Come outside your comfort zone and make poetry, suggest spoken word poet Xabiso Vili

By CityLIfe Arts Writer

It can be deeply rewarding to turn your private thoughts and dreams into poems. But how does one take them out of that private space and launch them into a world where they can find an audience?

If you’ve ever pondered this difficult question, you are not alone, award-winning author, slam poetry champion, spoken word recording artist and social activist, might just have the answer you need. He has performed his poems on many stages locally and abroad and has toured one-man shows on several continents. He passionately believes that art can have a positive influence on community. He published his first collection of poems, Laughing In My Father’s Voice, in 2018.

Below are some tips he provided, based on his own journey to success.

  1. Chase down as many platforms as possible. When I first started writing and performing, I would search for workshops, open mics and slams in my area. I would submit to as many journals as possible. Not only did this get my name out into the world, it also helped me to refine my craft as a poet and a performer. There are a multitude of poetry movements across South Africa. Sometimes all it takes is searching for poetry on social media and then engaging with that community.
  1. Consistency and quality are crucial. You may be amazingly talented, but one good poem will not be enough. Your goal should be to keep delivering work that moves you and your audience. Whether your stage is a blog, Tiktok or Instagram, live poetry readings or literary journals, keep showing up. In addition to slowly growing a faithful fan base, you will also allow yourself space to improve your work. Keep going, even if it feels as if you are going nowhere. A small step is better than no step at all. Always ask yourself, “What makes my voice authentic, what makes it stand out, what is it that I have to say that nobody else can say?”
  1. Read and listen to poetry as widely as possible. Consume various media and visit different platforms. This is how you develop taste: by exposing yourself to forms and ideas you have never previously encountered. Above all, seek out new experiences. Be open to a world that is hiding gems just outside your comfort zone.
  1. Writing, publishing and performing might only be the beginning of your journey. Often, sustainable artists have to pay careful attention to paperwork – grant and funding applications. Create WhatsApp groups with friends in which you share callouts and encourage each other to apply. Read and learn from successful application documents and proposals.
  1. Challenge your own ideas about what poetry is and its power in the world. Get rid of the myth that there is no money in the arts. Yes, very few poets will become superstars, but there are a multitude of artists living a comfortable life creating what they love. Today, poets are using film and mixed media to create narratives that defy our imagination. You can find poems on billboards, radio and TV ads. We live in a time when technology is constantly unlocking new possibilities. Learn to use it to your advantage to create projects and worlds we have not even begun to imagine.

That is your role, dear poet: to imagine a new world, a vibrant future for all of us. Through your sharing, we might even bring it to life.

Allow yourself to be inspired by Xabiso’s vision of a new world, brought about by the sharing of our words.

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