Around Africa through poetry

Conversation with Emmah Mabye about All African Women Poetry Festival by Rolland Simpi Motaung.

“We were made to feel like our voices mattered and to feel like stars worth being celebrated for our contribution to African literature and the hosts made sure that I felt that every day.” This is how performing poet Emmah Mabye (EM) described her recent experience in Ghana. Last month she and other poets gathered at the All African Women Poetry Festival (AAWPF) to showcase their poetry. Held in the capital city, Accra, AAWPF aims to tell African stories from the woman’s perspective through poetry. The four-day festival saw poetry performances, panel discussions and workshops in offering a unique poetry experience exploring the multiplicity of Africa’s cultural heritage with women from different cultures and countries. In this array of phenomenal African poets hailing from Cote d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe and Ghana, South African based poet Mabye was among the performers. Rolland Simpi Motaung (RSM) caught up with Mabye to find more about her experience in Kwame Nkrumah’s birth country.

RSM: First of all, congratulations on the trip to Ghana, tell us more about your experience at the All African Women Poetry Festival

EM: AAWPF was by far one of the best international festivals I have ever attended. The festival didn’t just focus on poetry, but it also looked into the poet and developing oneself as a business. All too often we just come on stage, perform, tour the city and go home. This time, however, we had workshops/sessions that looked at the poet holistically and used our own work and the work of other African writers as a tool for healing and advancement in our respective countries.

RSM: Who were some of the poets you met and those you enjoyed their performances?

EM: The poets I met: Amee Slam (Cote d’Ivoire), Chioniso Tsikisayi (Zimbabwe), Emma Ofosua (director of AAWPF), Apiokor (Ghana), Poetra Asantewa (Ghana) and Stephanie Ampofo (Ghana). I could see why all the ladies that were on the line-up were selected for this festival. One could’ve sworn that we had rehearsed and discussed what poems we were going to do – and mind you hadn’t. There was a beautiful thread from one poet to the other. These women are forces to be reckoned with in their unique ways and use their voices as a tool for empowerment.
RSM: Performing poetry was your main purpose for the trip, but you also got to facilitate a panel discussion, tell us more about that experience.

EM: It was my first time ever moderating a panel discussion, and what a wholesome fun experience it was. The panel discussion was titled “Programming Women Poetry for the creative economy”. It centered on the inclusivity of women’s poetry in this economy. The guests were Odile Tevie, Chineyenwa Okoro Onu, and Emma Ofosua. All dynamic women lent their experience and unpacked so much wisdom that made the discussion overly enlightening and easy to moderate. It still means a lot to know that I could be entrusted with such a task at an offshore international festival.

RSM: Speaking of the creative economy, in one post you mentioned that people get surprised when you say you are “travelling for art” when asked if you are travelling for business or leisure. Is the “business of Poetry” lucrative, can one make a living through writing, performing and travelling with poetry?

EM: The poets that I got to meet from Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana are making a living through writing, performing and travelling with poetry, so that tells you that it is a reality out there. There were so many commonalities among the poets about this reality and one prominent thing that the poets echoed was how challenging it is though (it’s not so easy); so one really needs to put in the hard work and have that tenacity to make the “business of Poetry” lucrative. They are, however, also using their work to seek out opportunities and diversify in order to have/create multiple streams of income.

RSM: You also host a series of discussions with poets on Puo_Poetry- an online platform that showcases poetry in aiming to create a Pan-African experience. What is your view on the differences (and similarities) between the South African and Ghanaian poetry scenes?

EM: I was fortunate enough to be with the founders of the Poetry Association of Ghana; these are young men and women – professional poets, the likes of the esteemed Rhyme Sonny and Emma Ofosua– who wish to formalize the poetry industry and grow it as such. This is something that has been a hope for many good poets in South Africa. Seeing this as something that has materialized in a different country, on this very continent, says that it’s possible and shows you how people take this art seriously (beyond a pastime/hobby). It goes without saying that South African poetry is top tier . Having been exposed to the poetry and poets that I heard in Ghana I can confidently say that African poets rock!

In conclusion, Mabye says there is still so much to see and learn from our continent and wishes to travel Africa extensively. Given an unlimited budget, she states “I would love to travel to every single country that would be open to receiving me”.


Rolland Simpi Motaung is an entrepreneur, facilitator, and book reviewer based in Johannesburg. He is passionate about entrepreneurship, education, creative arts, media, and gender studies, particularly from an African context. His book and movie reviews have been published in various publications including CityLife Arts, Culture Review, City Press, and Mail & Guardian.