We are born to bring light / To honour the blessing of each moment / The gift of every life ? Malika Ndlovu
About Malika Ndlovu
Malika Ndlovu is a South African poet who has performed her work across the globe. With a background in both theatre and arts management Ndlovu is a prolific creative facilitator, working with numerous visual artists, culture organizations, heritage institutions and NGOs, tirelessly promoting the written and spoken word. Her projects include the Cape Town women writer’s collective WEAVE, And The World Was Women Ensemble of female performance poets, and The Mothertongue theatre project, which exists to promote the wellbeing of women and the young through art. These endeavours embody her belief that ‘creativity is medicine to us all – whether we access this to produce great art for the public or to heal and grow ourselves, to honour our humanity’.
Ndlovu’s books of poetry are Born in Africa But (1999), Womb to World: A Labour of Love (2001), Truth is Both Spirit and Flesh (2008) and the poetic memoir, Invisible Earthquake: A Woman’s Journey through Stillbirth (2009). She is currently a curator and presenter for Badilisha Poetry X-Change, a pan-African podcasting project (not dissimilar to the Poetry Archive), which aims to promote the audibility of poetry, exposing African poetry thriving on the continent.
Born of mixed descent, Ndlovu has said: ‘my entire life has been a projection of identities at me and me working against that tide to define myself, and to claim aspects of my history that may have been lost or buried through slavery and apartheid’. Nowhere is that work more explicitly illustrated than ‘born in africa but’, the title poem from her first collection, selected here. The full rhyme that organically binds her ‘indigenous tree’ and its tie to ‘destiny’ is breached and overshadowed by that of political ‘strategy’. The refrain ‘born in Africa but’ returns with the arrival of each new stanza with the emphatic conditional conjunctive, ‘but’, to undercut the rhetoric so carefully wrought in the previous lines. In finally asserting her ‘individual destiny’, her poem, inversely, widens its scope exponentially, and she repeats the stanza's central line in her perfomance here:
born in africa but
living before and beyond
living before and beyond
a universe awakens in me
Ndlovu’s writing has an agile grace as its articulates the trauma of violence – both domestic and political – and it strives to heal, to transcend that experience:
That we are more
That we hold perfection within
Just beyond our imagining
In the concrete ‘Spinal Secrets’ she brings the vertebra of the single-word lines brilliantly to life through her versatile reading, moving from staccato emphasis to a rushing build – a wavering sense of ‘time’ to match the ‘bending / twisting / shifting / extending’ of each ‘single storyline’. Ndlovu’s holistic poetry can, in an instant, move into song, as in ‘Black River’, where the speaker drives ‘bye’, past the tree where the victim of xenophobic violence, Adrien Nguni, is hanged. She holds the note mournfully, as she does later again with ‘Zimbabwe’, and one feels the powerful tug of grief that is the black river, its ‘sweet blood offerings’.
Malika Ndlovu's favorite poetry sayings:
'Poetry is a kind of shadow-dancing… playing with concealment and revelation. Allowing that dance to reveal itself to you as you write. It is medicinal essence… staying close to your most naked truths'. – Malika Ndlovu
Good poetry begins with
the lightest touch,
a breeze arriving from nowhere,
a whispered healing arrival,
a word in your ear,
a settling into things,
then like a hand in the dark
it arrests the whole body,
steeling you for revelation.
– from David Whyte's 'The Lightest Touch'
'For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.' – from Audre Lorde's 'Poetry is not a Luxury'
'I have the feeling that a lot of poets writing now, sort of tap dance through it. I always feel that whatever isn't necessary shouldn't be in a poem.' – Mary Oliver
'Poets can learn a lot from the timing of the best comics: pacing, economy, judiciousness, silence, rhythm, reward.' – Kwame Dawes
'Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.' – Leonardo da Vinci