Poet, essayist, and activist Dawn Lundy Martin once said, “Can poetry be a form of social change? I don’t know the answer to that. I do think art can have a social impact even if it may be difficult to see the effects of that impact, to asses or measure it.” It’s a question I’ve pondered myself, most recently when editing the following email interview with Natalia Molebatsi, the editor of Wild Imperfections: An Anthology Of Womanist Poems (hardcover), in which she discusses what inspired and influenced this collection.
For people unfamiliar with the term, myself included, what does “womanist” mean?
A womanist is especially invested in the everyday experiences of Black women, Black people, building communities that thrive. A womanist’s struggles are inextricably linked to the struggles of the environment, the question of the land. Therefore the concerns of womanism are so much wider than only the lives and livelihoods of women, as they are concerned with all kinds of inequality that affects all kinds of people, particularly Black women and gender non-conforming people. A womanist is very aware that everything is connected. A womanist also realizes that not all women are the same or treated the same, hence the investment and acknowledgement in the needs, realities, experiences, histories, futures, desires…of Black women. A womanist also realizes that the term “woman” or “Black woman” also centers queer women, and gender non-conforming people, because a womanist fights for equity. A womanist fights for a collective and for Black people as a whole. Womanism is “committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female” (Walker 1983:xi).
And then what is Wild Imperfections: An Anthology Of Womanist Poems about?
The book is about a gathering of Black women and gender non binary people (who live in female coded bodies). It is an intention to reach one another, to read one another and to teach one another about what we know, and what we have gone through. Throughout the book we are also sharing our desires and our ways of being happy and acknowledging our feelings. Wild Imperfections is about saying we are perfect in all our imperfections. It is about holding space for our flaws and our vulnerabilities.
Who came up with the idea for Wild Imperfections?
I came up with the entire thing. I wanted to update another project that I did a decade ago, We Are…A Poetry Anthology. But this time around I wanted to expand my lens beyond South Africa. I opened a call to poets I knew and those I didn’t know. I was thinking about a gathering that will also be an archive of Black women’s poetry across continents and across generations. I am always thinking of creating work that can outlive us, work that can be picked up by a future person years from now, and see what we were writing about now.
So are the poems in Wild Imperfections new or old, or both, and why did you feel this was the best approach for this collection?
I asked poets to submit something that speaks to their experience as a Black feminist. I knew that whatever they sent would work because they write against the erasure of Black people, against violence towards Black women and people, they write about Black joy and Black history. That is what I asked for. Some poems are new and appear here for the first time, while some were previously published.
And then aside from having to fit the theme, what other parameters did the poems have to fit? Was there a length limit, did the poems all have to be free verse…?
No. They had to be good poems. And they are, I love them.
Wild Imperfections features no male poets. Was this also a condition of contribution, or did you just not find any male poets who write anything sufficiently womanist?
I wanted to focus on women, womxn, and womyn. I wanted to have work that is truly Pan African, and womanist. The world we live in focuses on men and it is most often violent towards women. So, no question there.
You mentioned your earlier anthology, We Are.., a moment ago. Did you learn anything when assembling We Are… that had a big impact on how you put together Wild Imperfections?
In We Are… I included some men and the book was focused on South Africans, but this time, I wanted to open up as much space for women as possible. I also wanted to go as far as possible in the Black world. Black people, Black women are everywhere.
In editing Wild Imperfections, did you discover any poets whose work you loved so much that you immediately went out and bought all of their books?
Most of the poets in the book are my favorite people. I have loved their work for years. And yes I have their books.
Now, I’m a 54-year-old straight, white, cisgender man. What do you think I will get out of reading Wild Imperfections? Or rather, what do you hope I’ll get out of it?
I am a Black African queer woman / mother, and I read and have read White, straight, cisgender etc. men all my life, because that is what people do right? without question, and without asking what am I getting out of it? You will be getting knowledge and craft. The thing about reading is not to worry about if it “for” you, but about the joy of discovery.
So, is there anything else you think people should know about Wild Imperfections?
This book is an art collectors’ item. No book (yet) has gathered some of the world’s iconic poets from all generations throughout the world. No book has gathered a Nikki Giovanni, a Warsan Shire, a Lebogang Mashile, a Stacyann Chin, a Jackie Kay, a Miriam Alves, a Bernadine Evaristo…and many more — all in the same book.
Finally, if someone enjoys Wild Imperfections, what poetry anthology that someone else edited would you suggest they read and why that one?
I would say read New Daughters Of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby. New Daughters Of Africa is not just poetry, it includes fiction as well but it is a spectacular anthology of Black women writers.