Thabani Tshuma, winner of The 2019 Melbourne Spoken Word Prize, as well as The People’s Choice Award and The Convener’s Choice Award, performs his winning poem, ‘No Strings’ at Collingwood Town Hall.
The 2019 Melbourne Spoken Word Prize was supported by Yarra Libraries.
Thabani Tsuma is Zimbabwean born and raised, living abroad for the greater part of the last decade. His work is influenced by the myriad identity challenges of the diaspora, expatriates and immigrants, while also addressing awareness around addiction, mental health and generational trauma. He is currently in his final year of studying journalism, a 2019 Hotdesk fellowship recipient with the Wheeler centre, Featured author with Djed Press, Slamalamadingdong’s 2019 Grand Slam champion, a member of the National poetry slam’s winning team and ranked among the top 50 slam poets worldwide at IWPS 2019. Writing is the aperture through which he views the world and experiences self in relation to others.
In its 5th year, the Arts Queensland XYZ Prize for Innovation in Spoken Word is Australia’s only national arts award that recognises the growing field of spoken word and is named after the former 2010 Arts Queensland Poet in Residence, Emily XYZ, who left a deep impression on many of today’s Queensland spoken word artists. It is open to applicants Australia-wide.
This year, the winner of The 2019 XYZ Prize is Fable Goldsmith and the highest placed QLD entry is Rae White.
Home – Fable Goldsmith
I kiss her first.I wait I hold my breath, in this moment reciprocation means everythingI do not know if I can take another breath without it.I draw breath as she kisses me back I take her in, Holding on to each breathAs If I have only ever breathedunderwater,
How light she feels,How she fills the empty spaceinside my chest,How she navigates her way into my veins,turns question to meaning, meaning to answer.I surrender.my body to hersnaked and honest, tremblingThis is the first time I am not afraid. The first time another body has become a safe space.
We find each other in the dark,as our hands reachwe find ourselves in each othernavigating new worlds under bed sheets.
She tells memy body is a poemshe will never get tired of readinga trailshe will never tire of taking She tells me homeis where we both stand.
Years pass, Every time I touch her feels like the first time, I still catch my breath from her kissesHer skin is always new
Years pass, I kiss her firstShe stallsHolds her breath,hands trembling as if holding a trigger she just can’t bring herself to pull
BangHer honesty becomes a rain of bulletsand I the only target
She tells me her heart is needy,never full
she tells meher hands are travellers,that have wandered from my touch.
She tells me her mouth is hungr
Rania, I remember seeing you and your fellow artists in the very first performance of Bukjeh at the Immigration Museum. I understand that the show has been developed since and performed at various venues and festivals. A ‘bukjeh’ is a bag or sack that a refugee carries throughout their journey, containing all of their belongings that can be carried. What was in your bukjeh?
My memories mostly. I was an 11-year-old at the time that I arrived in Australia. I couldn’t bring my cabbage patch doll, but I would have loved to. I brought as many of the objects and treasured possessions that inhabited my 11-year-old world as I could.
What was it like for you at that age, arriving in a new place?
It was a shock! I was astonished at how quiet it was here. Back then, all the stores closed at 5pm and on weekends. In Egypt, everything was open until midnight, so you would hear cars beeping late into the night and constant human activity. Most people lived in flats and you could hear the sounds and conversations of your neighbours. If you opened the window, you could hear a couple’s argument. I would open the window the next day to hear the sequel to the argument from the day before.
Like watching a soap opera or a radio play?
I used to call it Streets FM – you learn a lot!
What did you see and hear and learn?
I often heard women manipulating their men, actually! Egyptian women are very smart about getting what they want. I used to say that I was never going to get married.
What were your first impression of the new language and the landscape you found yourself in?
It was greener. The shapes of the leaves were different. Here the leaves were long, not wide. In Egypt we had a lot of palm trees, mulberry and fruit trees. It really was desert and the trees were largely not native. Many of the tree trunks in Australia were smooth and grey, not brown with thick bark. I had never see
I’m sitting down for an interview with Waffle IronGirl, me on one end of old faithful (Facebook Messenger), her on the other. I’ve – somewhat unwisely – started off proceedings with a list of ‘suggested’ questions from my partner Lexi, all of them uniquely bizarre. For instance:
“How adaptable is the waffle iron as a printing technology?”
Waffle IronGirl shoots this one down:
Waffle Iron isn’t a printing technology.
It’s very adaptable personal weaponry though.
Things are off to a cracking start.
We’re here to talk about performing in Singapore (she was recently a support act in the Singapore poetry slam) and chapbooks (she’s running a workshop on chapbooks for the Melbourne Spoken Word and Poetry Festival). But I can’t resist. Where does the name “Waffle IronGirl” come from? ” I once wrote a flash fiction story about a vigilante called Waffle IronGirl,” she explains. “She used a waffle iron to dispatch with those who would violate her boundaries or the boundaries of those she cared about. When I started performing I needed a stage name, and it seemed like she could impart a courage and frankness that I felt I was lacking personally.”
I could pause here to note that Waffle IronGirl is one of the most original performers I’ve seen, and when she featured for us at the Dan, I felt like the top of my head had been taken off and I had a whole range of new weird and wonderful ideas poured in. Instead, I ask about the Singapore slam; what differences between Singaporean spoken word and Australian spoken word did she notice? “What struck me wasn’t so much the difference in style”, she says, “although that was certainly there. From a style perspective, there was certainly a more natural use of multiple languages and accents and dialects within the same
What does your name mean?
Thabani means “be happy”.
What makes you happy?
Connecting with people. I enjoy consuming art in all its forms. Art is one of the most connective things in which we can participate.
What made you leave Zimbabwe and come to Melbourne? Is Melbourne home now or is there more to your journey?
I left to study in the US and South Africa and finally Melbourne because I have family here. I just thought it would be beaches and people in swimsuits all day but had a rude awakening!
There is so much more to the journey. The project I’m working on now is about the sense of identity displacement. Even in Zimbabwe, I was not culturally accepted because I went to a lot of “white” schools. I’m still searching for a sense of belonging.
Do you know what this place looks like?
No, that’s why it’s so hard to find. But it’s not about the finding, it’s about the journey towards finding. In fact, I’m content to continuously search and not find it because it’s in the search that the most meaningful interactions are to be found.
You’re a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow. What that does mean to you?
It is a great opportunity. Connecting to other writers and becoming a part of the literary world – that is the most valuable aspect. The biggest growth for me is the discipline – working on one full body of work thematically linked, where the content needs coherent narrative. I’m usually very sporadic and volatile in writing, so it’s been an interesting challenge to get into the frame of mind where I’m still authentically expressing myself but it’s a controlled expressing. Not writing to the feeling, but bringing the feeling and writing to it.
You’re part of the Slamalamadingong National Poetry Slam Team. How do you feel and what are you expecting at the event?
A lot of poetry! It’s great to see people workin
Stephanie Dogfoot! We are very excited about your upcoming visit to the Melbourne Spoken Word and Poetry Festival 2019, especially in the festival opening night but also you’re feature at Mother Tongue. What else have you planned on your visit?
I am going to Brisbane to visit friends, and also to check out this Melbourne based sketch group I am obsessed with, called Aunty Donna. Of course I am also excited to check out MSWPF19. I’m also really looking forward to doing some hiking around Melbourne.
Before Melbourne, I’m going to Malaysia for a show there. I’m going to be bringing my new book there, they actually have a very big spoken word scene in KL, with a number of spoken word events. The scene is buzzing and exciting.
Can you tell me more about the spoken word scene in this region?
That’s something I am hoping to talk about a bit in my workshop. I’d like to draw on my own knowledge and experience, the history of spoken word in this region (including the English language slam poetry scene), and explore if there’s anything poets can draw from the history and stories of the region. I also plan to explore political spoken word, as it has emerged from the political context of this area. This includes drawing on the examples of poets I admire from this region.
There is a long history of spoken word poetry in Singapore. It started in various languages, especially Malay, and forms like sung poetry were practised extensively.
As for the history of English language spoken word, well I was on a panel a year ago where the panelists tried to trace the history of spoken word and open mics in Singapore from the sixties. There were open mics organised by university students, featuring visiting artists and professors. In the nineties, Borders (an international bookstore chain) came to Singapore and people used that space for open mics or spoken word poetry events. Legendary Singapo