The AVBOB Poetry Competition | Blog


Poetry is not a luxury, and other tips for beginner poets from Mandi Vundla    
Fri, 03 December 2021

As 2021 draws to a close the AVBOB Poetry Project aims to encourage the large number of youth poets who first sounded out their voices during the fifth AVBOB Poetry Competition. The work of poetry is never done while we have breath in our lungs! Youth poet and poetry activist, Mandi Vundla shares her favourite tips and tricks for launching into the creative process during the summer holidays.
Mandi Vundla is a poetry activist and educator who came to the world of poetry via slam poetry. She has performed internationally, co-edited Home is Where the Mic is (Botsoso, 2015) a collection of 24 youth poets, and initiated Poetry Zone ZA. This vibrant initiative started in Soweto to nurture emerging poets and provide mentorship programmes to guide poets needing constructive critique, a safe space to share their written work, and a way to navigate the poetry industry.
Your first draft is not a finished poem
Many aspirant poets pressure themselves prematurely. This kills the fun of flexing the creative muscle as you figure things out. Later, poetic devices transform the work into a fully-fledged poem, but in the beginning, let’s use the ideation process to bring the subject matter closer.
Stream of consciousness writing, or “freewriting”, is a great starter exercise. Allow your pen to flow over the page without stopping. Don’t try to make sense of it. Simply write whatever comes to mind. Some people enjoy using voice notes to record their thoughts. Talk to yourself while holding your device. Walk around the space to stimulate your imagination. 
When you have completed this “data mining” process, write it down, scratching out inconsistent ideas and stray thoughts. Analyse what remains and begin weaving your words into a coherent whole. At the end of this exercise, your subject matter will be clear, and you’ll have a guideline for the developing poem. 
Interrogate your intention
Why do you want to create an archive of your thoughts? This answer directs your focus. Now consider the speaker in the poem. Who is thinking these thoughts? Who wants to talk? What is the purpose of the voice? Who are you confronting? What must you resolve?
These answers will help you personalise and articulate your emotions, which are crucial building blocks for your poem. Allowing for vulnerability gives you a language for probing your subject matter. When emotions are honest, heightened and pure, our perspective expands. In some cases, they translate naturally into poetry and the poem almost begins to write itself! Putting yourself at risk is a valuable tool for creating excellent poetry.
Tap into imagery
Now play with symbols that enhance the poem. This is an artistic and poetic movement or style using symbolic images and indirect suggestion to express mystical ideas, emotions, and states of mind. Do this smoothly – without breaking your pen or cracking your brain. Jot down a list of concrete words that expand the visual representation of your main idea – have them on standby.
Plan Your poem
At this stage you have penned the literal and figurative meaning of your poem, but everything is still scattered. Plan your next move. How does the sequence of your poem unfold? Make the best decision for the poem’s opening. Command the reader's attention. What will make up its body? Create suspense to hold the reader’s attention. Consider the closing. Make it memorable. After planning the narrative structure, consider the poem’s overall structure.
Organise your poem on the page
Does your poem follow a classical form? How will you lay your stanzas? Short or long? Do rhythmic elements inform the soundscape of the poem? Does every line end with a rhyme? Don’t force this! Try using free verse where your poem follows no obvious structure. Check that all the poetic devices you’ve chosen enhance your meaning. Use memorable language.
Editing, editing, editing
Here’s a great trick: read your poem aloud. When something is out of place you can often hear it, even if you can’t see it. Test the placement of every word. Does it belong there? If not, try a synonym or scratch it out. Does each decision you took do the poem justice? When you’re satisfied, send it to a friend whose opinion you trust. Let them be your second pair of eyes. 
A word on writer’s block
I don’t believe in writer’s block! I think our unshaped opinions or unspoken secrets often hold us back. Self-censorship and the fear of exposing our vulnerability drags us down. Poetry is not a luxury! It is an essential life-sustaining experience. Give yourself space and time to ponder what you and only you can say to the world. Be gentle with yourself as you process discomforting memories. Breathe as you answer honestly why it’s difficult to write about some things. Probe your intentions. In time, the real reason for your struggle to access your words will emerge. 
Write for your life
I utilise the natural transformational power of poetry as a tool to reflect, confront and resolve my internal conflicts. Poetry creates a gateway for uncomfortable conversations to occur without starting a war with the world. 
Simply put, poetry offers a way to breathe through difficulties. My hope is that you clear away internal clutter and discover your own urgent voice. When you write your own way forward, old wounds heal as you literally write for your life.
The AVBOB Poetry Project is an ongoing initiative to promote poetry in all 11 languages of South Africa, providing a free online resource of poems of comfort and consolation. Register to receive updates about The AVBOB Poetry Competition, which opens again on 1 August 2022: