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Koleka Putuma's Collective Amnesia Insists On Visibility And Healing

Koleka Putuma is doing the damn thing in the poetry circles. When has your fave ever done a poetry book tour? Ever? Exactly.

12/06/2017 15:01 SAST | Updated 14/06/2017 12:24 SAST
Pearl Pillay

Koleka Putuma is doing the damn thing in the poetry circles, when has your fave ever done a poetry book tour? Ever? Exactly. Putuma is hosting book launches all over South Africa, and she will be doing readings and signings at each of these. At a recent book reading and signing session at the Market Theatre, Putuma highlighted how there is a myriad of ways to converse with people, either through speaking to them or just the daily interactions with individuals and watching people live their lives – actions are communication as well, living is a body of text being communicated to us on the daily.

Through her anthology Collective Amnesia, Putuma explores the lived experiences of the black community and explores the things that go unspoken of and swept under the rug in our families, amongst our peers and in our relationships -- whether platonic or romantic. Putuma confronts the demons we deny by bringing them to the fore through the words jumping off of page 109:

A genocide that can still be found in the township.Apartheid

Sometimes the things that go bump at night are the things we need to confront, and this anthology does just that.

In our rush to accept the rainbow nation, we didn't stop to think of the damage that has been done, and now, decades later, we are faced with a conundrum of an unsure existence. We forgave without question even though no apology was offered and we wonder why we are such a fragmented society of broken people.

Some of us grew up in family structures that through the years got torn apart by circumstance and now we are getting into the emotional work of applying sutures to the fabric in a bid to make us all whole again, Putuma explores the problematic nature of these relationships:

some mothers set their daughters alight to keep their men warm.
And some family members would rather describe the smoke than smell it.
Pg. 89

Putuma also speaks to the othering of many bodies and the silencing of particular lived experiences and how this keeps one in a constant state of emergency and how everywhere you go, there is this heavy laden anxiety in how anything could happen to you at any moment because there is no respect for your life, the message hits home in this harrowing account:

I don't want to die
with my hands up
or legs open.
Memoirs of a slave and queer person, pg. 75

This bible, Collective Amnesia, deserves a space on your bedside table, sunroom windowsill or coffee table, it is a necessary daily meal that we all need to eat and drink from. It is evident that we have a long journey ahead of us and this literary bible shows us that healing is possible and gives us footnotes on where we can begin. Let's not let this wave of rebirth pass us by.

Many will know this 24-year-old poet from her Wordn'Sound debut in 2014 where she won the title of National Slam Champion, and many others will recognise her from her poem Water which she performed at Stellies, Water is an honest account of blackness and what it means to be black in South Africa.

Collective Amnesia is an important conversation as we try to wrestle with our realities and charter a new way of living lives that are honest about where we come from and where we are headed and why we are here or how we got here, and asks the question -- where to from here? These conversations are both urgent and necessary.

It is an absolute pleasure to watch the rise and rise of Putuma and the methods that she is using to get her work to the people and to share herself with her audience by infusing different styles and various mediums to reach her community. Other poets who have been doing a new thing in the poetry circles are Warsan Shire, Upile Chisala, Rupi Kaur and Nayyira Waheed to name but a few, these poets have all showcased how to use alternative avenues to grow one's audience and interact with them, many artists aren't easily accessible and she is just one of the many new age poets who is using all mediums at their disposal to share their gift of words.

If there was ever a time as South Africans where we need to start being honest about the things that chase us in the dead of the night or the situations that confront us at dinner tables or boardrooms or even emicimbini emakhaya, it is now. Now is the time for us to stop running, and perhaps pulling down the veil is a good place to start and eventually we will be able to shed ourselves of the amnesia which has allowed us to live day to day.