A POET’S GTEATEST ACHIEVEMENT
By: Raymond Padya
“Interpretation defines the type of person that you are and the way that you think, leading to the way that you write.”
These were Sbongakonke Phila Mbatha’s words, the first price winner for the poetry category at the Durban University of Technology’s Writing Centre writing competition, as she explained how her poem, I Exist, is a reflection of her thoughts on society.
In an interview with Journalismiziko, Mbatha was kind to share why she chose to write a poem for the competition. “I chose the Gender, Culture and Society subtheme and decided to write a poem because I saw that if I choose to write an opinion piece, my opinion may differ from the reader,” she said. “So I chose poetry because I wanted to write something universal and I wanted people to understand the way they wanted to understand it.”
Her free verse poem composes of 32 lines. It is about someone who is suffering from oppression from society’s norms and beliefs. This ‘someone’ could be anyone and this poem highlights how cultures and religions can dictate on how people should live their lives, even if they feel otherwise.
I wanted to be me.
I knew I was free.
Society wouldn’t let me be
Tradition didn’t want to accept that I exist.
It was perceived as a sickness.
Poor child is surrounded by darkness.
My family was convinced that I was intoxicated by evil spirits once,
God- fearing relatives denied me twice
What stands out in the poem is the imagery and diction that Mbatha used. You can see from the words that she used that this person whom she is talking about is being suffocated and tortured by the judging, patriarchal beliefs that society latches on them.
This poem demonstrates a lot of people who are treated as nonexistent by society. A society that doesn’t even give people a chance to express themselves, to live their lives but rather be ignorant and cruel to one’s feelings hence I Exist was written to send a message that those people do exist too.
“I wanted people to understand that the type of person I was talking about in this poem wasn’t made, they were born and I wanted my audience to understand that the person does exist,” she said.
Mbatha expressed her gratitude to the Writing Centre for awarding her a laptop for the first prize in poetry writing. “When I won for me it wasn’t about the laptop but the fact that I won for the first time in my life. I have entered so many writing competitions and never won anything, this is by far my greatest achievement,” she said.
Mbatha finishes her poem in an inspirational manner. Despite being intimidated and persecuted by society, she gives her persona some courage to finally stand up for what they believe in and do what they want to do freely.
This is a symbolic poem for this heritage month as it touches on the typical norms of a society that we inherited as part of our heritage showing how ignorant and cruel they can be.