The first collection of poetry I purchased with money that I had saved up was Ewok Robinson's Pimp my Poetry. I bought it on a high school trip to The National Arts Festival organized for 12 matriculants. Pimp My Poetry was the first book I owned. I remember the feeling of purchasing it: very grown-up. I still have the copy.
I was 14 when poetry discovered me.
I loved how it gave me escape and meaning.
I loved the ritual and freedom it created in my life.
Growing up with all the distractions and challenges that were present where I grew up, finding poetry and writing was like discovering a lifeline and a purpose, even if I didn't name it that at the time.
When I wrote Collective Amnesia I was oblivious to the professional world of publishing and writing… I didn't have aspirations of publishing a book. I just wanted to make theatre. And I was gunning for that with everything I had. The opportunity to publish a collection of poetry came as a surprise. I was in two minds at first. I didn't have any formal education in creative writing. I didn't know what that sort of a process would entail. I had spent three or so years chasing open mic sessions in Obz. Monday nights at Tagore’s knew every draft of every poem I bled into. I entered slams and won. I entered slams and lost. Slam became the space where I sharpened my pen and grew tough skin. I was surrounded by a community of poets who wanted similar things, who debated ferociously about good poetry vs unacceptable poetry, and other unrelated things. The world of slam and poetry (not to be read as slam poetry) became so integral to my growth as a writer who also performed their writing.
I observed and absorbed it all: feedback, criticism, affirmations, ways inside and around the craft. I listened. I asked questions. I saved money so I could take a taxi to wherever the slam was happening. If I won a slam I saved the winnings so I could commute to the next thing and buy whatever book was being sold at the reading. I didn't love poetry for what it could give me… I loved it for how it made me feel. In the beginning I wasn’t too concerned bout what would come of it all.
Before Collective Amnesia was published, a prolific writer whose work I admire said that I would be lucky if I sold 200 copies of the book in its lifetime (what a bleak thing to say to a soon-to-be-published-young author, LOL). It was also reiterated to me by many people (scared and jaded by the South African publishing landscape) to not have too high expectations about publishing a collection of poetry in South Africa. For me, at the time, it was important that I give it a shot and give it a shot on my own terms. When Collective Amnesia was published in 2017, I wanted to experiment with how else a poetry collection could be distributed and sold in South Africa. From the price point to the launch of the book, I wanted to pay attention to every detail. Winging it, at times. Following a hunch and instinct, at times. Some hunches lead to unexpected and rewarding results, and other hunches lead to heartbreaking disappointments.
It has been a long journey with this work.
It has come with more question marks than answers, more fears than affirmations, and more insights than regrets.
This collection has opened the world so widely for me. It has given me the gift of self belief and imagination and business instincts. It has brought me closer to communities of readers, scholars and writers I never imagined I would find or would find me. It has made me an author who has been translated into 8 languages.
I think when we see things it makes it easier to believe that those things are possible. But, I have also learned that sometimes we won't have the luxury of sight and so we must take the leap of faith and trust that you are capable of creating the thing you want to see. Perhaps Collective Amnesia is someone else's ’Pimp my Poetry' and I would hope that they can look at their copy 10 years from now and feel the weight of how far they’ve come and the allyship of time.
10,000 copies of Collective Amnesia sold. What a milestone and a dream.
To everyone that has purchased a copy or copies:
Thank you for your scholarship, readership, generosity and kindness.
To my translators and publishers:
Thank you for your faith, and for helping to share this work with people everywhere.