I Am A Creative: Thembe Mvula “Creativity has no limits but there is a standard we must strive towards”
Thembe Mvula is a poet and spoke word performer. In 2016, she graduated from the university of Kent with a degree in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies. After graduating, she became a Year Here postgraduate fellow. There, she spent a year in London gaining experience in different areas of the social sector including secondary school and the homeless sector. She also developed ideas for her own social enterprise. Thembe currently works part-time for a community engagement organisation whilst being a freelance poet.
What does being a creative mean to you?
It means to produce an idea in a way that either hasn’t been done before or enhances what has already been done. Ideas aren’t necessarily original but the way an individual will execute the idea should be unique. When it comes to art, I think creativity has no limits but at the same time it’s highly subjective and so the matter of good or bad quality is not absolute. At the same time I do feel that there is a standard of perfection or beauty that creatives must strive towards and so to me creativity is about doing something a bit different and doing it exceptionally well.
What is your view on the poetry scene in the UK?
I think it’s very exciting and it’s definitely the dark horse of the spoken word scene. When I first got introduced to spoken word it was very much in the US and I wasn’t as much aware of it in the UK. I think the world is growing to appreciate wider voices more in the spoken word scene, including from the UK. For instance poets such as Warsan Shire and Kate Tempest, both UK based, are renowned internationally. I feel like spoken word poets from the UK who are really good don’t try to imitate those from the US, and the influence of UK culture – such as grime or UK slang – is evident in their work and they really make the craft their own.
What effect have your life experiences and background had on your craft?
My life experiences play a major role in my craft because my poems are personal. It is only recently that I have started to write poems based on external things as opposed to things I’ve been through which is a nice transition. But I still bring elements of me into it, for example I might speak about or make comparisons to things in South Africa because that’s where I’m from. Ultimately when I’m writing or performing a poem I am telling a story and I want for that to be as honest as possible, and that means it has to be from deep inside of me.
What is one thing you always want to convey through your poetry?
Which do you enjoy more: writing or performing your pieces?
It’s difficult to say because they’re all part of the same process but very different stages. I like them both for different reasons. Writing because I don’t really know what will come out once I start and I’m completely free. The performing stage is important also because I think there is power in saying things out loud. I’ve heard other poets speak about how performing a poem is taking ownership of your own life experience and it is so empowering. I’d honestly say it bounces back in between both in terms of which one I enjoy the most, at the moment I would say writing but if you asked me 6 months ago I’d probably say performing.
Creativity is about doing something a bit different and doing it exceptionally well.
On average, how long does it take to start and finish your poems?
I think for me it depends on how close to home the topic is. The more close to home, the more difficult it can be to write and therefore it takes longer to finish. By writing I don’t necessarily mean the point where I write the first line of the poem to when I’ve finished it, but the moment I first conceive the idea is when I first start a poem. Sometimes actually writing it can last between an hour and months. A poem that I wrote which was very close to home came up as an idea two years before I actually wrote it, but when the words came it maybe took me a week to write and finish. Another poem I was asked to do which wasn’t that personal took me a few hours.
What is one misconception that people have about poets or creatives in general?
It’s the idea that they are broke. I think this is probably one of the biggest reasons why it’s not number one sought for career prospect. I don’t think that it’s a big misconception though, but I do believe that one can make a decent living out of it if they put in the work and meet the right opportunities, like with any job. It probably won’t make you a billionaire, but I don’t think that’s why creatives do what they do. We do it to survive and to make sense of the world, or at least that’s why I do it.
Ideas aren’t necessarily original, but the way an individual will execute the idea should be unique.
What has been your most unforgettable moment thus far?
There have been many but I think probably when I found out that I had gotten through to the final round of the national Roundhouse slam this year. I was excited to be in the semis because poets came from all around the country and beyond and I saw some of the highest levels of talent that I’d seen in the UK. When I found out I was coming back from the shop and was checking Facebook to see their live video announcement. I thought I heard my name but wasn’t sure as it wasn’t a clear sound and I was also in the middle of the street so I just went home and checked again and did hear my name. Competitions don’t mean much but I think that moment really affirmed to me that I actually have a calling to do this poetry thing. It’s one thing to have the support of friends and family, which I owe a lot to, but sometimes you’re not sure if they’re just being nice. So to be considered to be among the top 11 up and coming poets currently in the country was a great feeling.
Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?
I have always liked the idea of collaborating with other different art forms such as visual art and music. I would like to work with a skilled musician – I’ll keep who as a surprise – as well as collaborate more with other spoken word poets.
The more I am connected to God, the better I write
What advice would you give to your 18 year old self?
Don’t throw away your poems
What has been your experience of being a Christian in the creative industry?
I feel like the creative industry is a great space because it welcomes diversity and usually provides a bigger platform for voices that aren’t usually heard to have their say. Living in a society where having a religious perspective as a young person in a space where you might be the only voice sharing that can sometimes feel isolating, to be honest. I am encouraged by the fact that spoken word scenes are spaces where freedom of speech reins, albeit I don’t aim to dilute my message because it contradicts other messages but hope that it can be appreciated even by those who may not share my world view.
How has your faith impacted your craft?
Without my faith I wouldn’t trust that there is a bigger purpose to me sharing my poems. I also probably wouldn’t be as courageous in doing so because I rely on God when I’m writing and performing to help me to do it to the best of my ability. I honestly feel like the more I am connected to God, the better I write because things inside of my mind are clear and more in tune to allow me to produce something good.
And finally, are you working on any exciting projects or performing at any upcoming events?
Yes! One of my long term projects has been putting together my first collection of poems to publish as a pamphlet. It will be out this year and I’m excited to announce its launch and share it with everybody. I’m doing some readings and will be on a panel at 3FF’s interfaith charity event on 14th September and also featuring at the London Improv Theatre on 6th September and JAWDANCE on 20th September.
‘I am a creative’ series aims to challenge the pre-conceived idea of being a ‘creative’ through various content and interviews with young talented individuals. We showcase the different ways that creativity can be expressed whilst promoting and celebrating what creatives are doing. We discuss topics affecting young creatives and challenge people to identify and express the creative nature within them even in unconventional and counter cultural ways.
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