Photograph of Katleho Kano Shoro by
Photograph of Katleho Kano Shoro by Theodorah Ndlovu

BORN::FREE Next Steps // a powerful poetry exchange

Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.

This quote by poet and author Rita Dove encapsulates the feelings that Belinda Zhawi has towards writing poetry and writing. She has been writing for several years, mainly doing poetry, but has done prose too. She has performed at festivals and literary events all over the UK, and about two years ago she joined forces with her friend through words and through life, Chima Nsoedo, to start a poetry night called BORN::FREE.

Reflecting more on her relationship with writing, Belinda explained that, “Writing for me was mostly just to do with having been reading for a long time, was a vicious reader as a child.” Having grown up in Zimbabwe she would read book written in Shona by African writers. When she moved to London as a teenager she discovered a section of classics library mostly written by African American writers. “I was amazed at how I felt reading that work, reading characters that felt like me or looked like me even if they weren’t like me. And after that I was like ‘I want to write stuff too’.” She began writing for friends and family, and writing became a way of documenting memories and experiences so that she would not forget her home. I was also a way of trying to forge a different kind of identity. “So I think writing for me is very much about that relationship with myself with regards to ideas of home, memory and ancestry,” Belinda explained.

BORN::FREE started out as a community project with the aim of creating a space where emerging writers and well-established writers could inspire one another and share understandings about the way in which they mold words into stories or expressions of feelings. “From there it just became a thing that people respond to and has been growing…It has been a great learning journey and great community space for writers.”

The project BORN::FREE Next Steps was conceptualized as a poetry exchange involving artists based in South Africa and the UK. For the UK part of the project South African poets Nova Masango and Katleho Shoro were invited to be part of a workshop relating to writing and performance, which culminated in a one night only performance at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Belinda expressed how she has been admiring Nova’s work online for a while and was delighted to finally work with her in person. Belinda heard about Katleho through a recommendation as was also mesmerized by her work online and her presence on stage.  The UK-based poets included founder of the poetry collective Octavia, Rachel Long. Long-time poet, writer and musician Zena Edwards also performed on the night. The aim for the project was to put together a “diverse group of women who are doing interesting things with literature” and to “provide a wide range of voices.”

The second half of the project will be taking place in South Africa towards the end of July. Belinda will be coming over and spending some time in Cape Town with the hopes of working with young writers and performers through workshops. The final stop for the South African leg will be in Johannesburg, where she is hoping to mirror the UK experience.

Because writing is a soft and hard place,

all at once

– Yrsa Daley-Ward

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