Wednesday, April 30, 2014


A friend asked me recently, 'chapbook?''Yes''Well whats that then?'

chapbook |ˈCHapˌbo͝ok|
noun historicala small pamphlet containing tales, ballads, or tracts, sold by peddlers.• a small paperback booklet, typically containing poems or fiction.ORIGIN early 19th cent.: from chapman (a peddler) + book.
But the real reason we were talking about chapbooks is because I have one out. Out of sheer laziness I've lifted a few words on the project from the Prairie Schooner newsletter.
"In association with Slapering Hol Press, the Poetry Foundation, and the African Poetry Book Fund, Prairie Schooner has published a collection of chapbooks entitled Seven New Generation African Poets. The collection was edited by Chris Abani, Professor of English at Northwestern and author of The Secret History of Las Vegas (Penguin, 2014) and Sanctificum(Copper Canyon, 2010), and Prairie Schooner's Glenna Luschei Editor Kwame Dawes. It contains chapbooks by 

TJ Dema (Botswana), Clifton Gachagua (Kenya), Tsitsi Jaji (Zimbabwe), Nick Makoha (Uganda),Ladan Osman (Somalia),Warsan Shire (Somalia), and Len Verwey (Mozambique).
In their eloquent two-part introduction, Dawes and Abani lay out the main goals and challenges of this chapbook box set. Dawes writes:

But for all the ins and outs of putting this box set together, for all the fundraising, the partnerships forged, and the extensive negotiations concerning the project, ultimately this box set exists because of the talent and urgency of these poems." 
Now I'm not biased you see, just involved. And you could if you wanted and if you really liked poetry and wanted to get your hands on  6 scrumptious - plus me - poets, well you could simply order/buy it here :-) and thats the truth my friend.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


"My name is Quintus Dias. I am a soldier of Rome, and this is neither the beginning, nor the end of my story." - Centurion. 
My name's not half as cool but this is definitely neither the beginning nor the end of my Danish story, only the bits in between. 

In Setswana we say go tsamaya ke go bona which literally translates to to travel is to see. I always wanted to change that last word to sea, to make a verb of all that vastness but alas. Despite growing up wanting to one day see "overseas" the local word for far away, the furthest most imaginable point away from everything known a la John Cheever and his "I've been homesick for countries I've never been, and longed to be where I couldn't be" I didn't really travel till I was in my twenties.  I've always loved the idea of being elsewhere and encountering alien forms of life but beyond the standard fear of the unknown my worry was I'd miss home. Home for me being people, not so much buildings or land (I acknowledge I have the privilege to make such distinctions) but I've learnt to build tribes everywhere - small, colorful, mostly multi-lingual-sometimes-not pockets of strangers, so problem solved.

I'm still in Denmark and today someone read out an excerpt of Antonio Machado's traveler/wanderer poem ...Traveller, the road is only /your footprint, and no more;/traveller, there’s no road,/the road is your traveling.
Going becomes the road/and if you look back/you will see a path /none can tread again.

He says, Machado, he does, that our task is to go
Outside the Queen's palace a Danish beefeater? Not unlike the English foot guards the Royal Life Guards  Den Kongelige Livgarde wear lovely fluffy hats :-D

International Trade Opportunity: If only Botswana could export her sun here, in exchange for a little water...

Copenhagen at sunset

Workshop in Roskilde. Today was Danish poet Asta Olivia's turn to facilitate. I was lead last week which meant I go off exploring for part of this session

I have an open window policy. If I should fall upon an open window I have to see what the window sees
 Someone told me this Danish sign says 'fear' not (English) angst but language will always come back to itself. The word angst comes from the German for fear/anxiety.

“Wanderlust, the very strong or irresistible impulse to travel, is adopted untouched from the German, presumably because it couldn’t be improved upon. " Elizabeth Eaves
'Travel is like adultery: one is always being tempted to be unfaithful to one's own country' 
-Anatole Broyard 

A moment happening / camera obscuring itself. I don't speak Danish and sometimes in company it feels a little like this. Colour can be enough. And sometimes sound is an end in itself although I know we like to think we moved beyond grunts a long time ago

Thursday, April 10, 2014


So I'm in Denmark. Its lovely it really is but I do want to discuss the definition of spring with Europe because no maan! as far as I'm concerned its clearly still winter.

How to get here
As a DIVA, don't read anything into that it actually stands for Danish International Visiting Artist, I'm in Copenhagen for two months doing literary stuff courtesy of the Danish Arts Council and also refusing to eat rye bread because bread. I'm here and in the meantime rumors abound back home that the government may be dismantling the Department of Arts and Culture. We also have no arts council, but thats a story for another day. I'm in DK meeting with writers' groups, visiting a refugee centre over three weeks to wordshop through what I suspect will blur the line between literature for literature's sake and life skills through film and words, I'm also mid spending two weeks with mostly under 12 year olds which can be nerve wracking but fun. We are working through some writing exercises with them and linking their writing with music originally composed for the project by Danish MC & producer J Spliff while tying their words in with the themed street art (graffiti on 11 tunnels) - yes the municipality is aware of the project otherwise I wouldn't be blogging about it.

Today I had 5 girls very subtly interrogate me, 'We don't want to write today we want to talk'. 'Ok, what about?' 'Where are you from?' asks the Eritrean girl. 'Do you have a boyfriend?' asks the Serbian troublemaker with an innocent smile. 'I'm in the handball team, do you also play sports?' says the Somalian-Togolese eyes bright, waiting for me to step into the minefield that is a mental posse of pre-pubescent girls. Sometimes the questions ask something else, 'do you also play sports' might mean 'are we alike in some small way?'

The Tunnel Visions project is work but its mainly on the kids terms, its after school, they come when they can, we sit in a colorful caravan in what is Denmark's low income area and invite them into a world of art and words and music. I still don't know if them bicycle riding Danish folks are the happiest people in the world but in what is admittedly not the favellas but is here seen as the ghetto Mothers who I suspect can little afford to coddle generosity send their sons back at the end of a day's work to give us cookies. After school programs and youth centers give us a place to sit and talk or plan our day and Peter Campbell Bensted leads a team of committed writers (Brandon Lewis/Juse One -USA and Nicolas/Olas-DK are amazing artists) who partly because they are so talented know (how) to leave room for the kids in their process. What they could finish in a day they allow to happen over time so the children can find themselves in the work, literally see their effort and by extension themselves occupying space. Loudly and legally. We all agree this is about the children first. And last. Anything in-between, including weather preferences and open sandwiches, is up for negotiation.

I have a couple of obligations that I'm looking forward to honoring both here and in Germany between now and the end of May and a by-then well earned holiday (with a little bit of work thrown in) coming up in June but for now here are a few Danish moments

First day involved voluntarily helping my host's daughter, a local photography student, take shots for her assignment on the beach

There is a fair amount of graffiti in Copenhagen. Some as old as 30 years 
Brandon and Peter with some of the kids
With the kids just outside the culture caravan

Part of the Freedom tunnel

Lots of updates over the coming weeks. For now, be good.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

StAnza - Scotland's International Poetry Festival

And if you should go back /to stand out there alone /salt soaked to the bone
 call me then: don’t speak,/just let my tongue taste salt/when I lick the phone.
                                                                                     - Harbour, Eleanor Livingstone

I am back where there is sun and sand, and then more of the same. I miss the sea, I dreamt of it last night and tipped into wakefulness with the memory of salt sitting on my tongue and the taste of laughter not too far behind.  Its exactly this kind of fanciful nonsense that led to me thinking I could wander the world talking, if not for a living, as a way of living. A couple of weeks ago I was in Scotland at the invitation of festival director Eleanor Livingstone to read for and speak to a hundred or so teenagers in Dundee, do a couple of BBC interviews as well as give a 40 minute reading as part of the festival's Saturday night double bill alongside UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. How chuffed was I at that news? Some victory dances should forever remain between a girl and the books giving their back to her on a shelf that needs replacing.

Its quite difficult to separate, and why should you, the festival from its home or the people that live there because they come, they do for the readings and to sit and chat with poets who've come from near and far. My reading had the dangling carrot of the wonderfully talented and highly accessible Ms Duffy so by the time I got to Scotland it was almost sold out and by Saturday night a separate room with projection had been arranged to accommodate the spill over for our reading. A wonderful thought really, the idea of TOO many people wanting to listen to poetry. And f StAnza were a ship the support staff are its keel. I believe they are primarily if not exclusively local and they get your sound and lighting right and remember when you when you sneak in ten minutes before a reading looking for a complimentary ticket because 1) its a courtesy the festival extends to participating poets and 2) you left your name tag and wallet in your room (you hope).

St Andrews is small enough to fit my idea of being away without feeling like a million people are casting a shadow over my heart (large cities for all their peopledness can make it quite cumbersome for me to identify and find the people I want to keep company with). I've read lots of wonderful StAnza related blogs from all sorts of point of view and I wasn't really going to blog about the experience because I don't believe in retelling dodgily - because grammar, commas especially - what has been well told once, but because I never listen to anyone least of all myself here I am three paragraphs in.

Because I had my camera with me and it often proves to be a better storyteller, or at least a much more reliable narrator, than I I shall let it do most of the talking

X number of feet above Scotland's periphery  

If you are looking for high thread count sheets and a round of golf then the Fairmont St Andrews, who kindly sponsored my brief stay with them, are a good bet

I always miss the sun when I'm away from home then when I get back I complain its too bright and too hot so…clearly theres no pleasing some people

St Andrews is pretty much a 3 street town very imaginatively called wait for it ...South Street, North Street and Market Street. True story :-) but honestly I love not having to TomTom or Google my way anywhere especially after a late night out

Post a reading in a cavey little nook just off South Street. I love empty churches and this space felt a bit like that. I love that the festival makes use of spaces outside the theatre to take poetry to the people - cafes, the town council etc

This poor gentleman, who was literally carving words into stone just outside the theatre, had to stop what he was he was doing because I was asking a ton of questions about his stone and his hands and time and the cold weather 

On my way to the beach I met history he was old and crumbly but you could tell from his bones that he must have been a handsome lad in his day...still is in many ways

The Byre Theatre which is a magnificent space which I hope finds some perpetual endowment that'll keep it open more often that it is now. Amazing staff who came back to oversee the technical bits of the festival, despite having been out of a/their former job/s since the Byre stopped opening daily

Spent some time with Tishani Doshi (to my right), Rob Mackenzie(to her right), Tomica Basjic (to my left), Suzanne Steele and Gabeba Baderoon at the Byre. This photo courtesy of Suzanne Steele's camera :-)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Because I'm based in Botswana its a given that, unless I travel intra-continentally, I'm spending at least 11 hours mid air enroute to wherever. This weekend is no exception and so I'm carrying a little home with me and heres what I'm thinking of packing ...

Khadja Nin - Sambolera mayi son

Oliver Mtukudzi - Neria

Johnny Clegg - Scatterlings of Africa

Ismael Lo - Tajabone

Youssou N'dour & Neneh Cherry - 7 seconds

Mariam Makeba - Pata pata

Salif Keita - Africa

Baaba Maal - Dunya Salam

Caiphus Semenya - Matswale

Culture Spears - Ke feta ke bolela

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

St Louis Export Top 40 Under 40 unveiled

Lazy entry day. The below is a press statement regarding the Top 40 under 40 project and finale where the top 40 were awarded certificates and pins. On a personal note I'm honored to be listed amongst such fine company, a full list is at the bottom of this page. Batswana have a saying, "Ke ikutlwa ke le motlotlo" i.e. "I feel exalted". There you have it.


GABORONE – Monday 31st March 2014 saw the highly anticipated culmination of the St Louis Export Top 40 Under 40 2013 season, a project which commenced in January 2013.

The Final 40, whittled down from up to 120 nominees, were announced before guests, receiving their official pins and certificates as a testament to their contribution as catalysts of change within their industries and their communities. Three of the finalists went on to receive the Judge’s Award, an honour bestowed upon them for having made the most outstanding contribution in their respective fields. Game ‘Zeus’ Bantsi, Shanti Lo and Monametsi Kalayamotho received the prestigious award.

“Our catalysts have been nominated by members of the public for having evidenced positive change in their communities and inspiring other Batswana to be their best. Our nominees are what we believe a St Louis Export consumer to be: inspirational, driven, passionate, and any number of elusive qualities that make them a catalyst for change and for greatness. Above all, they are community builders,” said Marketing Director Mr Sesupo Wagamang.

The Top 40 Under 40 platform strives to earth Botswana’s catalysts and heroes in the making, recognising their talents and achievements in working towards shaping the next generation of catalysts of Botswana. Nominations were accepted from the public during the course of the campaign, with the decision on the Final 40 made by independent judges Mr. Chandra Chauhan, Mr. Victor Senye and Mr. Solomon Monyame.

The heavy rains did not put a damper on proceedings, as both guests and catalyst were eager to celebrate the achievers, with performances from catalysts Zeus, Samantha Mogwe, and TJ Dema.

Concluded Mr. Wagamang, “We are incredibly proud of all of the nominees; they stand as a true testament to the calibre of talent and ambition in Botswana. We thank each and every one of the catalysts, our esteemed judges, the public for their votes and their support, and of course our valued media partners at Mmegi, Yarona FM and Gabz FM for a fantastic and inspiring close to the 2013 Top 40 chapter.”

The St Louis Export Top 40 Under 40 finalists, in no particular ranking, are:

Abenico Matobo
Joel Mogorosi
Monametsi Kalayamotho
Adreattah Chuma
Kagiso Kwelagobe
Mpho Laing
Alister Walker
Kagiso Morebodi
Onica Lekuntwane
Amanda Chembezi
Kaone Kario
Percy Raditladi
Barns Maplanka
Khwezi Mphatlhalatsane
Phenyo Motlhagodi
Boitumelo Mbaakanyi
Lerato Motshwarakgole
Scar Thato Matlhabaphiri
Dirang Moloi
Lepang Ferguson
Shanti Lo
Dithapelo Medupe
Lesego Matlhware
Shike Olsen
Donald Molosi
Ludo Mokotedi
Siyanda Mohutsiwa
Emma Wareus
Majakathata Pheko
Thabiso Maretlwaneng
Gaone Mabutho
Meleko Mokgosi
TJ Dema
Groove Cartell
Mogogi Gabonamong
        Tumie Ramsden
Itumeleng Garebatshabe
Molefi Nkwete
        Uyapo Ndadi
       Zeus Game Bantsi