Therapeutic Art (Bokhabo bo Phekolang)

Writing is a tough business. It doesn't matter what you write, if you haven't sweated it out, it's not complete. Now, you've got extremely talented folk who'll jot something down in a short amount of time and it'll be a good piece. I believe, however, that if such people had stayed longer in the workshop, their product would have been even a better piece. Writing is like giving life--you've got to build it and stick with it for nine months and then go through the painful process of giving birth. Otherwise it is premature, and has to head straight for the incubator. Or even worse, it is still-born, and has to be properly disposed of.

I suppose there are established ways that hospitals and clinics have adopted to tackle the situation. But what do you do with a premature piece of art, or one that you unhappily pronounce dead right after birth? It must happen and it must have happened. Picasso must have produced paintings that he considered awful, and that he duly threw into the trash bin (Ouch). Mozart, too, and the faceless poet or painter or musician that is some of us.

Is it easier to produce art when you're hungry or when you're full? Happy or sad? Rich or poor? For a new-born baby or the memory of a lost love? I don't know about being hungry or full, but I have found it as tough to write about my children as about the deaths of my brother and my nephew. Those were packed moments for me and if I was gonna write, I thought, it was gonna be then. Wrong!

Where do you start? Which feeling do you catch, and ride? Who do you thank or who do you tell off? I mean, I don't think it's any easier to write about a sparrow, for instance. It must be hard, too, and the simpler it looks, the harder it probably is. Mr. e.e. cummings wrote this stand-alone couplet, which you mustn't go thinking was easy to write:

O, the pretty birdie, O;
with his little toe, toe, toe!

Nice couplet. As for me, I do write about the murders, the ones in my family, I mean, but not before I had learnt a few lessons. And I suppose I will write more joyously about or for my children in the future, but I must first get rid of what is gnawing me inside. I have found out that when writing about what is dear the poet must be more disciplined. It is easy enough to throw in a lot of adjectives and give a gruesome title, but while doing so feels great, it doesn't get rid of the demons and it doesn't produce a poem. The following is one of my nine-month (full-term), painful birth poems that I nonetheless feel were still pre-mature. I reckon it and my other "therapeutic" poems will never be finished. PASSING has gone from a bunch of adjectives to what it is today, and I cannot say I'm not satisfied with both its aesthetic and therapeutic characteristics.

There isn't any beating of the drums
After the long subsiding ray
When like a cruel master darkness comes.

Let the town criers hasten to convey
Outright this message to kingdoms.
Invite well-wishing folks to go away.

Let the menace rise as the heart succumbs
Deeper still, and let silence slay
You with meaning beyond the sound of psalms.

But if no-one will listen or obey,
Wind the clocks, swing the pendulums,
And let that message seal the stillborn day.

© Rethabile Masilo

I have often wondered how other Basotho who lost loved ones during the Reign of Madness are ridding themselves of their demons. Do you write, like me? Are you a politician, like other members of my family? What makes you tick? Do you want someone to pay, or have you forgiven, never to forget? In my case, one of the major steps was forgiving. One day, or one morning, or one evening, I just said, "It is between whoever did this and their God." And that took off a great load, and also made me realise that even if I had the culprit tied up in front of me and I had a red-hot poker in my hand and...., nothing will bring them back. And then there is life. I have a life. I have a wife and two children. And that's where I picked it up from and moved forward. Or tried to move forward.

There has been some pretty strong poetry born out of despair. I'm in complete awe of Ms Sylvia Plath, who could write some of the most beautiful lines despite what biographers tell us about her life. I wonder if she consciously wrote as therapy or if she was a writer whose life went awry. Because writers will write, no matter what. I hope that if you are not a writer you have found a means of "talking about it" through art or dialogue or sport or something else.

PASSING and other poems appeared in the 11th issue of The Canopic Jar.