Pretoria - As South Africans prepare to celebrate Mandela Day tomorrow, the Avbob Poetry Project pays homage to the work of Zizipho Bam, a young poet and spoken word artist who believes that poetry can be a stitching tool through which we heal ourselves and the world.
She recently won both the New Contrast National Poetry Competition and the New Coin Poetry Prize. Her debut collection, Sunflowers for my Lovers, was published in 2022.
Bam started writing these poems to bring healing to parts of her own psyche.
“In writing my collection, I set myself the intention of creating a safe space in which the process of healing could be begun. I wanted it to become a soft landing for when I felt broken. Each time I felt tethered to a string of negative thoughts, I found the vulnerability to begin anew,” Bam said.
While the poems are rooted in personal experience, they also speak for generations of silenced voices, especially those of women. In her poetry, she describes herself as part of “an inheritance built on the backs of matriarchs”.
Bam sees a strong continuity between this work and the Struggle of past generations.
“I’ve always admired the generation of Mandela, for the love they had for our country and her people.
“They had enough love for this country to fight till the end for her freedom. I would like to think that my generation shares and nurtures that same love,” Bam said.
She added that even though we have evolved in terms of how we articulate that love, we are still fighting the same fight. “Except, this time young people are fighting it from inside the system.”
In a poem called I like Where I’m From, she makes the terms of that fight quite clear. To be a woman in this country, she writes, you have to “wear the weapon and the band-aid”, to become a wound and a stitching tool at the same time.
In Bam’s hands, poetry itself becomes a stitching together of broken things: a rebuilding.
In her poem Igibedu, she finds a powerful image for this work of rebuilding.
“In isiXhosa, the word alludes to a house that has been abandoned during its building process or has been dilapidated to such an extent that it no longer has windows, doors, floors or a roof. But it still maintains the structure of a house.”
At the end of this poem, she confronts a disquieting event from her childhood.
Bam said, Sunflowers for my Lovers, has been well received, and that her recent awards have felt like a nod – a sign that she is on the right path.
“As someone who is used to their poems being critiqued at poetry slam competitions, I was pleasantly surprised that they could also resonate with people on the page. Even small wins are inspiring.”
Most of all, she is grateful for the way the collection has expanded her poetry community.
“When I started this journey, I wanted to make something I could hold and touch with my hands, something I could feel – I was doing it for me. I am ecstatic that people have embraced it with open arms.”
Her book, Sunflowers for my Lovers, is available for sale on her website: www.ziziphobam.com.