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Victor Dlamini

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Podcast with Wordsmith Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

Taller than BuildingsPhillippa Yaa de VilliersA sense of wonder and a palpable exultation at the beauty and potency of language runs through so much of Phillippa Yaa de Villiers’ poetry that it is impossible to read it without feeling that the vault of language is fully open to her, like a treasure trove glittering in the dark. But in her hands words are often picked clean of easy artifice, and so much of the meaning and power of what she writes is subtle sheen, not just sparkle.

Join me on The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast as Phillippa shares the source of her most urgent messages – which she expresses across a wide variety of genres. She writes poetry; writes for the theatre and television (including Takalani Sesame and Soul City); writes for industrial theatre productions; and she has also found the time to write for magazines. Recently, she collaborated with Pule Hlatshwayo and Swedish writer Charlotte Lesche to create Score, a three- hour miniseries for Swedish Broadcasting and SABC 1.

Phillippa Yaa de VilliersLike a sculptor, Phillippa is not afraid to pare away anything that seeks to conceal what her art urges her to reveal. Her poetry returns time and again to revisit the subject of identity – a deep source feeding her fervent imagination. The charm of Phillippa’s poetry is in its ability to use language in fresh and surprising ways, and bring deceptively simple narratives and toss into them matters – biographical, political – that are often very weighty indeed. She is not afraid to tackle the heaviest political subject, but when her anger is red hot, she is able to tame the rage with a single, ironic twist of her poet’s tongue.

When we discover that Phillippa studied both mime and theatre whilst she was in Paris, it begins to make sense that her poetry should make such skillful use of the spaces between the words – because to the mime artist there is only gesture and silence for communication. In 2004, Phillippa took up the role of Hospital Clown for the Theodora Foundation, and when I ask her how a poet could don the clown’s hat, she tells me that enjoyed communicating with young children in a role that requires her to drop her guard.

After studying mime and theatre in Paris, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers returned to South Africa to work as a stage actress and improviser for ten years. In 2005 she was the runner-up best writer in the Performing Arts Network of South Africa’s Festival of Contemporary Theatre Readings. She appeared at the Jozi Spoken Word Festival, and was invited by Keorapetse Kgositsile to join James Matthews and Lebo Mashile at the 12th Havana International Poetry Festival in 2007.

Phillippa Yaa de VilliersShe has travelled around South Africa and the world, giving readings from her debut collection, Taller than Buildings, available from David Krut Publishing. She has performed her poetry in Adelaide, Australia, Birmingham, England, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Havana and East London – and she has performed her one-woman show, Original Skin, in Cape Town and at the Market Theatre Laboratory in Johannesburg, where she taught mime for ten years.

Phillippa is currently working on a stage adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Given the extent to which crime often goes unpunished in South Africa, perhaps once this adaptation hits the stage, it should be required viewing for South Africa’s rulers.

Listen to Phillippa Yaa de Villiers on the Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast:

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