Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tebogo Motaba Poem on Stevie Wonder’s Birthday

For absolutely selfish reasons
I need to loudly proclaim
(with whatever megaphone that hasn’t yet been taken away)
the brilliance, beauty and truth
of the writing of  uPhakamile uMaDhlamini
Officially, she was my student
but I know she taught me
more than I taught her
(for instance, that sidlala emagroundini ngezinto esiithula esignangi
means “we play in the field with stuff from the dump”)
She thought she was primarily a poet when she entered this class,
But now she thinks she might be more of a story-writer
(“Screw the narrow segregation of genres,” I say, “you’re both!”)

For absolutely selfish reasons
I must find a way to convince
the editors of, say, the,
the “revised and updated” 2016 edition
of Literature: The Human Experience,
an anthology the Bedford/St. Martin’s imprint
is trying to push on college teachers throughout this land
that they need to include the writing of uPhakamile uMaDhlamini
alongside its broets, beyond the slightly expanded token corner.

For absolutely selfish reasons
She should get free tuition, with room and board,
At a M(F)A in Creative Writing
or “Non-Poetry” in the best sense of the word—
if you can accept her on her own terms
(and what good is any creative writing teacher
if s/he can’t help provide a forum
even if those who loved your apolitical/transpolitical
personal-is-the-political, show-don’t-tell work
no longer publish you)

And for absolutely selfish reasons
“I feel so unnecessary!”
in the words of Rufus Thomas (as done by Rufus Harley)
for liberation reasons
but perhaps useful as a vessel
to not get in the way of her words:
and the process of discarding the lies,
learning and unlearning “truths,” decolonizing,
liberating self against the watchful eye
of white supremacy is agonizing to say the least.”

“Poverty is humorous,” she writes,
and yes she’s very good at mordant humor.
She says better what I can merely think
Backing it up with the blood, sweat and tears,
the love, pain and laughter, of lived experience
in a plain brown 8X11 envelope with her name on it,
a fuller-range of the human experience
than what the Bedford Editors call “literature.”[1]

She cuts through the crap, the stuffy fat,
of those who say “We’re in a Post-Black Arts Movement era”
or the black actors who “failed to recognize
the importance of the platform
which should be used for the advancement of the black struggle.”
Reading her, I recall how the OAU and the OAAU
Worked together! The necessary internationalism….

For absolutely selfish reasons,
I, as colonial framing device,
Stand opposed to the ongoing colonization
Being done by whites at home and abroad
and pray for the strength to combat
the West’s cultural misappropriation
kept alive by our high levels of consumerism
which I fear I’ve been guilty of (as framing device)
and the strength not to water down, or clog up
her message and aesthetic
her work, her gift that must be shared (if she lets me)

For absolutely selfish reasons,
I ask you, oh Bedford Anthologists,
Richard Abcarian, Marvin Klotz, and Samuel Cohen,
As well as the broets and women
Who lovingly wrestled with my work in the 90s
(if you haven’t totally tuned out by now….it’s okay, really….)
to stop “secretly” worrying about
being a traitor to your scene, your cause, and your race
if you included the work of uPhakamile uMaDhlamini

beyond your “revised and expanded” gallimaufry
of diverse synecdoches, The Immigrant Experience.
(you can still have your broets!)

For my (absolutely selfish) taste,
she does a better job of making lemonade
than some I won’t name—
And, for absolutely selfish reasons,
I’m trying to pay her back
For having stumbled on the good fortune of being an early reader
And next time I submit to an editor,
I could say, “yes, I’d really like to publish another book,
But only if you publish a book by uPhakamile uMaDhlamini first,”
And for absolutely selfish reasons,
Reading her, I am not envious of the facebook teachers
Exclaiming, “Yippee! The Semester is Over” two weeks before ours.

(Here's a link to her manifesto:

Chris Stroffolino

[1]and would inject more of that contemporary
revolutionary fervor Tim Yu brings
into those claustrophobia-inducing walls
Billy Collins has apparently conned some people into thinking are windows
(on request, I’ll send more detailed explanation, to “unpack” this reference)

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