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The prince of poetry

The prince of poetry
A genius at work: Moroka Moreri

Renowned local poet, Moroka Moreri is widely regarded as one of the most gifted lyrical talents of his generation.

To meet with Moreri is to meet with genius.

However, despite his celebrity status, fame has not changed the Molepolole native; he remains humble and approachable, his handsome features regularly lit up with a genuine, infectious smile.

The former Secondary School Setswana and English teacher is the author of several poetry books, the most famous being Motlhaolosa, which was adopted into the national curriculum.

Famous for his distinctive style, Moreri recently mesmerised mourners at the state funeral of Sir Ketumile Masire, adding some much-needed sparkle to the sombre occasion.

A highly respected cultural activist, the bilingual Moreri boasts a Masters in African languages and currently serves as a secretary for Ntlo ya Dikgosi.

The Voice’s Onneile Setlalekgosi caught up with the enigmatic, eloquent Moreri to dissect his poetical journey.

Q. You originally pursued a career in teaching – when did your poetical journey begin?

A. I was brought up in a traditional way of life.

I started poetry with the influence I experienced from the royal kraal while growing up.

At a young age I used to accompany chiefs when they went to survey the Kweneng territory – from there I saw a lot of traditional practices, such as Dikhwaere and people being tried at the kgotla.

People then could just recite poems when seeing a chief, when greeting him.

Q. What do you remember most from that time?

A. One of the most striking things was that it was taboo to shake the chief’s hand.

So people then would not naturally greet the chief, but recite a poem.

I learnt the Setswana culture from my elders in Molepolole.

Q. When did you discover your talent?

A. I cannot remember the date but I discovered I was a poet back in the days, during a wedding ceremony in Molepolole.

When I finished the poem, which came from the heart, everyone who attended the wedding was thrilled.

Ever since that poem, I was invited to Independence celebrations, traditional Kgotla events and many more.

Q. Your book Motlhaolosa was prescribed for junior schools and used in Cambridge examinations. How many books have you written so far?

A. So far I have authored 10 poetry books. Motlhaolosa is the one that became most prominent and was adopted in all schools, from Primary up to University level.

I have even collaborated with the local singer Mmereki Marakakgoro to compile a song dedicated to his wife, Mary.

I included a poem to it and it became an award-winning hit.

I have done poetry for more than 25 years and have recited more than 300 poems!

Q. What was the secret to Motlhaolosa’s success?

A. I compiled the book through the use of rich and colourful language, which is always bound to impress anyone who likes Setswana culture.

The poems within it identify with lots of things, such as our country, Botswana, moral issues and personal issues.

The name itself means ‘Mashi a kgomo’ – cow milk.

Q. Do you only give recitals in Botswana?

A. I have recited poems even beyond borders; I have recited in South Africa, Sweden and Scotland.

People are now coming forth to benchmark – in October, Swedish poets will be coming to Botswana as an exchange program to interact with the locals.

Q. Having been a prominent figure in local poetry for more than two decades, what have you done for aspiring poets?

A. I have formed a poetry club called Motlhaolosa.

Last year we did the first Setswana poetry awards in Botswana.

It was a success and attracted the likes of the Queen mother from Phokeng, South Africa, Mma Molotlegi and Setswana Professor Machila from the University of South Africa.

We are even expanding the Motlhaolosa poetry group beyond the borders, like at neighbouring villages in South Africa.

We have been to Gopane village, to activate culture there, schools in Zeerust and we are planning to go to Phokeng before the end of 2017 to recite a poem for the Queen mother.

I even hold free workshops around the country to assist aspiring poets.

I am pleased because some grow and end up competing in poetry finals.

Q. Your advice to aspiring poets?

A. The trend nowadays is that young poets do not want to learn. I wish they could be patient and develop a spirit of learning from others.

They should not just rise up and conclude they are the best – society will give that credit.

We are living in a completive world, through learning and interaction, that’s when you learn to be the best.

Before I recite my poetry, I think of the best poets in English, either in Russia or the United Kingdom.

Young poets should also invest in reading – poems are ‘issue based’, it is not enough to bank on talent!

You recite to issues that are there – one needs to be relevant, humble and competitive.

Q. Are poets born or made?

A. It’s both, but when you are born with it, it is not enough – you need a bit of coaching and learning.

One needs to do lots of research to nurture and grow their abilities – talent alone is not enough!

Q. What motivates you to keep writing?

A. What keeps me going is the passion, learning and the desire to keep space until another one takes it, because I am so sad, when poets find professional jobs, they leave their God-given talents.

I know many great poets who have abandoned their talent.

Poets should stand for their talent, I am glad I am now international and wish young poets could grow to this level. Stand for your talent!

Q. You also work as a secretary for Ntlo ya Dikgosi – how do you balance that with the life of a poet and still find time to be with your family?

A. It is tough to balance! But when you live around people who see that you are passionate about what you do, they compromise and you compromise.

Q. Do you feel the government is doing enough to support the arts?

A. I wish the government could not give us (artists) formal employment – it is not beneficial for talent growth and making the talent a commodity.

In other countries, artists are given grants to grow their talents.

I wish we could establish that.

I could have written better books and could now be giving back to the country. That being said, I am a strong advocate for the establishment of an arts council.

Q. What exactly do you wish to achieve with the arts council?

A. With the arts council, artists will be provided with grants and go around the country learning from others to grow their talents.

Botswana should now diversify and we are the right people to contribute in diversification of economy, using Botswana-bred talent.

We were taught for free. I beg the government to establish an arts council that can employee us professionally because we are passing on.

Q. Other than oral poetry, do you have a band?

A. I do have a band – it is called Nkokowe.

Q. What awards have you won in the past?

A. So far I have told myself that I do not want any award.

I do not compete in Presidential day competitions – I feel that’s for young poets.

But I have just participated as a judge. Honestly, without prejudice, I think the awards are for youngsters.

I won the Orange Botswerere wards, then I got the second position – they are the competitions that I can take part in.

Q. What have you got organised for the next couple of months?

A. On August the 26th, I will be having a Culture day in Maunatlala, my groups and band will be reciting there.

On September 2nd I will be in Phikwe with the band and poets and on the 10th we will be in Francistown for the city’s 120th anniversary.

Then, on the 10th of October we will be hosting the Swedish poets.

We have also been invited to University of United State of America, Ohio University.

I have been invited to an African Festival in Washington to recite there with my band.

Q. Thank God it’s Friday, what your plans for the weekend?

A. One of my friends has passed on in South Africa, Rustenburg, so I will be in South Africa.

I will be meeting with prominent Setswana professors, Machila and Sholeshole in South Africa to recite a poem for him.