Tanzania: Author Takes Us Through Her Poetry Album 'Walk It Out'

interview

Jacqueline Massawe is an artist, a poet and a jewellery designer. She is a Tanzanian who is passionate about the creative arts and creative business. Success magazine interviewed her about her Walk it Out poetry album.

How did you get started as a poet?

I have always had a love for words. My interest in poetry began when I was at school. I was greatly inspired by my Literature teacher, the writer and poet Neil Curry. I remember studying the poetry of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath and being in awe at how much could be expressed through few carefully selected words. He taught me to appreciate the art of poetry and encouraged me to enter poetry competitions as he saw a talent in me.

What inspired you to write this poetry album Walk it Out?

The album was written over the course of time. I believe I started writing words to the first poem Contentment in 2008. The album was completed and mastered and available on iTunes and other digital platforms in 2012. At the time of writing I had a strong belief in the power of music and my greatest inspiration came from female lyricists like Lauryn Hill and Ursula Rucker and also, Linton Kwesi Johnson. Music seemed to make words come alive. The beats in the music carried mood and emotion like the heart beats. I think it was in an interview with BBC World Service that I first spoke about the album as a form of therapy and an outlet for thoughts and ideas that I felt were greater than my capacity to process at the time. When we started the album I was pregnant with my first son and by the time we were finishing I gave birth to my 2nd son. Somewhere in there I suffered from postnatal depression and went through a tough time with it. Through this album I was able to find a high point on the horizon. I used the words and the music to encourage myself and walk it out. Walk It Out is the title track of the album. It takes the listener step by step out of the valley on to higher ground.

What did you learn when writing the poetry on this album?

I learnt to be brave. I had written so much before this but never anything so open. I made myself vulnerable through this album and I didn't expect that so many would relate to it. It taught me that as alone as one might feel in their mental or emotional struggles, there is someone out there who has been through it and has come out the other side. Culturally as women we have been taught to not be open or express too much emotion. I regret to say that many women suffer in situations because they would rather suffer quietly than feel the scorn of society when admitting that life isn't perfect. As women we can suffer from depression, as women we can suffer from abuse and unfortunately many of us go through those dark places believing that if we open our mouths and speak it out or walk it out, then we are weak. With every poem I wrote for this album, I gained strength. I learnt that I am courageous and I am strong.

How do your poems develop? Please guide us through the process.

Usually I have a line or 2 that repeats itself to me, a thought that I keep thinking. Sometimes that thought rhymes but always it has a rhythm of sorts. If I take a pen and write it down then I find more lines. I get a sense of the destination and I then try to reach that destination playing with words.

Once I have the poem down, once it has reached its destination, I either put it away so I can let myself breath and come back to edit it later. Or I edit it and rework it until I feel satisfied that it's finished. There are poems I've left unfinished for months because I couldn't find the words to get it to the right destination.

At times I have thoughts or ideas in Swahili. I find these times the most exciting because for as long as I can remember I have thought in English. When I have a line of poetry in Swahili I always write it down. It always feels like I have found hidden treasure or that the treasure has found me, when a line comes to me in Swahili. To then develop a piece of poetry or part of a poem in Swahili I go through the same process but then find someone whose Swahili is better than mine to hear what I'm trying to say and debate with me as to whether I've managed to say it.

Tell us about some of the books you've enjoyed in the past year.

I teach Literature at an International school here in Dar. So each year in order to teach my students I read at least 4 plays, 3 novels and 40 poems. This past year I have enjoyed Wole Soyinka's play Death and the King's Horseman. Getting into the Nigerian Playwright has made me consider exploring the writing of drama.

I am also a member of the Umoja Bookclub. We read a book a month and meet to discuss it. My favourite Bookclub read of the past year has been Atomic Habits by James Clear as it was such a practical book.

What advice would you give to an aspiring poet?

The advice I would give anyone wanting to write, is firstly, to write. I remember in my first semester of teaching Literature here I really wanted to know my students more. I encouraged the budding writers to send me their work and I was blown away. Some of them didn't even see their talent and sometimes you don't. It might take someone else reading or hearing your work to give you that boost of confidence to write more and then to research and perfect your craft.

Secondly, don't inhibit yourself by trying to fit into someone else's box. Find your own voice even if it isn't conventional. Writing should be a journey to a place you want to discover or understand, if you take that journey wearing someone else's shoes you may get tired before you arrive at your destination.

Thirdly I would say research. Research by reading other poets and writers, discovering the places you are writing about, talking to people, hearing stories, looking at photos. It's important to immerse yourself in your subject matter and give your writing the room to grow strong roots. The buds and the flowers will come.

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