There is poetry in life and my job is to see it: South African poet Xabiso Vili | art and culture | Hindustan Times
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There is poetry in life and my job is to see it: South African poet Xabiso Vili

South African poet Xabiso Vili will give Mumbai’s poetry lovers a glimpse of his personal stories through performance poetry.

art and culture Updated: Jun 09, 2017 09:33 IST
Xabiso Vili
South African poet Xabiso Vili talks about his inspirations, his poetry, and performing his new poetry collection in India(Jagjeet Singh)

“It seems strange/That the pyramids were built by aliens/Because a wonder of the world couldn’t have been wondered by Africans/Only when chained could we have built your civilizations/Only when raped could we have mothered your nations.”

The lines above are from a searing piece of poetry, My Skin Crawls, one of the first results you get when you google Xabiso Vili’s name. A poet from South Africa, Vili will soon perform in the city as part of an ongoing tour for his spoken word series – Black Boi Be — organised by Qissa Kothi. The poet has already performed in Delhi. Speaking about the series and the reception in Delhi, the 26-year-old says, “Black Boi Be is a combination of poems that come from personal stories. I’ve been working on it for the past couple of months and performing in South Africa and now here in India. I was wondering how a story about a black boy would resonate across continents, but the audience here got the concept. They seemed touched by the poetry and the techniques that I used.”

Vili says his inspirations for poetry include personal stories and everyday life. (Jagjeet Singh)

Vili started writing poetry when he was 12, and his powerful words have garnered him several accolades: he has been crowned champion of the Pretoria Spoken Sessions Slam League as well as the Speak Out Loud Youth Poetry Competition, and was named the Word N Sound Poet of the Year in 2014 and 2015. But Vili remembers being “an awkward child”. He says, “I didn’t know how to speak to my peers. So, through poetry, I was able to externalise my internal conversations, which then allowed me to communicate with people around me. I started performing at 16, and the rest, as they say, is a story best heard over whiskey (laughs).”

Many of Vili’s poems, such as Fat Boi, Boy of Fire and Kingdom of Scars, revolve around issues of skin colour, race and body image. When asked about his inspirations, Vili says, “I’ve written about run-over dogs in the street and compared them to governments. I think my inspiration comes from everyday living. I think there is a poetry in life and my job is to see it, to notice it, to take it in me and internalise it and put it on paper.”

Vili’s poetry often deals with issues such as racism, skin colour, and body image. (Jagjeet Singh)

Even though his performance comes in the wake of the recent attacks on Nigerians and South Africans by lynch mobs in New Delhi, an undeterred Vili says, “If I didn’t come here [to India], I don’t think I would be doing my job an artiste, which is to interrogate this dark side of humanity. I think it is necessary for me to be here and to speak of it. Not only as an artiste, but also a South African, because there are similarities in the xenophobic attacks in South Africa as well,” says the poet.

Note: Vili will perform at Barking Deer, Lower Parel on May 27, from 4pm to 7pm, and at Studio Tamaasha, Andheri (W) on May 28, from 12pm.

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