Q&A – Christine Yohannes (Ethiopia): Poetry Africa Words on the Times

AiW Guest: Christine Yohannes.

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AiW note: In collaboration with Poetry Africa, we are excited to share the first in a mini-series of Words on the Times Q&As with poets who are participating in the ‘powering up’ and ‘unmuting’ that is the theme of the festival this year. 

Our Q&As begin with the festival today! – the Official Opening Ceremony is at 11am (SAST/CAT, Monday 11th October 2021) – as Poetry Africa sets its stage for poetry from South Africa, the African Continent, and around the world.

The majority of the programme – available on the Festival website – will be presented online as part of the Festival’s virtual offering and is available for free.

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Ahead of her appearance later today in the session, Spotlight Africa: From Cape to Cairo (Monday 11 October, 15.00), poet-writer Christine Yohannes (Ethiopia), talks about her involvement with the 25th Poetry Africa festival, also offering us a beautifully up-close insight into her experiences, writing, and the changes wrought by the pandemic. (For those not familiar with our Q&A subset, Words on the Times was initiated here at AiW in 2020 to share experiences as we began to go into our various lockdowns and responses to COVID-19…).

Christine will also be on the panel, ‘Say No to Corruption / Defend our democracy’, on October 14th at 3pm.

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Christine-Yohannes_PoetryAfricaAbout Christine Yohannes
Christine is an Ethiopian Poet and Writer but most of all a Human Being who is a strong believer in Love. A 2016 Resident of the International Writing Program, she is Ethiopia’s only Female Representative out of 5 since the program started in 1967.

Christine has changed countries, continents, jobs and appellations constantly; fearless and adventurous, she has thrived in everything she’s set her mind to with the unshaken support of admirable African Women. She desires to do the same for the Women around her and for future generations.

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AiW: Could you tell us a bit about your involvement with the Poetry Africa festival? 

Christine Yohannes: I was invited to be a part of the Poetry Africa Festival because – I would like to believe – of my contributions for the poetry realm on the continent through the Poetry collective I founded in Addis Ababa Ethiopia in 2016. My poetry collective is called ‘Poetic Saturdays‘ and it’s a platform that is open to all age groups, all languages, all mediums of art and everyone along with their creative expressions. 

In 2018, the Ethiopian representative of ‘Poetic Saturdays’ to the CASP African Poetry competition was runner up, and our poetry collective hosted this year’s CASP competition in part virtually and part physically due to COVID restrictions. I hope to grow poetry in Africa with projects that are Pan-African and with holistic writing residencies, in view of continuing the oral traditions that Africans have and that we sadly lost along the way. My dream is to not only revive our creative industries but to make sure that we thrive in our self-expressions through our natural creative talents. 

AiW: And could you tell us a bit more about your own work, as well as the ways that the pandemic has affected your plans for it? 

As a writer I have dabbled with different styles and different genres … and … despite the ups and downs and the emotional roller-coasters of the covid craze (slash) the pandemic, having the luxury of time has allowed me to dabble with different mediums of expressions such as crochet and painting for instance. 

In regards to my writing however, the pandemic has given me the time I needed to re-work a play I had written in 2016. This play should have been staged in February of 2020 but the early disruptions of the pandemic postponed it and now it’s being aired in February 2022 – I am really psyched about it do come through to the Kenyan National Theatre if you can swing by. 

Initially, I had thought that being stuck at home would have allowed me to finish my novel but the pandemic having disrupted a lot of things around me I was unable to find the focus or the discipline I needed to complete my work. That being said, I am grateful to have had the time to think and reflect on a lot of my work and projects. 

AiW: In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before, or how are things on the ground where you are now?

The acceptance of the current reality of the world has helped me deal with these delays that, in my head, had been a big deal for so long. I have learned to make peace with the time things take and are taking nowadays. I also understand that everything happens in its own time. Though I knew this, I think it sunk in that in reality, to be content with myself, I can only have projects and I can’t, or rather I shouldn’t make plans; because plans are rigid and they can easily break themselves or me with minor changes. Whereas projects adapt to movement, delays, changes etc…much more easily. So my project of finalising my play and my novel are now finally well underway… especially because I have the right mindset. 

AiW: What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time? 

The most uplifting thing in the past year was of course how close it has allowed me to get with people that I care about and those that care about me. The restrictions, the lockdowns and sadly the sheer number of deaths we were exposed to on a daily basis has made us, I think, appreciate the connections that matter the most… at least it’s what it has created around me. I am more aware of my energy and to be honest, I am more protective of it now. I’ve learned that it is crucial to protect my space, both my mental and physical space in order to have lasting and loving relationship with myself. Growing up, my father always told me to learn to love myself and he reminded me that through the years and sometimes on a daily basis when it was necessary … meaning mostly through my teenage years where I was in a very natural ‘funk’ and that helped me learn to really and deeply love the person I am. I can proudly say now that I truly and deeply love the person I have become and the human I am becoming. But of course, I cannot not mention all the people that truly care about me, that surrounded me throughout the pandemic. We created our own little tribe because we needed each other but in all honesty it was mostly because we really loved each other deeply. For me it was doubly special because I had broken my leg just a month prior the pandemic hit and I was immobile and unable to do most things I had gotten accustomed to doing for myself over the years… and ‘my people’ rallied and stepped in and lifted me throughout the entire process. It is really difficult to learn how to walk again like a toddler at the age of 30 but their love kept strengthening me and that was the most beautiful thing I experienced in the 3 decades I’ve been alive. 

AiW: How can our blog communities best support you? 

I would love for us to have a community of creatives together… not a merged effort but rather one of collaboration and love and of uplifting each other.

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PoetryAfrica_2021_HostedByVerticalBannerFind the full details of the Opening & the week’s exciting programme for the 25th Poetry Africa, Unmute: Power to the Poet, at their website – the majority of the Festival will be free and virtual, accessible online.

Find details and catch Christine in her Poetry Africa session later today at 15.00 (SAST/CAT) at the programme link:

Monday 11 October – 15:00 – Spotlight Africa: From Cape to Cairo

Moderator: Nolulamo Maquthu

Poets: Sihle Ntuli (SA), Christine Yohannes (Ethiopia), Natty Ogli (Ghana), Kissy Abeng (Dark Spirit) (Cameroon), Tarik Ben Larbi (Morocco)

And watch this space for more Words on the Times from poets unmuting at Poetry Africa this year, including from Charly W (Cameroon), Anthony Molosi (Botswana), and Andriy Lyubka (Ukraine)…

Christine will also be participating in the following session on Thursday…

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Host: Khwezi Becker

Panelists: Athol Williams(SA), Christine Yohannes (Ethiopia), Hlox the Rebel (South Africa), Xabiso Vili (South African)

As local government election looms and as media narratives still focus on corruption the Poetry Africa festival wishes to engage on what constitutes effective governance free of corruption and on how artists who engage their voices in the defence of our democracy can be supported and be given agency.

And follow Poetry Africa to stay tuned for updates, sessions, competition results and much more… 

FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | TWITTER
#unmute

Opening day, Poetry Africa – Unmute: Power to the Poet (Monday 11 October, from 11am)…

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