Friday, October 25, 2013


So I did an interview with Bola Mosuro for a BBC Focus on Africa segment and the question was something along the lines of why Botswana doesn't have a thriving writing culture. Bola is great fun and entirely respectful of the bottom-up approach when it comes to local knowledge, in fact she lived in Botswana a number of years ago, before all the shopping malls popped up, and has quite a strong sense of this space. At any rate I had editor Emang Bokhutlho and writer Ngozi Chukura to help me attempt an answer.
map 'borrowed' from Botswana Tourism
We won't get into why I think the question is inherently problematic. Due to a technical hiccup there was little time to grapple with the limitations of defining writing strictly and specifically as published text, leaving no room to debate the admissibility of defining live literature, within a culture that is still deeply rooted in the oral, as, if not writing per se, legitimate literature. In Botswana does this then become a question of lack of (access to) publishing facilities rather than the absence of (production of) writing? Just in case you do live in or visit Botswana and have been wondering where you could hear some of Botswana's writing (and music) here is the beginning of a far from comprehensive list. For a city of 350 000 individuals theres a few poetry happenings.


Poetry & Soul Open Mic Nites, United Cafe Ext 10, Every last Tuesday of the month,

Poet's Passport @The National Museum, Every last Friday of the month

UB Writers Workshop, Every Wednesday (during semesters) @ University of Botswana

Poetry feature, Every Tuesday on Yarona FM

Poetavango bi-monthly sessions @ the Nhabe Museum (This collective also hosts an annual festival every October/November)

Speaking of which their festival this year Oct 26 - Nov 2nd, 2013 has a book exhibition element and some of the writers whose books you might want to get are listed on this poster

PS If you host a (fairly) regular poetry night/platform anywhere in Botswana do let me know the when and where of it so I can grow this list.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


My poem Jaggery roof is this week's Poem of the week over at The Missing Slate. Feel free to stop by there for this and many, many other poems by...

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Have you ever wondered how much it costs to set up a fixed broadband internet connection in Guinea or maybe how many days it takes to start a business in the Congo, no? Ok neither have I but just in case you are ever at a dinner party and someone wants to talk about the highest youth (15-24) literacy rates on the continent you can say Zimbabwe. Wouldn't have guessed? I know, sometimes its easier to recall only the gory bits but I assure you despite the trauma this continent continues to endure people still go in search of their one true love, they have children or not, they sing at weddings, they cry when their favorite football team loses, they sit with their children to work out the day's algebra homework, occasionally they eat and sometimes they sleep.

Now, where were we - ah yes the population of Nigeria you say? That would be telling, but if yours is a curious mind then wonder no more as the World Bank Africa Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Unit has done your homework for you. They produced a list of 50 things you probably didn't know about the continent's 55 (recognized) states and its billion plus inhabitants. Click here -> for 50 SHADES of anything but grey.

And now for a bit of fun, the folks at the doghousediaries have put together this little map supposedly showing what each of the world's countries leads in

Saturday, October 19, 2013

THE BENDING MOMENT: How to tick every box for the other

Tonight the sand is something else entirely
a grey mat, no prettier shade to save these sheets of mist
My heart is the wrinkled nose of a poet
faced with dead air, muted
in the head
I have left

though my feet still here say something else entirely
marsh is marsh, mostly you cannot build here
The water tastes of wild sage and
naughty boys (how to drink from
these waterless springs ) pulling
pulling at the tight curl of hair
this midnight helix of otherness

We are born apart then begin becoming
till we are something else entirely
bumping against the space given to us
we repent or crash unwillingly into a dance
with some new god
till this lease of grace becomes the shore
we can no longer see

there are so many ways
so many places to die and
ink is another country
there are only so many roads
to each of our kingdoms
and still more places to dry
for there is sun here but out there
sea is sea, mostly they make bisque of all we are

are we not aspiring
barnacle attaching these shells to details
we like, crustacean, new skin each time
the softness on the inside fleshes out
some have found the devil where he is
far away from here
what form, when the body is but a shell
everything inside is at sea

lost - no open
sometimes places know us
even when we do not
know we have been found,
wanting, something more
or less than this furious latin, and so
who is the keeper and who the bee
the box must be watched over
you cannot leave it and keep it
not feral

you must choose

This is the part where the metaphor
sheds itself of your skin
standing separate from our effort
dons a black hood
and crawls along the wet tongue
of the poem's plank
beaming to its death

There is always a road
sometimes under all that is soaked and far away

leading somewhere
its tarred tongue gleaming gold

how to ask the question
when there is olibanum in the air
when the wine is as myrrh upon your head
and your ink has fumbled for another country

how to grow without molting
when joy is joy
and freedom is something else entirely

Friday, October 18, 2013


Its just shy of 37º centigrade. Its strange how what I'm told is my normal body temperature sits well on the inside, but out here I'm all sweat-and-wheres-the-shade. I'm watching the leaves outside my kitchen window the way I assume sniper's check them on the battlefield. I doubt someone runs around, pre-testerone measuring, placing wind flags at regular intervals. Where was I going with this half-baked *see what I did there? I promise I'll stop* analogy? Yes heat, no leaf movement. I'm taking a cheap vacation i.e. I'm going to pick up a book and read, seeing as the only thing my effort's good for right now is complaining that its too hot. As is my prerogative to hold two thoughts at once - the temperature dipped a couple of weeks ago and I actually heard myself grumbling about how wasn't it supposed to be summer nye nye who wants winter blah blah. Before I slink away to find some prose heres a little poetry from Tredinnick's Quartert For The End of Time. 

And then whatever we’re call- /ing the season goes and it /comes again in October /and then it’s gone till sometime /in late December, when we/ decide it deserves its name/ and let it stay. But this year/ summer’s prophet comes hotter  

Mark Tredinnick, I - Too much summer too close to home

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


1. The weather (which is anything but cool) but better summer than snow I say.  Well, I say that until its 40ºC plus for a week then I want anything but sun. The sky stays Botswana blue even in winter.

2. It's relatively safe. Your son can walk to school (as the majority of students do) unaccompanied and you don't have worry whether he'll make it home for supper or not.

3. Your daughter and sister can choose to become housewives or high court judges, CEOs or soldiers. In the last decade we had the first intake of women in the defence force and although I hear the attrition rate is quite high I'm glad the BDF continues to put out calls for more applicants and that some of those women are sticking to their guns - possibly literally - and staying in the program. Our courts have also ruled that women can now inherit land, this was previously not the case under Botswana's customary laws, you could buy property thereby owning land but you wouldn't get your daddy's farm if there was some seventh cousin fourty times removed who happened to be born with a Y chromosome.

4. The police officers don't carry weapons (though the way things are going...)

5. That there are women who are diKgosi (Chief is passable as a translation of that word)

6. The Kgotla (tribal/traditional administration center)

7. The handful of programs giving grants to Batswana to participate in certain industries - unfortunately for me I know nothing about goat rearing

8. The housing projects that build homes for destitute citizens

9. The religious tolerance, as far as I know, between the various religions represented within our borders

10. Yes, the safaris are cool too. The wildlife is diverse and plentiful and the landscapes are picturesque and we don't fence in the animals which I think is only fair since they were likely here first

11. Our various traditional dances

12. That our beef tastes so good.

13. That despite our total population being less than that of some countries' cities there are writers out there winning awards, journalists bagging Emmys, athletes getting gold, squash players in the top world rankings, beauty queens winning titles and here at home there are some really cool photographers and singers and animators and architects and doctors and Batswana working in fields that pre independence in 1966 those who were around couldn't have dreamt about

14. That google is available in Setswana (big deal for us, we have indigenous language issues) and that our President who reportedly couldn't really speak Setswana when he came in to office (long story) now addresses the people in Setswana which is only practical.

15. That Batswana are soooo funny I wish you could understand what they are saying; the taxi driver is a comedian, the teacher is a comedian, the siblings down the street are comedians and old people? oh they've been at it for years, they've got jokes for days.

16. That there isn't as much racial friction, certainly not overt discrimination, as I've sometimes been whacked over the head with when I find myself platonically or otherwise holding some pretty boy's hand in some countries

17. That, knock on wood, most Batswana have never heard a gun go off or seen one or been at either end of one.

18. That when we realised that we had a huge HIV/AIDS problem at a time when some countries were arguably fudging statistics we came out and said we have a problem and we need help, and we now have an established ARV program that provides free testing and therapeutic meds, we also have a robust and highly successful PMTCT program which gives our at risk new borns a fighting chance.

19. That despite there being, I'm told, 29 individual (all living) languages - 5 institutional, 10 developing, 11 vigorous and 3 in trouble according to the 17th languages of the world ethnologue edited by Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F Simons, and Charles D. Fennig - and only 2 state languages (Setswana and English) this has not led to conflict.  

20. That we were named the 9th coolest people on some list whose purpose and methodology I've forgotten ;)

I'm working on a 'Things to improve in Botswana' list, starting with the super slow and unreliable internet, but today I'm in a good mood and so is my ISP so I'm putting up my happy thoughts while the sun shines

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


I have taken to walking in the (ehem some) mornings and yesterday came across a young man who said, I know you, you are the poet. I can deal but then when asked who he is reading, he says he doesn't really read poetry but would like to send me some of his work so I can take time out of my day to read his poetry. I really have a problem with this. I'm with the lovely poet and former Derbyshire Laureate River Wolton on this one "You must read (I will add, or listen to) contemporary poetry if you are writing it. There are no shortcuts. Imagine a musician who never went to a concert. A gardener who never looked at other people's gardens".

And so now I say to that young man consider Smart's cat Jeoffrey for though being only a cat to you, he is 'of the tribe Tiger' to Smart and therefore worthy of a story. Now tell me your story, tell me the one where you don't listen, just talk which perhaps is not a problem but now sell me the one where you don't listen, just get listened to. 

From fragment b2, jubilate
For I will consider my cat Jeoffrey
For first he looks upon his fore paws to see if they are clean
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions
For he is tenacious of his point
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself clearly
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity

You and I, my young friend are no Beethovens and so we must hear if we are in turn to say something worth listening to. And what of Jeoffrey? Nothing, I have been meaning to sneak him into a blog post and this seemed as arbitrary a possible entry as any, or is it? perhaps if you read the rest of the poem you will know...