More Than Words? Poets In Conversation: Peggie Shangwa & McDennias Moyo

With so many people using social media to express themselves – someone is bound to catch something.

Facilitated by Alex Gwaze (Curator)

We now live in a world where people say a lot but have very little emotional intelligence. Whilst most of the texts shared on social media are micro-biographic statements, jokes, ‘proposals’, statuses and hate speech, there is a new crop of individuals posting their ‘feels’ in the digital space. In the WhatsApp groups, Facebook pages and on stage, poetry is becoming a powerful tool for Africans to express themselves in a world where “catching feelings” is a no no. That is why I arranged a chat between two of Zimbabwe’s best known poets – from the digital and live performance worlds – to find out how they feel about using words to elicit emotions.

Firstly, I contacted Peggie Shangwa, also known as Umind?! Peggie is a spoken word artist who has performed at several events including the European Film Festival Zimbabwe, HIFA, Shoko Festival and So Creative Hub. She is the founder of Page Poetry Alive, a poetry collective that nurtures storytellers from page poets to spoken word artists, and she is the Senior Editor at Groove Magazine International, an urban culture Magazine.

Secondly, I contacted McDennias Moyo a Poet and Political Operator who administrates about eight writing groups on WhatsApp. These groups provide a platform for writers from across Africa to interact, collaborate, share ideas and publish their works. McDennias has published several books and his poetry collection, “My Everyday Valentine“, was rated the best new release on Amazon in the “Poetry About Love” category and his second book, “My Prickly Heart”, is currently seventh in the “Best New Release” (African Poetry).

Both poets are recognizable figures in the creative writing sector in Zimbabwe, with Peggie having made a name for herself on stage and McDennias online. This is the first time they have ever talked to each other and in their brief chat they touched on mental health, emotions and porn …

MCDENNIAS: I have a feeling that I will learn a lot from you. I see you have done so much for the art and I hope this will translate to opening doors for many other writers out there. You have the kind of exposure that many budding writers I’ve met on our social media platforms need.

PEGGIE: Thank you, but I think we will learn so much from each other, definitely! I will talk about the many hats I wear but for now, let me know what convinced you to start poetry? I know that’s a basic question but I am curious.

MCDENNIAS: I was asked to write a poem titled “Land the mother of all necessities” as my presentation when I was receiving an Academic Award in Grade 5. My Class teacher then gave me the basics of what poetry was and how I could structure it with or without rhymes. I was always regarded as good in creative writing in school and I was excited to try poetry. I remember it was a beautiful poem. I then revisited my passion for poetry out of a need to impress girls with the flowery language we would put in letters later on in High school. Funny, I always fancied myself a poet and I would tell every girl that. But now I write because it is an expressive outlet for my nagging thoughts and it is my soliloquy in a world that is not ready to hear my thoughts. I’m also curious about how you fell in love with poetry. I envy the journey that you have walked thus far.

PEGGIE: We all have unusual stories, but let me respond. Words from a young age were fascinating to me and I just inherited a love for them from my mum who fed us stories. I am really an introverted extrovert who enjoys looking into people beyond the surface. So Poetry, well Art allows me to discover the world through words and learn the ever changing psychology of people.

MCDENNIAS: You are mirroring me right now. I also look inwardly more for inspiration because I introspect a lot. I sometimes find myself inspired by the world too, it is a beautiful muse. You know as artists we are most concerned about the “why” part more than we are about the “what” part.

PEGGIE: True. I process things better when I am by myself. And, most creatives are certifiably introverted. Which brings me to my next question. How emotionally attached to your work are you and does it work as a source of validation for you?

MCDENNIAS: My work reflects what I’m feeling at that particular point in time. I write my personal feelings mostly and I also write from a place of empathy. I don’t know if my work validates who I am, but it is simply an expressive outlet for my thoughts in a world full of noise. When is the best time for you to write and how do you find the time to write on such a busy schedule?

PEGGIE: I was just about to ask you if you think poetry helps with mental health issues, especially since the world is so noisy thanks to social media. But, to be honest, I write better in a quiet and secluded places. Between midnight and dawn are the times I pen most of my poems. But when the passion hits I make time. These days when you have to work from home sometimes, it’s now easier to integrate writing into my day to day. It’s all in a days work now.

MCDENNIAS: I find myself writing any time at any place if my thoughts are that nagging. So yes poetry, in my case is attached to my mental well being. I have always been liberal in my art and I’m not a person who likes to be bound by certain rules when it comes to art because as a young Politician I live in a world already full of rules. Therefore I find freedom in my art and it is the only time I can freely express my thoughts without a worry in the world. No doubt, there are times that I have to watch what I say because social media is forever. Many times I have to stop and think if my words are politically correct. But I think Art is calming. I don’t think we just write but we read also and we get to appreciate other people’s thoughts.

PEGGIE: True, when I look at my generation of poets we do art because it is a genuine passion and a place for depth of expression. How do you handle being a young politician as well as a poet because the first rule of Art is show, don’t tell, but politics has its own rules. Doesn’t one stifle the other?

MCDENNIAS: I have found a way to create a balance between both passions. There are things that McDee the Poet might want to say but which will prove to be detrimental to McDee the young Politician. So, I ghost write most of my thoughts which are political for people seeking content on certain issues that our societies are struggling with.

PEGGIE: People are struggling out there and as Aristotle said,”To write well, express yourself like common people, but think like a wise man”.

MCDENNIAS: I’m stealing that quote.

PEGGIE: Lol. Okay. Can I take you back. You said something about social media being forever. I took a trip on your website just to get into the writing that you do and I came across a very graphic poetry image that in most cases would lean more on ‘porn’ for some people. I am an artist so I am able to look at art in a holistic view but I am aware of how different our audiences are. Corporations or even some people who commission work, and certain groups of people, because of their own values and beliefs, might be reluctant to work with you because of that image. What’s your take on that post?

MCDENNIAS: Oh … I know what you are talking about. The picture you are talking about was sent on one of my poetry WhatsApp platform and we were asked to share our thoughts on the picture. To me, the picture could only be better explained by some erotic poetry. The picture is a beautiful encapsulation of romance and intimacy and as such we create beautiful poetry with our bodies as lovers. What did you think about the picture when you saw it? Please don’t say you only thought it was profane?

PEGGIE: I thought about the message behind it but was curious to know from what place your poem was written. You know a picture is worth 1000 words. But, as for the picture, I will start by acknowledging that sexuality is one of the most spoken about themes in our time. Mainly because the media has been intentional about using it as a tool in their message to promote and change mindsets. Sex is subliminally in everything if you are intentional about noticing it. So I can understand why the image was sent on the WhatsApp group because a lot of the poetry millennials write about deals with with heartbreak and morality. And we have a younger generation that is more expressive emotionally than in past generations. To that end that they feel the need to address everything openly and allow themselves to be vulnerable so that they can be able to process these issues and be actively involved in having a healthy state of mind.

MCDENNIAS: Honesty is always the key. There is freedom in truth. I think the young poets are doing well in that avenue. Art is not only supposed to provoke but it is also supposed to educate and to create awareness over issues that we contend with in our daily lives. But people do say more things online that they would in real life.

PEGGIE: True. There is a difference between writing something on social media and performing it live. I started in the ‘real world’. I went on stage to perform my first piece after frequenting the Book Cafe for ages watching my favourite poets. I walked off to a standing ovation, a radio interview and a national tour. After that doors just opened and I had to work backwards and start branding myself. I was a Slam poet at that time and I had memorized three poems. Fortunately, I was never really labelled as angry but I do get people that call me the Jesus Freak. But mostly my poetry paints pictures of normal people and it takes on the third person perspective. So I wasn’t worried because the narrative around my message is always “love” and bringing people face to face with hope, and stories that are relatable.

MCDENNIAS: Wow. That is astounding. Yours is a beautiful journey and I only hope you continue to grow so that you will help many others. By the way, how can we help young writers grow like you have today?

PEGGIE: Thank you so much. Well, it’s all about context really for me. I am very good at picking principles from the weirdest things. You would be very shocked to find that I write material on any subject because I read. Readers usually grow into great writers.

MCDENNIAS: True. If you become an avid reader, you will also learn how to write and which styles you can adopt in your own writing. I’m an avid reader, but I wouldn’t call myself a great writer though. I still aspire for greatness.

PEGGIE: Take your time and be original. For me, the journey has been full of defining moments as well as discovery. It’s been bittersweet but I have found fulfillment in doing something I love and have a deep passion for and it let’s me know why I am here.

MCDENNIAS: I believe, that self-fulfillment comes from always being honest in your Art. And, always seek to learn from every situation in life. And remember that God has got you every step of the way.

PEGGIE: Amen! And when we make money from our Art that becomes the added cream on the cake.

MCDENNIAS: Reaping the financial benefits from your art is the ultimate dream for most people.

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