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  • Sisonkepapu

The PdS Black Voices Series Presents: SISONKEPAPU

Victims of Space and Other Things (Part II)


.there is an ocean in my throat

let me pull it out

in symbols and sounds

the epic comes to grief

ii. “(soja come soja go)”

.there is a continent

in the room

eating away at our


at our


and stones


no one wants

to talk about it



.the people were exactly the same

but eaten away by time

and poverty and through their eyes

you could see their souls

only they were centuries old

A Talk with My Skin

.i have talked with my skin, as if my skin

were a patient, or a mountain, or void

and to my skin i have said: “i have

tried to reconcile your agony,

but never with prayer or delight, and

i have tried satisfying your question: “where must

we go, beyond land and time and currency, a place

beyond the grave, where i can matter?” by saying: “i have

forgotten of other places since we first arrived here, and

my tongue is too loose to imagine

or retort, as if nothing was ever in front us nor


.i would not find my face, even if i stared into the mirror, or a steady stream and a reflection spoke out to me and said, ‘look at me; i am your face,’ or an artist sketched it and presented it to me; it would make no difference

i would not find it

i would not find my face, unless

signs and symbols

were broken down and



signs and symbols and language

refer the thing

back to itself

and its complexities apparent

the classified become visible

i would find my face


i would know

that to be black

is to exist

A few good words with Sisonkepapu

PDS: As a black writer, I’m often thinking about the ways in which writing in English is engaging with or troubling the use of the language of my enslaver. In your work, there is often a reference to what I read as a similar questioning—in “the “Victims of Space and Other Things (Part II),” you write that there is a “…continent…eating away at our / furniture / at our / groins / and stones / language,” while in in “.i would not find my face,” you call for signs and symbols to be “broken down and / unlanguaged” in order to see yourself, your blackness. I wonder if you could speak a little more to your relationship with language and your work.

Sisonkepapu: .language is not a natural phenomenon. it is a learned abstraction. language has to be packaged in such a way that the person receiving the communicated message has to be able to deconstruct it into ‘knowledge’ or ‘cognitive’ chunks so that they may understand the message. the problematic aspect of language then becomes its artificial representation, of thought, of emotion, of experience, and of gesture. now, as a postcolonial subject and postcolonial writer, it becomes very difficult for me not to think in terms of language and how it is limiting, and limited. this predicament, if we can call it that, is made worse by the fact that even in your writing – like you have also pointed out – you are not using your mother tongue but a language that you inherited, or borrowed or were violated by/ in. i find that then as a xhosa person, in my mind i am always in translation before i even begin writing: i have to think about thinking in a different language, i have to try and articulate my thoughts, my emotions, my experience, and every gesture i make into a language that is not my own. that for me is a failing practice. there is nothing more self-alienating than trying to articulate yourself in a language that alienates you. this accentuates the idea that there is simply no grammar to speak of the black experience. this is why then, as you have quoted, my preoccupation with language becomes a deconstruction one. however, the work is mostly interested in deconstructing a world that is antiblack, a world that articulates, describes, understands and perpetuates the idea of the black as an object – an expandable insensate non-being. by experimenting a lot with form in the poems i try to disrupt the english language, to ruffle it up, and put it into question

PDS: This particular work seems to focus on the self, the construction of identity, and an attempt (perhaps a failing one) to understand where one fits in the world. When did being a writer begin to inform your sense of identity? How has your identity influenced your work?

Sisonkepapu: .identity for me has always been a question with no end. however, i feel it is in this project that i started working on in 2015 that i began to engage not only the question of identity but also myself and how i relate to myself and things and space in a way i have never done before. sometimes as people we need to be gentle with ourselves – the world is already a bad enough place. and in that endeavor to be gentle, to open myself up to myself, i found that – in hindsight – there is an underlying idea of dialogue, of sharing, and engaging oneself, or a group, but not so much as to posit or prescribe answers but to listen, to try to understand what you are thinking and feeling. this permeates the work. during this process i found that i was negotiating my identity with the poems and in that way i begin a dialogical process of trying to understand myself through what i have written. however, this attempt is stark with ambivalence and this, for me, shows that the reckoning with identity is always a messy one, it is too complex for anyone to posit that they are one thing and not the other, especially when they are so many things all at once. lastly, the voice in the poems is stuck in a uninterrupted equivocal epiphany and it is fully aware of that but it cannot do anything about it

PDS: If one of our readers was to pick up a book of poetry to read right after reading these poems, what book should that be? What work do you feel affinity with?

Sisonkepapu: .over the years i have realized that i have a strong affinity for work that challenges me as a person and also as a writer. i am in a constant state of thinking about writing and how handicapped it is. i am always drawn to the alternative, the odd voice that exists in the periphery. these are my favourite kinds. beyond these, i am particularly interested in the narratives of black people in the world and this is my attempt to remedy my early schooling deprivation of narratives that speak of (to?) me and my people and how they view themselves and their place in the world

the book i would recommend is not definitively a book of poetry, it is a literary chimera that has a unique approach to writing. without talking a lot about it, let me leave it here: Georges Perec – Species of Space and Other Stories

Sisonkepapu is a South African poet. His work has been published in Badilisha Poetry X-change, Conte Mag, Aerodrome and various anthologies. He is a frequent guest poet/ lecturer at the NMMU first year Introduction to Poetry class and has shared the stage with Lesego Rampolokeng, Mxolisi Nyezwa, Antjie Krog, R. A. Villanueva (USA) and Luka Lesson (AUS) among others. His collection of poems Hurry Up, We Are Dying will be self-published in 2016.

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