TJ Dema, this woman carries herself with such grace. A trait that also resonates in her artistic work. Even today, years after harnessing her spoken word the sheer elegance in which the poet aligns words for profound effect is her mastery. Such is her sentiment to words that the 35-year-old always chooses them wisely. The poet lives in her at all times. Her demand is
international and the end of 2016 saw her strutting her stuff in the USA, where she spent time in cities such as Milwaukee, Tuscaloosaa and Chicago as Visiting Artist in Residency at the Northwestern University’s Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities.
During this educational exhibit she had audiences from teenagers through to graduate students as she gave talks, facilitated workshops and seminars and also read her poetry. She notes the importance of networking, “I received an offer for this appointment through professors Susannah Gottlieb and Chris Abani of Northwestern University. Additional invitations were also extended from Dasha Kelly of the Milwaukee Stillwater Collective: who you may remember has performed in Botswana before as well as the department of English at the University of Alabama.”
Dema has a solid profile of work and has performed and worked at numerous festivals and events around the world. In 2015 she filmed work for two video productions in Cambodia namely, Neon Poem and Dreams. She was recently awarded the Editor’s Choice Award from Gabz FM and Mail&Guardian Africa. Dema is the published author of Mandible, which was released by Slapering Hol Press in the USA in 2014. Dema states that, “This book was part of the seven new generation African Poetry Book Fund poets in 2014. Selections of my work are available in Swedish, German, Spanish and Korean.” She adds that poetry has enabled her to see the world and helped keep her mind open, “Truthfully speaking if you keep an open mind you will always find something to interest you regardless of where you find yourself,” says the poet.
Her Facebook profile reflects this travel bug in her with posts from places in South America, Europe, South and East Asia as well as Southern and West Africa. She has recently traveled to Estonia and Seoul in South Korea which has always been a go-to-place on her list. Her love life which she creatively reveals on Facebook with true poetic poignancy is a marvel to watch as it grows out of its shell. Teasing but striking pictures of the couple maintaining subtlety but revealing a lot.
Eventually she has openly tagged a certain proud sun kissed gentleman in her posts, a subject she prefers not to discuss fully despite the ability to easily knot the pieces of this puzzle. In true professionalism and celebrity rhetoric she responds in regards to her personal relationship, “Although I expect that anyone who visits my social media pages can piece together their own ideas about what they imagine my private life to be, I don’t cultivate a following on the basis of intimate details. I acknowledge the presumption that as a public figure there may be a curiosity around my life as a whole, I accept this, but I have no inclination to indulge interest beyond the professional,” she says.
Apart from maintaining a long distance relationship, as an artist she applauds technological advancement, specifically the internet which has created unlimited global access to audiences. Poets are using platforms such as Instagram to stage their work and Dema has adapted to the craze, as she should, releasing a number of videos online. As a teaching artist she combines the use of both audio and visual to continually expand what is presented on the canon. Educators are able to gain expert views in the class as at the click of a button via Skype. This access to audiences and transcending of time and space is invaluable to the future of the arts.
Dema has observed that for the connoisseurs reading poetry is a source of release plus pleasure, “The readers entertain themselves with poetry. They exorcise tension and express their various personal and political experiences while expanding their worldview,” says Dema. She defends the notion of poetry when it is seen as the romanticized version of life and argues that poetry or the Arts in general have a more societal value. Academics could also argue that poetry produces knowledge based on the amount of research and community engagement required for the craft to be a success, “Poets don’t just necessarily write from “within”. We engage with communities, with communal knowledge. We engage archives. We research both history and the times we live in. We bear witness to the times we live in,” she adds.
Poetry, similar to all other art forms has been used as a social tool by artists to vocalize their opinions about the world. Dema does not consider herself “overtly political”. Her advocacy lies in everyday people and their circumstances. Her passion for people and her craft collides when she is able to do what she enjoys including through mentorship of upcoming poets and hosting free workshops every year in schools and for the community to help those interested to harness technique and craft.
Dema is responsible for bringing the many leading international creative intellectuals in her field into the country to interact with Batswana poets. She hopes this practice will be adopted by Botswana educational institutions and schools to enhance the overall learning process. Grand and bold but humbly modest, Dema states she is not preoccupied with rankings and classifications, that she simply works and hopes her work speaks for itself, “I know writing to be work. For whatever it has cost me, I’m far too focused with that to be useful at positioning myself strategically.”