I would normally interview people who have been at SoloFLAMENCO for a while so that I have a feel for their ‘entrañas' … but this is not the case with Toni Stuart who joined our studio only this year.
But who would not like to know more about Toni when you find out she is a poet … yes, you read those words correctly, a poet by profession.
So if you are thinking WTF, swallow your thoughts and we will try and cover the most basic questions to give an overview of the life of a poet.
[If you just used Google translator to understand the word ‘entrañas’ and you feeling disgusted by the thought of bowels/ guts/ intestines: I understand, but the Spanish and flamencos often refer to ‘entrañas’ as it suggests our innermost self and sound corny in English]
What are the most stupid questions you get asked, when people meet you the first time and hear you are a poet?
Haha, I love this question! Well it’s not so much a stupid question, but the first reaction I always get is: A very shocked expression on someone’s face, and then they either ask me, (or if I’m with a friend, they’ll ask a friend in disbelief) “how do you make money?”
I earn an income in three overall ways: commissions to write poems, payment for performances or running workshops.
How does one become a poet?
I think there are many people who are poets, they might just not make a living through their poetry. My journey to being a full-time poet who earns a living doing this work, was a strange one. I worked in journalism and then youth development before taking the leap. When I decided to be a full-time artist, I had already been writing and performing poetry for a number of years. My suggestion for anyone starting out would be:
- read a lot (not just poetry, everything)
- write a lot
- research full-time poets and artists (musicians, dancers, actors, filmmakers, theatremakers) whose work you respect and admire, and whose creative practice & work ethic and business you respect and admire. study what they do and see which aspects of it, you can apply to your own career
- find a mentor who would be willing to support you AND shadow other poets who are doing the kind of work that you want to do for eg: if you want to teach, spend time with a poet who works in schools and learn from them
- identify the ways in which you can generate an income
- create a website where people can learn about what you do
- learn the business side of the arts business - what are standard rates for performances, for commissions; how to invoice, draw up a project budget, apply for funding
Is there a specific theme that you enjoy writing about, or that drives your poetry?
What drives my poetry is the community I come from - I was born and raised in Athlone, Cape Town, and my work is driven by a deep desire to bring about healing and a sense of agency in my own community and the people I come from. I want to tell the stories and re-imagine new stories that will give people classified as coloured/mixed, a sense of belonging to ourselves, and each other and the wider world around us.
The themes I’m currently writing about are grief, identity and the heroine’s journey.
What is the most challenging part of being a poet?
Ensuring that I create and schedule enough time in my week/month to sit down and write - to work at my craft and keep working away at the book I’m writing. This is a challenge because as a self-employed artist there are so many other things to do as well: all of the business & financial admin, marketing, as well as funding applications, and applications for other programmes. Then, when creating a show, there’s all of the meetings and producing side of things. My next goal is working towards hiring an administrative assistant and/ or producer.
What do you enjoy most about being a poet?
Writing and reading. I get grumpy when I’ve gone for a long period without reading and writing. Then I just want to be left alone (I turn my phone off, I don’t answer a knock on the front door) to write for a while.
Also, seeing when or how my work speaks to people - how it allows them to connect with a part of themselves they hadn’t been able to see or hear before, or, when people say: “This is my experience too, you’re speaking my life.” Also, when my work allows people to connect with each other.
Have you been published … If yes, where can people buy your works
I haven’t published my own poetry collection yet, I’m currently writing that book. But I have work published in a few anthologies and you can listen to/watch some of my work here:
Ma Ek Ko Huistoe – Badilisha Poetry Radio
You will be performing PAPYLLON at UCT’s ICA Live Art Festival on Sunday September 2. Tell us more about the work
Papyllon is a collaboration with UK dancer Ella Mesma. The work is a deeply personal piece for both of us. It takes the form of the heroine’s journey and speaks about our mixed heritages; what we, as women, learn and don’t learn from our mothers; and how we step into our own lives. It is such an incredible experience making this show - we are both being stretched and challenged - personally and creatively.
In 2016 and 2017 I collaborated with UK flamenco company dotdotdot dance which we performed at Sadler’s Wells in London and in Manchester. I absolutely loved the experience and I learnt so much about flamenco and fell in love with it - the way the music, and the singing, the compas and the footwork all sync together. There is this absolute connection with each aspect of flamenco, everything HAS to sit together otherwise it doesn’t work. What draws me most to the dance is that, you can’t dance or sing flamenco without bringing every single part of yourself to the floor. You have to dance from your ovaries, you have to sing from your ovaries. Imagine if we all lived that way? What a different world we would create together.
Toni will also be appearing on Wednesday 5 September with dancer, choreographer and dramaturge Ella Mesma in PAPYLLON at the Fugard Theatre, as part of the Open Book Festival.
For more info visit on Toni: