MASERU — Poetry is one of humanity’s finest arts, a wonder of the world.
Over the centuries poets — from William Shakespeare to Lebo Mashile — have enchanted and inspired many through their words.
Unfortunately appreciation of this old art in Lesotho has always been as good as non-existent.
Poetry is seen as music’s ugly sister.
So despite embarking on poetry just four years ago, local talent Mpho Sefali can be termed an endangered species of some sort.
“Compared to other countries we are not the same. Poetry is not appreciated in Lesotho. It is not taken seriously,” Sefali says.
A student of poetry, Sefali began composing and performing in 2005.
She has made steady progress, including the publication of a poetry book.
Sefali has also performed at live shows such as last month’s Lesotho Haeso Awards as well as on a television programme.
“So far it has gone extremely well, looking at the reaction of people and the doors poetry has opened for me,” Sefali says.
“I was fortunate enough to perform in front of the authorities at NUL (National University of Lesotho) a couple of years ago, and that enabled me to publish an anthology of poems.”
The 2007 release, Your Spring Has Come, is a collection of 41 poems.
Though the publication was nowhere near being a best-seller it was a breakthrough.
“I always say the book didn’t make millions but it opened a million doors for me. Until then I was very underground,” Sefali says.
Still, the fact remains: Lesotho doesn’t have a thriving poetry scene.
The only forms of poetry in the country are lithoko, an ancient chest-beating tradition which is a preserve of men.
Poetry is neither a viable nor an attractive option for the young.
“The problem is that poetry was introduced mostly through Shakespeare in Lesotho, and that is the idea children have of poetry,” Sefali says.
“In South Africa the poetry is based on their country. It is an expression of their culture and history so it is more interesting.
“Our poetry should be influenced by Lesotho and that is one of my aims.”
In her mission to improve appreciation levels of poetry in Lesotho, Sefali plans to release a second collection of poetry in December.
The anthology will be accompanied by an audio CD.
“Basotho don’t have a culture of reading, so I see greater approval of my work through live or audio performances,” Sefali says.
But because of the lowly status poetry enjoys in Lesotho — a country that doesn’t respect the arts in any case — the financial rewards are pitifully low.
“I have built myself so much that I expect to be paid well, but sometimes you find yourself stuck in between taking and leaving it (an offer),” Sefali laments.
“Art is my life. I studied it,” she adds.
“In South Africa you get about M4 000 per performance while in Lesotho it’s only M500, which is hopeless.”
It’s a situation all the more depressing to Sefali because of the talent she believes is in Lesotho.
“We aren’t met halfway (in order) to give a young poet the chance to make a living off their talent,” Sefali says.
“There are companies trying to promote poets but more is needed.”
In a country where the arts are an after-thought it helps to have friends in high places.
“For example, I wasn’t invited to perform at the Lesotho Haeso Awards until the minister of culture asked why I wasn’t there,” Sefali says.
“Poets need to form a union that will look after their interests,” she adds quickly.
“I would like to see that happen. Poetry is important.
“We have not really lost our identity but I’m afraid we will soon if we don’t embrace our history (through arts).”
If a change doesn’t happen then Sefali fears aspiring performers, including herself, will be drained from the country.
“We have a lot of talent in Lesotho but most leave looking for greener pastures. Tšepo Tshola was the same,” Sefali says.
“I won’t lie, if I got the opportunity (to be based in South Africa) then I would leave.
“I love my country with a passion, but you can’t live on being a proud Mosotho.”