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Home Is Where The Mic Is: Capturing SA’s Spoken Work Movement on Paper

Botsotso is a group of artists, poets and writers whose goal is to create art and to generate a means for its public communication. The collective has published more than 30 books, the majority of them funded by the National Arts Council (NAC).

Their latest publication, Home Is Where The Mic Is, highlights the work of the growing Spoken Word community in South Africa.

Spoken Word combines innovative ways of using English, particularly by those for whom it is a second language, with rich performance styles that include everything from stark hand movements to strutting and dancing. Put another way, it is presenting poetry as theatre and celebrating the performer’s intellectual engagement with his or her subject.

“Our criterion for selection for publication in Home Is Where The Mic Is was simple: it must work both on the page and on the stage,” says Allan Kolski Horwitz, who co-edited the collection with fellow poet Mandi Poefficient Vundla.

“Between the two of us, we saw everything included in the book being performed, and Mandi was a key guide, as she is very much a part of the scene locally.”

Horwitz adds that the publication will hopefully help many of the featured Spoken Word poets, make a breakthrough, as it is – thanks to the NAC funding – a bigger and more saleable product than publications or recordings that the individual artists can put together on their own.

“Poetry as a printed genre would die without funding. The support given by the NAC and other funding agencies is critical. Botsotso is one of the four main publishers of poetry in South Africa, and we use this money not only to produce quality publications, but to maintain our focus on reaching the widest possible audience.”

Horwitz underlines the importance of Spoken Word poetry in terms of helping audiences to process what is going on around them.

“Spoken Word is very much about the zeitgeist,” he explains. “It presents the issues of the day to listeners or readers in a way that they can relate to. In Home Is Where The Mic Is, there is a large focus on issues of black identity and the new empowerment of black people. There is also work that helps South Africans connect perceptions with reality, showing them that our ‘paradise’ is on a knife’s edge. It’s an important message, as our current bureaucrats are still in the ruts created by the old regime, and the problems with that situation need to be brought into the light.”

Horwitz reiterates that the continued publication of such books and collections of work from different artists with varying perspectives is an important mark of cultural health and sees the publications as ways to expose new talent – Home Is Where The Mic Is brings a new generation of poets to a wider audience – and to also encourage artists to edit or publish books as platforms on which to highlight their creativity.

Bruce Dennill

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