Defining black women’s poetry

EMPOWERMENT: Photo credit

Set on the strip of Station road, burrowed in the ally of Obs train station, you will find what is known as The Drawing Room Cafe.  With its minimalist approach to decor and a rustic, laid-back vibe- Obs babies tend to flock to the doors of this artistic sanctuary. Known for hosting a variety of alternative events, The Drawing Cafe comes alive each Thursday as it welcomes poets, writers and enthusiasts for an open mic slamming session. Back then a speciality of Tangores, former regular Roché Kester took the initiative to reinvent the spirit of Grounding Sessions within the open plan space of The Drawing Room Cafe.

Sitting by the windowsill at the entrance of the cafe- sipping an affordable R18 cappuccino- I email Roché regarding the projects she’s involved in and her take on black women’s poetry.

Having lived in Cape Town her entire life, Roché Kester is no stranger to the artistic scope of Woodstock and Observatory. After completing a Bachelors Degree in English, Psychology and Sociology at the University of the Western Cape, Roché considers herself to be a writer. When asked about her artistic practices Roché says, “predominantly I express myself through poetry. Even though it is my primary means of expression, I consider myself a writer as I do have a passion for writing in various forms”, stating  how, “specifically art journalism and fictional writing” is what she most affiliate with.

Apart from writing poems, Roché is currently a radio presenter for The Salon on Bushradio. She co-host the LGBTI show, with presenter/comedian Eugene Mathews, which airs on Wednesday evenings. Ever since gaining acknowledgement within the LGBTI community The Salon has been nominated and awarded the Evh Pink Media Award. But it is Roché’s involvement in social politics that I find most striking.

It has roughly been six months since Slam For Blood brought awareness to menstruation and sanitary dignity. Held at Codebrige, in Newlands, the event featured performances from poets advocating the need for sanitary products. Roché means that the reason behind the project was to raise awareness surrounding the economic barrier of sanitary products.

“The Slam for Blood campaign sought to use poetry to bring awareness to sanitary dignity. We requested that donations be made in the form of sanitary towels as it will be distributed to girls who do not have the economic means to purchase any.” – Roché Kester

Reflecting on whether or they achieved their goal, Roché claims that “the event was successful as it yielded a number of donations”. Having received media attention, Roché hopes that it “spurred awareness around the issue of sanitary dignity.” Identifying herself as both feminist and activist, Roché ‘s aim is to advocate equity and the equality for women. She also aspire to bring awareness to LGBTI and women’s rights.

Returning back to poetry and what she defines as black women’s poetry, Roché admits that “black women’s voices are imperative in our society.” For her, black women’s poetry capture the embodiment of intersectionality. Due to their position in society, Roché ‘s claims this “spurs them on to become great teachers of tolerance, empathy and equality.”

“Similarly, I feel that black women circumvent the narrative of victim hood and seek to educate how respect and human dignity are imperative to all.” – Roché Kester

Adhering to Steve Biko’s notion of blackness, Roché regards poetry as tool that allows for the expression of injustice, marginalization and the empowerment of black femininity. It is through this framework that she sees black women’s poetry as having the mobility to become change agents for human dignity and longevity. When asked about women empowerment, Roché admits that it is “essential to the functionality of society”. “It is my opinion that by empowering women we yield a society that is more productive economically”, says Roché . If for a moment you thought that by ‘women empowerment’ she meant ‘anti-men’, Roché would reassure you that you are mistaken.

“I find that the popular definition for feminism has become warped and any association with being feminist insists that you are man-hating.” – Roché Kester

As I find myself agreeing to what Roché is saying, I ponder over the success of Grounding Sessions.  Having received recognition at The Open Book Festival Program, The Fransschoek Literary Festival and The Naked Word Festival, it is astonishing how such a space as small as The Drawing Room Cafe helped established the popular poetry entity. Paying for my cappuccino, I decide to visit The Drawing Room more frequently. If not to save money on a cappuccino then definitely to become part of the Grounding Session community (the enthusiast one that is).


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