Professor Issa Shivji, a lawyer by training, insists that he is not a poet; but this brilliant and enticing collection of poetry and poetic-prose sharply disagrees. The pieces are a power house – at once compelling, fascinating and engaging. Offering versions of Kiswahili and English without revealing which poem was originally written in what language, it is as if the poet is insisting on bringing the two languages face to face in simultaneous dialogue with each other. In my view, however, the Kiswahili versions register the greatest impact and immediacy. They are enticing and irresistible: subtle; linguistically inventive; strategic in their employment of multiple layered diction that is at once strategic, suggestive, dialectical and double-edged in meaning.
Further in terms of form, the poet displays a true grasp of critical African orature poetic ethics and aesthetics – whether consciously or intuitively. His artistic patterning of thoughts and rhythmic flow of ideas speak to an orate composer whose art enjoys ultimate consummation in performance, or at the very least, recitation. His deft usage of balance and antithesis provides a dialectical interpretation of already padded and layered statements. Thriving in wit, allusion, riddle-like utterances and sometimes sharp sarcasm, the poet employs cunning “play-upon-words” to add to both the delight and complexity of the message conveyed. The shorter compositions – some of them haiku-like – abound in these artistic techniques. Many of the longer poems – particularly those memorializing friends and comrades who have passed on – remind us of African Orature praise songs. The other technique that the poet uses to great effect is purposeful repetition, which not only adds to the performability of the pieces, but invites audience participation. In sum, the bulk of poems in this volume insist on coming down from the bookshelf and being performed through the mediums of dramatization, verse-speaking or chorus-poetry recitation and even, through song, dance and music.
Content-wise, the poet’s overall message and vision belong to the socialist realist tradition. He is using poetry/composition not as “art for art’s sake,” but as a vehicle for: naming, as well as denouncing sites of oppression; celebrating resistance against dehumanization and carving avenues of hope that will ultimately lead to the creation of an alternative, more humane world, where limitless utu will flower, unhindered by persisting assaults on the “penniless” by the Corporate Global Market.
If one of the tasks of liberating art is to conscientize, even as it conjures visions of optimism and hope to humanity, the poetry in this collection has accomplished that – and much more.
Mῖcere Gῖthae Mũgo, PhD
Emeritus Professor of Teaching Excellence
Department of African American Studies,
March 21, 2019