15 questions for Bibi Slippers


15 questions for Bibi Slippers

Her latest collection of poems, Soekenjin, has just been published and she is working on a romcom that will be on Showmax in February. LAUREEN ROSSOUW asks the questions.


1. What do you listen to in your car? 

Music, podcasts and audiobooks. On a recent road trip from Johannesburg to the Cape, I finished listening to Ross Gay's The Book of Delights (delightful!). Also Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men and a collection of poems by an AI entitled I Am Code. (The poems were read by the German director and screenwriter Werner Herzog. I'm not sure if that was the intention, but to me the effect was hilarious.) I like the podcast Switched On Pop, which analyses the structure and writing tricks of pop songs, as well as Krista Tippett's On Being.

I make no secret of my Taylor Swift fandom, so I always have a compilation of Swift playlists ready for long drives. I also keep returning to Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette and Regina Spektor.

I listen a lot to the sad dads of The National, Jack Antonoff's band Bleachers, Noah Gundersen, Carly Rae Jepsen, Phoebe Bridgers and boygenius.

Young female singer-songwriters who have appeared on my radar more recently are Lizzy McAlpine, Gracie Abrams and Holly Humberstone — all great.

The album I've listened to the most this past month is USA by Petey — the track Living Like This is often on repeat. (His previous album, Lean Into Life, was also a big vibe. If you don't know it, start with Don't Tell the Boys, a touching song about a bromance.)

I'd like to write 7,000 sentences about music here, but I'll stop before it becomes too obvious that I actually want to be a music writer in the tradition of Hanif Abdurraqib.

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2. What is on your bedside table?

All the books waiting to be read in December. I've been saving Stephen King's old classic The Stand for a rainy day for more than a year now — because I know that once I start reading, everything will be drowned out. So I can't start if there are any deadlines.

Also in the pile are Deelfontein by Nicole Jaekel Strauss, Van vaders en vlugtelinge by SJ Naudé, Gebeente by Etienne van Heerden, Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer and Koors by Deon Meyer, both of which I want to reread. (I'm not at home right now, so I can't check what's still there, but the pile of books is definitely higher than the few I just mentioned).

3. Do you write poetry on your phone?

Not really. I use the Notes app when I think of something I want to write down quickly, and while driving I will sometimes record a voice memo to myself. But I like to start a poem on clean, unlined paper. Then I move over to my computer pretty quickly to edit as I go. But even if the ideas are sometimes on my phone, all the beginnings are on paper.

4. When did you know you wanted to be a poet? 

I don't know if I thought I wanted to become a poet. I more just realised at some point that I was a poet. The broader idea of ​​writing was a thing early on, like in second grade in elementary school — but poems specifically only really at varsity when I was exposed to fantastic poetry in the literature courses I took.

5.Your favourite toy as a child?

I liked to give concerts, so other children were often my “toys". They either had to watch or they were cast as actors in my plays. Outside of the concerts, I was obsessed with my mountain bike, and other than that it was just books.

6. Your favourite female poet(s) anywhere in the world? 

Anne Carson, Anne Michaels, Emily Berry.

7. And in South Africa?

Antjie Krog, Jolyn Phillips, Petra Müller.

8. Journal or Notes?

Are we talking about a notebook vs. the Notes app? I like to transcribe everything by hand on paper — so even if I sometimes make notes on my phone, I'll end up transcribing them into one of a bunch of journals. I have one for morning pages, one in which I write out the best poems I read in their entirety, one for nuggets of wisdom specifically related to joy, a type of “yearbook" in which I make notes from books I read and about things I'm learning… I've been obsessively writing down quotes since high school days, and if my house were to catch fire and I could save a few earthly things, it would be all these notebooks and a bunch of artwork.

Bibi's creative process.
Bibi's creative process.

9. What did you learn about Johannesburg that you never knew?

How green it is and how people make the most of the outdoors. I really came alive in the parks. I was also very surprised at how wonderful the weather is from mid-August to December/January. In September, you don't want to be anywhere else but in Johannesburg.

10. Tell me about your love for (or obsession with) sheep?

My father is an agriculturist, and due to the nature of his work we often had pet lambs as children. So I grew up with sheep, as well as dogs and birds with injured wings that were always part of our family. Some of the pet lambs I remember are Cheetah (he was very fast) and Lambertina, named after a boy I had a crush on in kindergarten days — but then she turned out to be a girl and I had to adjust the name. The most recent  was Wolraad — he died last year at the ripe old age of 11. Sheep smell good and are not as stupid as people like to believe. They are very loving and very food motivated, which are very relatable qualities for me.

I became friends with the artist Nina Torr about 10 years ago. She shares my sheep obsession and has drawn most of the sheep I have tattooed on myself. We are working together on a zine about Wolraad's death — I will have to get new tattoos, because she drew incredibly beautiful sheep for the zine.

Bibi grew up with dogs and sheep.
Bibi grew up with dogs and sheep.
Image: Top left: © WIKUS DE WET | Top right, bottom: © BIBI SLIPPERS

11. Are there books you reread every year? And why?

Not every year, but I like to re-read I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith. It never disappoints me.

12. What is your superpower?

I asked Corné, my partner, and he reckons it's connecting with people and my capacity for self-reflection. I think my special talent is to forget how crappy I'm going to feel when I eat certain junky foods.

13. Mary Oliver? In two (or three) sentences, what do you think of her?

I'm a huge fan of Mary Oliver. I think her superpower is to create poetry that feels useful, that is relevant to the dilemma of being alive every day. She could look deeply at ordinary things and understand what they tell us about how to live — and then articulate it in an uncomplicated way. It's a special skill to be able to remain amazed, so the lines: “When it's over, I want to say: All my life I was a bride married to amazement" sums her up so precisely for me.

14. The quality you like least about yourself?

I procrastinate terribly when I'm afraid to do something. It sometimes feels like life-threatening levels of procrastination.

15. What are you looking forward to?

I want to put my phone in a Tupperware holder and bury it in the garden. I want to sleep, read, watch movies and series and go to the sea when I feel like it. And beyond that I want to do absolutely nothing.

♦ VWB ♦

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