT: I could spend weeks unpacking this, it’s still a concept that’s constantly evolving for me as I grow. I never had much formal training in poetry so a lot of the techniques I use come from mimicking works I’ve loved and have since become intuitive. The main difference for me is about the loose idea of ‘body’. On the page, the words form the body, but on the stage, I literally am the body.

When writing page pieces I make considerations like line-breaks and indentation and punctuation, but on stage that translates to breath or gestures or vocal tonality. When I write out pieces for the stage, they usually look more like a block of prose. It’s a lot about sensory engagement and how reading something works versus watching or listening does. All that being said, I’m also a believer that poems are alive in themselves, and they decide whether stage or page is the best way for them to come alive. Writing is as much a conversation between me and the actual poem as it is with the audience. It’s a lot about the effectiveness of the line and asking what medium will deliver the desired effect and impact.

AT: I read that you are also a journalism graduate. What was that experience like? Is journalism a vocation you feel called to pursue, or has it been more of a stepping stone of sorts?

TT: Am I allowed to speak out against ‘Australian’ media, haha? I wouldn’t say journalism itself is what I was drawn to, more the idea of storytelling. I appreciate storytelling in all its forms, and I consider that to be the primary way I engage with the world be it through film, music, books or exchanging anecdotes in group chats. I went into the course with a strength in writing and came out the other side opened to video production, photography, podcasting and radio skills, again, all rooted in delivering a narrative.

Journalism is a commercial industry, as much as we’d love for objective media guard dogs, the reality is that at the end of the day, it’s a business and businesses have sales objectives to meet. It’s not a moral judgement, just a matter of fact. What I love about art is that on many levels it exists separate to achieving a corporate agenda and there’s more freedom for truth telling. My course was phenomenal, and we had industry professionals as our tutors, so they made an effort to focus on the practical as opposed to a theoretical ideal. I’ve been able to carry so much of what I learnt there into my poetry craft and vice versa. I’m still working on actually getting into a journalism career, but that’s a whole other conversation around the job market and the landscape of professional media.

AT: Please come for Australian media! Somebody help us all!

For a grand finale, would you mind sharing what works of art have been keeping you company or nourishing your creativity in this turbulent moment?

TT: I’ve been binge watching the entirety of American Horror Story for the first time. I’m up to the fifth season now and it’s phenomenal! I firmly believe horror to be one of the most masterful genres when done right, to be able to hold an audience in a sustained level of suspense, anxiety and terror is such a feat. And I’m a sucker for an intricate story which they bring non-stop. I’ve had the desire to experiment with horror poetry for some time and see what that would look like for me so stay tuned, maybe I’ll drop a Halloween special.

I also read Akwaeke Emezi’s The Death of Vivek Oji and have not stopped raving about it. Their writing is such a delight and reading on themes of gender and sexuality from an African perspective was so nourishing, I could see my own family members in the characters and relate to the environment in a way that I don’t get from a lot of ‘western’ writers. Lastly, so, so much music! A few weeks ago I did an Instagram call-out for recommendations of albums to listen all the way through and am still discovering new artists. It’s also been a great way to chart my friends’ tastes. Constants have included Odette’s Herald, Doja Cat’s Planet Her, Jeff Buckley’s Grace and my personal fav, CHROMATOPIA by NoMBe.

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