The power of poetry and vulnerability | Thembe Mvula | TEDxUniversityofKent

Translator: Amanda Chu
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Hello. “At first glance Perhaps you allowed the forces of nature That attracts opposite sexes
to persuade you into thinking you stand a chance. Gazed an opportunity to charm
your way into my pants and claim my heart as yours.
Perhaps you saw a challenge. Or maybe, I’m not the prize you had your eyes on. But I will not apologise for being bold and strong and
passionate and bright and wrong. I display nothing
delicate outwardly And even though my inner battles
are fought quietly the words I let drip from my mouth and evaporate into your ears undress the more I speak to you Conveying nothing but naked truth I won’t attempt to lure you with my looks I won’t gimmick you with
flirtatious gestures Or charm you with superfluous words and I expect the same in return For over time I have come to learn That first impressions are as finite As love at first site The things which live on are the mountains yet to be moved So show me your ugly your sentimental, your messy, your blunt,
your just plain silly Show me your weak, your indecisive your cheek, your strange, your human Because that’s all there is to me and these bones which frame my flaws Holding up these walls I keep To hide a heart that somehow always seems to find its way to my sleeve Its strings are still being re-tuned By the Chief Musician So white wash the image
you first painted of me And if you dare To love this bird, rare As rare birds with broken wings come Be sure to listen to her song She doesn’t sing it for just anyone” Why are we so afraid of being
that which we naturally are sometimes? – indecisive, unreliable, weak, human. I’m here to talk about how poetry has enabled me
to embrace these aspects of myself. As human beings, we all share the common trait that is eight pounds of what comprises
our largest bodily organ – skin. It’s what protects us
from the outside world and also what connects us to it. We also share the common traits
of having vulnerabilities, but we also have what – let’s just say –
is an extra layer of skin that we sometimes use
to hide these vulnerabilities. But unlike skin, it not only connects us
to the world and protects us, it can also cause us damage. I’m a Christian and I go to church, and one of the things
that has always fueled my faith is testimonies of other believers who have
gone through some kind of a struggle. Being a Christian isn’t easy; it means striving to live a life
of complete selflessness and discipline, which in and of ourselves
is not easy to do. Testimonies encourage me because it’s one of the few times where I see the happy, well-dressed,
well-rounded people at church who come across so perfect, as human. When they tell these testimonies, momentarily, that idealization that you see
often of them is stripped away, and they too can say that I struggled. And even though they are being open
with their weaknesses, they’re also able to embrace
that they overcame. We sometimes treat our weaknesses as if they are things
to be ridden off or even hidden because we’re afraid that people will not understand
or that other people won’t relate to us. Having dealt with and had friends
with mental illnesses such as depression, this extra layer of skin
acts as a way of pushing people out, and it can also stop us from building
deeper relationships with other people. One of the topics that I explore in my dissertation
that I wrote this year on masculinity is the pervasively high rates
of suicide in males and how this is closely linked
with ideals of masculinity, and that being emotionally vulnerable
is culturally understood to be feminine and men can’t freely
express their emotions without compromising
their masculinity in some way. But the emotional restrictions
that are so pervasive in culture aren’t just gender biased, they also are cultural. And in the piece that I’m going to share, it just gives a snippet
of that experience in my life. “Some days, my mother’s voice
is a well in the dessert a breath of fresh air when life squeezes too tight Her ‘molo’ translates :
I still believe in you Her “ibinjani imini yakho?” –
how was your day? Reminds me that even though
I’ve seen better the days which lie ahead
will be far greater She doesn’t know That within each long pause between answering her questions I’m swallowing my pride concealing all tones of hurt
from my voice I practice an art form passed down generations of African daughters And tell her “ndiphilile” – I’m fine And I’m not lying It’s a promise That even though I’m not right now Her presence is what’s keeping
my faith from dying She is my everything On days when I feel I am worth nothing Miles apart from her and decades away from myself I pick up the phone and call her She speaks in Xhosa and installs back
all the value I own Reminds me That we did not cross borders To forget where we come from” We practice this art of masking
our emotions and vulnerability even with those
who we most love and trust. But why do we do it? Why are we so afraid of being emotionally vulnerable
and open to other people more often. As a performance poet, I frequently have the humbling opportunity of being very open and honest
about my deepest experiences and feelings, with complete strangers. The power of poetry has allowed me to express things
in ways that I normally couldn’t in plain language, and it’s quite exposing
as a form of expression than any other that I’ve known, having nothing but mere
metaphors to hide behind; and this is empowering. “For here – Here is where I find peace, Sitting at the edge of the chasm
of life’s peak where I admit that I am not all that I am But what I try to be – Try not to be – weak, Spilled out in the form
of a prayer and poetry where I choose to undress my pride And risk it all to not hide
what’s confined Inside the holy temple of my mind. Here – is my Bethesda. I am weak, yet I am strong, For I have discovered sufficiency
and the grace of the Trinity Here – where I no longer behold
through rose tinted lenses. Life becomes an unfiltered photograph
I am analyzing closely – What a piece of art it is! – Woven together by divine hands This tapestry of bruised beauty, and I – Am simply here,
simply thankful to be here.” We practice the art
of masking our emotions so frequently that we are not even aware of doing it,
that we are doing it – at least I know I’m not. And what I want to say today is we should be more willing
to be emotionally vulnerable with others. One of my biggest fears
for a long time is being weak, or at least showing it. And one of my favorite poets,
Anis Mojgani, says – I’m paraphrasing – “Sometimes what it takes to be invincible is to know that you are such,” but today what I want to say is what it takes to be invincible
is to know that you are not and that this is not a bad thing, because when we’re able
to embrace our weaknesses and look beneath the put-togetherness
that we sometimes portray, we’re able to regain strength from that. So whatever way you find best
to express yourself or to be vulnerable, don’t take that for granted as an opportunity of unveiling
deeper aspects of you to others and even to you and also as a way of finding the power
through vulnerability to relate better to other people,
as I have through poetry. “Parading personal stories
for others to simply admire how pretty pain can be Some stories don’t dance gracefully Or even craft themselves into a palatable
rhyme-scheme because Some stories are best served chilled Give you more bone than meat to chew on For the honest, ugly truth to be revealed There’s nothing poetic about being a poet When a poet takes the stage they martyr their privacy for applause. Freely making an oral exhibition
of their hollow hurt – You bare witness to badly
broken sacrifices You enter a house decorated with jagged wall images
of some loved and some lost That no one excused the mess for prior to your feet entering the door On this stage Where scars are undressed in front
of unfamiliar faces Explained in uncomfortable detail
as they unveil What’s beneath the surface Heartaches become fleeting sketches spoken into existence, hoping to find voyeurs To make sense of it all Give it a purpose The poet shatters Into humble, bite sizable pieces Scoops each one back up all at once and gives it to you And calls it art” Thank you. (Applause)

5 thoughts on “The power of poetry and vulnerability | Thembe Mvula | TEDxUniversityofKent

  1. spliced by a slice a life that separated day from night. away we crept into movement undefined to find a peace of mind in the hard hearts of the unkind

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