The Portfolio: Khulile Nxumal



I have been writing poetry since the first day I started at Fidelitas Secondary School in Diepkloof. When I got a chance to finish high school in Swaziland, I was exposed to a wider choice of South African literature and works from the rest of the continent. I became wiser about what English literature really is, that is does not necessarily come from a colonial capital or centre. I also started to form my own ideas about the use of writing. I listened quite carefully to what voice really is and the types of things it wants to say.

Confidence is important when you are a writer. I developed more confidence as I started publishing in journals and seeing some work appear in poetry collections, as well as getting opportunities to perform my work.

Writing poetry requires you to reach a level of clarity and enjoyment of your voice. It helps when you can name the writers that have influenced the formation of that voice, even in your sleep. Mongane Serote, Seitlhamo Motsapi and Kamau Brathwaite are my long-standing influences. I never tire returning —again and again — to them.

I believe a voice is something we all have: it may be the sound of our inner thoughts when we are alone, or how we tend to put things in conversation or in public. One of the most important skills in writing is being able to edit your own work. With this skill, you are able to take a poem and elevate it to a new level.

Poems come to me in different ways. I never start until I am immersed in the first line. What appears as the opening line of a poem may not be the line that sparked it off. Inspiration comes from wanting to say something about our world, this or that area of my personal life, or even amid the wandering forests of my mind’s interior.

I grew up in a context in which South African writing occupied a place in the social and political sphere. This is another factor that jolts the impetus to holler or have something to say. I am writing a piece that I want to become a soul-resonant scream on the occurrence called Donald Trump. I am inspired by what I see and hear around me, so another piece I am developing, at a slow and ballad-like pace, is about “nature” — an environmental meditation on sun, water, air, plants, pollution, food and such things.

Creativity excites me when it allows me to go all over the place. As part of my studies at Drama For Life at the University of the Witwatersrand, I am adapting a poem I wrote about Melville’s 7th Street into a theatre piece.

In general, one can say the story — what one is trying to say — is a central feature when conceiving, writing, expressing and, finally, putting down to paper whatever idea one is developing.

Literature has become more diverse, so much so that the idea of genres has become fluid. Jazz music feeds into my creative process in a big way. It has been an advantage to have among my circle of friends artists, journalists, painters, musicians, designers, dancers, filmmakers and storytellers.

Creativity grows for me when I allow myself to get lost, as well as when I am being self-aware. I always benefit from inputs that expand my imagination.

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Khulile Nxumalo
Guest Author

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