IMAGINING TOMORROW’S VILLAGE
Getting an education is not always a joyous experience. A lot of it seems to involve cramming facts into one’s head before exams. How do we hold onto joy and enthusiasm amid such pressures?
As we prepare to celebrate International Day of Education on 24 January, the AVBOB Poetry Project features the inspiring work of Sindiwe Magona (www.magonamedia.co.za), multi-award-winning memoirist, novelist, essayist, playwright, children’s author and educator. Her poetry collection, Please Take Photographs! (www.modjaji.co.za, 2009) still feels relevant and contemporary.
Magona was a primary schoolteacher when she was younger, and her beautiful, plain-spoken poems stem from a desire to share her own courage and enthusiasm. Born in a village in the Eastern Cape, she overcame poverty and hardship on the road to discovering her own voice. Her words imagine better futures but also ask profound questions about what is worth preserving and remembering.
She still vividly remembers her joy at learning to read, spurred on by the example of an older brother.
“Even before I started school, I discovered books. I was filled with envy at watching my brother reading. It wasn’t long before I persuaded him to teach me how to do it as well. And the more I read, the more I wanted to read.”
A neighbour of her family’s was doing domestic work in Newlands at the time, and started bringing her the loads of books and comics her employer’s family discarded. This chance event played an important role in nurturing her early love of books. And she was fortunate in her teachers. “They made poems exciting – and I got hooked.”
But, in fact, her gift as a storyteller was kindled even earlier than this.
“I fell in love with the power and magic of words from my grandmother’s storytelling. Evenings were designated iintsomi time,” she remembers, referencing the rich tradition of Xhosa folktales. “There was song and dance; mimicry of animal and other sounds; vivid imagery and acting. While listening, a child might be called upon to act like a wolf running away, or to roar like an angry lion chasing its prey. It was attention-capturing stuff!”
“So I believe the foundation was laid at home. I already had a vibrant imagination by the time I started school. I was lucky: today most children are not told iintsomi and neither are they read to. By and large, today’s child fares no better than children of my time. In fact, they often fare worse.”
In ‘The Village’, one of the collection’s strongest poems, Magona evokes a richer, more respectful world in which people look both to the future and the past; to themselves and their environment.
“It takes a village
To raise a child
Mother to tomorrow’s
Magona says, “I wholeheartedly believe that words influence, even create lives. Hearing and reading stories can give us glimpses of other lives – similar or very different from ours. And through that process, knowingly or unknowingly, we grow. We grow because we slowly become the stories we tell. In this way, literature can help us to be kinder, more generous and flexible.”
She has just published a volume of essays, I Write the Gaping Void, in which she explores how to bridge the gap between our world and the one we yearn for. Last year, Karavan Press (www.karavanpress.com/karavan-
In the next few days, write a poem in which you describe a defining moment when you first became aware of the magic of words and your ability to use them.
The AVBOB Poetry Competition will reopen its doors on 1 August 2024. Since the project’s inception, it has been committed to promoting poetry in all of South Africa’s official languages. Visit our extensive archive at www.avbobpoetry.co.za and share in our amazement at the range of experience represented there. Follow us on social media for news, announcements and opportunities.