The AVBOB Poetry Competition | Blog


Ways into healing with poet vangile gantsho in Women’s Month    
13 days ago

In August, South Africa remembers the 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings in 1956 to protest the pass laws that subjugated women. The AVBOB Poetry Project marks this day by recognising how women’s struggles have changed and by celebrating the vital and life-affirming work of vangile gantsho, a healer, poet and co-founder of impepho press, which published her latest collection, red cotton, in 2018. 
The poems in this collection embody the kind of healing she feels is needed – boldly questioning what women are taught about their bodies in a world that still requires them to be submissive to the men in the room. In ‘smallgirl’, for instance, she summons the desire for freedom and belonging by evoking their absence in the world:
smallgirl with moths in her mouth
moves in silence
speaks anger in glances.
knows the dagger of words
smallgirl. big voice.
knows how earthquakes begin
in the rumbling of her belly entire families collapse
“Such poems are hard to write and receive,” admits gantsho. “Just because I have reached a place where I can tell a story, does not mean that those who are also connected to these stories are ready to have them told.” But she is confident that they have been received, as any genuine human experience honestly, sincerely shared will be.
The work of poetry, then, is to open up spaces of healing for what she calls the Divine Black Feminine. She believes that such work can be done intergenerationally, by paying attention to dreams, rituals and blood memory.
“Poetry allows for entry into the dream space. It allows us to language the things we see, feel and do not necessarily understand. It also offers an opportunity to listen deeply and meditate on the rumblings beneath the surface. Good poetry,” she says (quoting her MA supervisor) “operates beneath the surface.”
This work of healing, at the intersection between creativity and activism, underlies her work at impepho press, a Pan Africanist feminist publishing house she co-founded with Sarah Godsell and Tanya Pretorius in 2018. “The independent publishing community has been very welcoming of impepho, and publishers like Black Letter Media, Deep South and Modjaji are reinforcing the spirit of a publishing community.”
She was recently selected for a two-week residency in Gothenburg, Sweden. “It could not have come at a better time! I’d been working as an all-round backstager and needed to remember that I am also a poet, with a voice and something to say. I was welcomed by a wonderful community of black creatives and activists and was able to commune in ways that allowed me to return refreshed and encouraged.”
Of her collaboration with Godsell, Pretorius and others she writes, “Where we meet is this desire to make sure the world knows that we have lived. And hears it from our mouths, that even if we cease to exist, there were wild womxn here once and they did not hide.”
While gantsho seems to move effortlessly between the various parts of her work, she always returns to poetry, which she calls her home language. “Poetry is how I found and saved myself, how I found community and how I find ways into healing. It is how my ancestors found me, and how I fight to not forget myself. I am truly grateful for all the gifts she continues to give me.”
The AVBOB Poetry Project invites all who call poetry their “home language” to enter the sixth annual AVBOBPoetry Competition in any of the 11 official languages! Visit to register and enter before 30 November 2022.
Photo of vangile gantsho by Vusumzi Ngxande