Zéwande Bk Bhengu

Performance poet and television editor

Using poetry as his therapy is how Zéwande Bk Bhengu has found his niche in the world.

But his words come from a lonely place; he talks of demons inside his head and being the puzzle that no one wants to solve.

This Johannesburg-based wordsmith has won numerous poetry slams and talent contests. He’s also appeared in various theatrical productions that use poetry to tell their stories, and he co-wrote, directed and starred in FIRE:BURN, which has been performed at various festivals.

He grew up in the rural Eastern Cape where his mother was a teacher, and that rural background meant he was raised with certain values that are at odds with city life. Poetry has been his guide into the city mind-set.

City life also made him lonely, and in 2013 he was diagnosed with depression, which he still struggles with. “I have never been one for ‘Dear Diary’ or therapy, so writing poetry became the only space where I could allow myself to freely unravel and unpack my life to myself. I almost wanted to see everything in writing so I could understand what the problem was and I, from there, could then work on fixing it,” he says.

“I write from feeling, and every poem is my emotional self working on making me a better person for myself, and ultimately for society.”

Now turning 25, he describes himself as a loner whose life experiences have left him self-sufficient but with no deep-knit friendships. He feels most at ease in his own skin when he’s performing. “Spoken word poetry; those moments on stage and the moments of meeting the people that receive your work and being the centre of attention, even in that ephemeral moment, it makes me feel whole. Like I am part of the world and living.”

His sessions are more of a show than just a recital — he learned theatrical skills at the National School of the Arts in Braamfontein and fuses that with his poetry. He went on to study drama at Wits University, majoring in theatre design and television production, and is now working as the editor and visual effects editor on a new e.tv series called The Alliance.

Poetry gives him some hope that situations can improve, he says. “I want to share that hope and make things better using poetry.” — Lesley Stones

Photo: Evans Mathibe

Twitter: @Zewande