Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Kgebetli Moele

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

A Seasonal Talk with the River

null

 
Six writers: writers in residence at the University of Iowa, valued guests of the International Writing Program and citizens of the UNESCO City of Literature, Iowa – by virtue that they are writers residing somewhere within the university library, the public library, the book shops and few, well hopefully many residential homes. Take a walk just to unwind on the Iowa River. He is lucky river, Iowa River, because he knows from the bottom of his heart somewhere on his river bed that he is a river in the City of Literature therefore a River of Literature because all the time during this season; fall. Every year for the past 44 years, 30 or so writers come to unwind at his banks, from jet lag. They claim.

Amongst these six writers is an African writer, Mandeletli. They characterise him as a fiction writer but unknown to the people – literates – we are in the city of literature. He is a persona fiction. Writers, used generally, which include authors, creative writers, journalist, the others and the politicians, write far better when they are high, stimulated by dagga – sorry we are in America – when they are induced by marijuana.

But Mandeletli is intoxicated by life giving oxygen; you just have to look at the guy. Look at him. The high level of oxygen in the Iowa City air is far better than the oxygen levels in Johannesburg because of the development of ethanol as a means of fueling cars in Iowa. The air in Johannesburg has too much carbon monoxide, which prevented Mandeletli from being evidently high to his fellow South Africans.

He went unnoticed too in the rural areas because the rural people cook primitively, paraffin, wood or coal. Worse, they burn tyres in winter to warm up, further strangling the oxygen in the air. Then he came to Iowa City, the City of Literature and the oxygen level in the air rises and so is the level of intoxication in Mandeletli. He is high.

Aware of this fact that he is inebriated by only life giving oxygen, he doesn’t drink any alcohol or smoke creativity inducing marijuana or take any of those legal drugs that Americans love so much.

Mandeletli is nothing at all. Short with an enormously huge empty head and cat whiskers for a beard. He thinks he is a man, a soldier who has seen it all and survived, but he is not at all. The world has defeated him long ago and forgot that he was ever a living being. He talks but he is not really sure what he is talking about. He writes. He is a writer, of course, but maybe the literati of the City of Literature are familiar with what he has written.

How he came to be part of the writers still beats his forever-intoxicated head basket. In Africa, he is a nobody who wrote two award-winning novels. About what? Nobody knows and, of course, nobody cares in Africa.

“You wrote two books? Good. You are representing.” His homeboys pat his shoulder.

“I saw you on television, by the way, how much did they pay you?” So his fellow countrymen ask him. In Africa, he is just a shadow. The “hobo with the manuscript”, they mock him continually. And yes, he has manuscripts gathering digital dust in his Chameleon Age IBM laptop as heavy as his head and as fast as a chameleon.

Mandeletli is saddened by the fact that he is staying at a 500-dollar-a-day hotel, let alone the stars. He just doesn’t know how to tell the IWP, convince them to give him all the money they will pay the hotel and let him stay at the basement of house number 430 South Clinton Street. 500 by 13. Damn. He converts it into rands then curses hard. Calculating the “what ifs”.

He is talking pictures of the unwinding walk on the banks of the ever-flowing Iowa. In his heart he has already bedded the short – a dwarf to be precise – thin, sexy Pablo Escobar. Though he fears to say anything to that effect to her. Rejection is a deadly thing to a defeated man’s ego because even though he has nothing to lose, he has himself to lose. But little Pablo does not disappoint him, she pauses for his camera and does as he commands.

Pablo is suffering from writer’s block. She wants to use the days in the program to produce something that would catapult her beyond just an author to a fucking bestseller. She has had it with being a poor writer. A writer in a country bedded by poverty and drug-dealers. She is hoping to capture the United States market but then she hates Americans. Anyway she is forgiven, with the understanding that money is money no matter where it comes from. She has had it with the mud hut that she lives in and time is running out, man pause is not far away and children need money, space and then love to grow.

Pablo is dreaming of India, the Ganges and her marriage vows. But India is a shit country as well, even Gandhi agrees, but Gandhi agrees with total love and devotion of her country India but she secretly wishes that the program was a lifelong program so that, she never again sees her “green eyed thief” that she was forced into marriage with from the day she was born. She even did away with the mark of marriage on her forehead with hopes of starting over. Gandhi wanted to buy her husband a sweater that read “I love my wife” but she knows that he would not wear it because he does not love her and even if there were no big leaves of palm trees, he would not wear the sweater. He would rather go naked.

Then there is Jackie Chan, who is still in disbelief mode; he refuses to believe that he is in America and thinks that he will wake up any moment. The fact that the military regime in Burma finally gave him a passport after denying him for 16 years brings him to tears. He is walking on the banks of the Iowa River that not so long ago was flooding a half mile high. He has cried so much in his hotel room and he is breaking up again, wiping away the tears that are flooding like the Iowa River was. The passport is the miracle of his life and it is the theme of the novel that he is going to write. Jackie is dreaming of taking political refugee status and building his fortune in this land of the free, the paranoid and the deadly bored.

But the greatest of them all is Diego Maradona; the self appointed leader of this pack of six poor-hopeful writers, she is pulling them by the nose. She has lost too much weight. She doesn’t believe that she is in the United State either. How did they let her in; it beats her because the United States hates drug addicts and they hate her. She doesn’t know. She wants to be arrogant as always but she is in the States and shit she needs a shot of Angel Dust down her nose or she will soon go crazy. She detests the idea of continuing lecturing masters of soccer to university students for her whole life. She needs to retire from football, sorry, soccer – we are in America. She too is hoping that she could write one, a novel that could make it on the top 10 of all time American bestsellers.

Last is Chairman Mao, she has subtitled nearly all the United States of America films most of her work life. She is confused because the United States she knew and fell in love with through subtitling films is not in any way near the Literary City, Iowa. She could be alright with a good Swazi spliff – sorry, Swazi marijuana. She wants to believe that she is 22 but she knows that menopause has come and gone. Her brain cells do miss a point now and then. Age has aged her. This is her year, her stars are all shining and all she needs to do is just claim the stage with a killer novel.

The literary river is listening not to them breaking the ice and the jetlag but to their thoughts. It responds but they are too jetlagged to listen; too busy unwinding to hear the river. Too absorbed with what they want out of their 90 days in the United States America to listen and take advice from the river, but it continues to flow, flow flowing in silent grace. Silently whispering conversations that all the six writers want to hear but none ever heard, as did other 1400 writers who walked this banks of the River of Literature because they too, were too consumed in their egos. As our six writers are frenzied by how are they going to capitalise to the maximum of their 90 day stay in the United States.

The river flows wordlessly
The river surges gracefully
The river murmurs beautiful words
“Iowa.”
It means beautiful, isn’t it?

First published in Chronic Books no. 004 – supplement of the Chimurenga Chronic


» read article

10 years ago to this day

Milestones.

There are milestones in life, all most all beyond our mental comprehension that we never realise and few so manageable that we can celebrate. We think that it is a milestone, a mark of history. Take your wedding anniversary for instance. All the hard work you put into that wedding day and the money that you parted with just to feed, drown your family and friends in liquor. But you forget the first milestone that led to you organising a wedding. The day he met you or that day she accepted your love or the day of the official wedding, so which one is the milestone?

Room 207Room 207 was poured into the public sphere 10 years ago. So what? It is not special, there were nearly four hundred books of fiction that were published that year. Excuse me for my cynicism; I have lived with being cynical all my life.

A boy announces that he is celebrating his birthday and the cynicks ask him, “Why don’t you celebrate the day you got conceived.” That is me putting it mildly, his phrasing was extra hot, not meant for the likes of you. “Better still why don’t you celebrate the day your mother said yes to your father because look at your mother and look at your father. Something is definitely wrong. So why don’t you celebrate that miracle because without it you would not have been here.”

“Better still, why don’t you celebrate the tiny bravery that came to your father to utter those beautiful words. Better still why don’t you celebrate the school that brought them together because without which, you wouldn’t be here.” The cynical bastard.

But because I like words. I love words; they have meaning to me more than the sum of you. The mark?

Is it Room 207?

Is it the school of individuals who taught me to read and write?

Is it me and the day I was born?

Is it that day of copulation?

Is it that day she said yes?

Or the conditions that made her say yes?

Is it the bravery that surged and force him to utter the words?

I don’t know. I am sorry I don’t know. Because it is always easy to say that the wedding was the milestone. Really? That is why we mark it and have anniversary celebrations, but that was the worse day of your life. The eight months to a year of preparation, and all you did was sit there in front of your quests, holding your heart and hoping that nothing went wrong. The only people who enjoyed your wedding day were the quests, they ate, they drank and they danced into the early morning hours, probably the main three things that they will remember forever about your wedding.

This is the fact of life: the greatest and the most wonderful moments of our lives are lived and neglected because we will be so absorbed in our perceptions or focusing to really appreciate the Greatest Moment of life.

This Greatest Moment of life is only for fools to pin down and mark. It is for the miserable couple to celebrate an anniversary, as the wedding was the mark for greater things coming, a celebration without an end. And whoever celebrates a birthday neglects all the Greatest Moments that came after the birthday.

This is that moment of Greatness; I pause, think and remember, relive and replay, for every moment of this life I treasure, I celebrate everyday for everyday is a milestone and I, I am a Milestone.

Book details


» read article

When we run dry

nullnull

 

There is a Sotho proverb that warns the fish to hope for mud, as the water dried while it was not looking. It is not cynical at all, merely a friendly warning to the fish – who of course is not really a fish. It is a warning to humans to be prepared for the unthinkable, hence we have insurance and life cover. It is a hope that we will survive in the mud when the water runs dry.

Today, I was crisscrossing my mind, searching for answers that I already know. Why would I perform such a futile exercise? Well, because I have discovered that the world is full of lies and half-truths. I was reviewing the answers I already have, for they may all be wrong.

In all our lives we have lived a dozen lies believing them to be true, to the extent that we do not even question them. On the rare occassion we do question them, we only have professors, pastors, teachers and parents to ask. Professors tell you theories. Pastors teach us the word that they themselves don’t even understand; they can never give a reason why Noah cursed Canaan. Teachers who teach because they were taught that way. I was told that children come from aeroplanes. I was a child; I believed the foolish explanation, and when an aeroplane was flying past I asked for a “toy” baby brother to play with. These lies made me a fool because being fooled was part of my upbringing.

That is another issue altogether. Here and now: How much creativity is in an individual? My girlfriend – the only female intellectual I ever kissed, born on a farm, raised by a grandmother on social welfare and a graduate of the University of the North (please, on your feet, a round of applause) – the one who loves to read books. She shared a tear when she read that Timbila had shut its doors. She knew, read and loved the poet Vonani Bila, mostly because of Dahl Street and the poem in which Vonani was healing his raging but helpless self after his apartment was broken into and blaming “Boys from Seshego”.

She also fell in love with all the closet poets that Bila presented on an international stage.

Again on your feet: A moment of silence for Timbila and Vonani Bila.

My girlfriend, she commented: “Bila’s creativity has run out, it is all dry and now he can focus on important things about life and living.”

The statement had a load of implications, so I pretended that I did not fully understand it. But I did, hence this question: How much creativity is in an individual?

My colleague, the great Zukiswa Wanner, believes that every living soul has one book running within their veins. She characterises a writer as someone who has written a book and an author as one who has written more than three books. I asked, what about manuscripts? She gave a short answer: “Manuscripts do not count.”

The argument was filtered to this: Everyone can do 60 minutes of stand-up comedy and lift many people out of their miserable lives. Come the 61st minute, the comedian will have shitted out all that he had naturally and now has to think hard. If they make it to the 121st minute and we are still dead, laughing ourselves out of our miserable lives, it is true creativity. Most comedians are stuck under 60 minutes with just a one-hour DVD and the second hour, you can’t even stand to watch it to the end.

Bila is a creative individual. I defend Bila. That is one of the things that Timbila could not avoid; it was run for the sake of creativity, it traded on creativity rather than profit. As great as all his poets were, they did not make a substantial living from their publications. He was happy when some of us worshipped them and the world knew them. Sales and academic recommendation were far away from Timbila’ modus operandi. I think. I know that Bila was not tired of being a poet – it is in his blood – as Mpho Ramaano is. Yes, we do not have any more offerings from Ramaano but ask any woman who provokes his men what kind of praises flow out of his mouth.

Give any writer money and a story and ask them to produce in a month. My girlfriend thinks that I can never offer anything more powerful than what I already have on the table. I say, test me and see if I cannot grant you another Book of the Dead, one which has nothing to do with HIV/Aids but is equally powerful and revelling. Test me and find out how many manuscripts are laying waste and gathering digital dust in my digital drawer. Try me and see how many books I have stored in the compartments of this head basket.

When you see Timbila and the likes close down it is not because talent has run dry but because the rain never came to water it. If you don’t see any more of Moele on the shelves, just know that the investments are returning negative in this rented life.

Vonani Bila has talent, immense talent, but this life is for rent and we have to pay.


» read article

‘Timbila, don’t find rest’ – A love letter to a now deceased poetry journal

nullnull

 

Words of Tears

In the last instalment of Timbila – Volume 7Vonani Bila closes the editor’s notes:

It starts with reading. To foster a South African literary tradition, we need to harness all efforts to build a national writers’ association, to encourage a culture of translation, and support multilingual literary journals like Kotaz, Timbila and Botsotso. We need to build libraries and literary museums in rural areas. Let us honour the rural communities that gave us great writers by giving them education facilities, essential social services, and the opportunity to read.

This is after a rant about all the great writers that are products of de-privileged rural South African communities. This was the vision and the basic purpose of Timbila, a role that it wanted to fulfil: unearth and nurture voices in any language and domain. That critical word, “was”: Timbila is no longer with us, the living. The lifeblood that was beating there has fallen victim to the obligations of life. People do grow and maybe Timbila was another folly of youth.

This folly that I have fallen in love with; her tune invaded and extended my time in the loo.

He drinks me like wine
the kind he’d buy
glances at his watch
as he gently taps my emptying bottle
and strokes the unbroken ‘O’ of its lips

The harmony of that Timbila presented the fifth dimension of life, knowledge that words are not for academia and William Shakespeare was not meant for school but for life.

Just one more gulp –
He speaks: I swoon
and spill out the corners of his mouth

It has in its short life unearthed some of the greatest contemporary voices of our democracy. Timbila presented us with the likes of Vonani Bila – the passionate poet who, himself lost and starving within the cracks of this illiterate country, created a platform for the footpath/street corner wordsmith to be realised as a poet. An applause, please.

Goodenough Mashego – a rural wordsmith from rural Mpumalanga. He, who made Shatale township a beautiful living being, caressed and made love to her. Cried in her arms and ridiculed him when he became inhuman.

He takes a handkerchief
and carefully
wipes the mess
before it lands on his shirt.
Smiles apologetically:
A bit of caution, my dear.

The list is endless, Myesha Jenkins – the woman from America who divorced the first world for our beautiful economy class country. Makhosana Xaba – she made a mark because of Timbila, Mpho Ramaano, Mbongeni Khumalo, Kopano Dibakwane, David wa Maahlamela, Moses Mtileni and, from the dungeon of life, Timbila saved and presented to the nation Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho, who to this day possesses no power to disempower. The list goes on and on.

Possessed
by a thirst
that only the devil could
bestow.
He drinks me.

I would never have crisscrossed the minds of these poets but because Timbila presented them with love and care I knew their deep thoughts. Timbila did not remodel the poet for purposes of exploration but in order to harness and harvest what was inside.

He drinks to the very dregs
of my youth.
And – lost in psychedelic illusions –
exposes the man-child
and his games.

As one who has fallen in love with words, words enjoyed in moments, verses of life, these words more potent than a shot of angel dust or a pull of nyaope.

Futile, I hear you say, but satisfying and addictive. Addictive because you can never get enough of it. You always need it and when the supply goes, WHEN THE SUPPLY CLOSES SHOP, you are left with a scorching headache and nowhere to doctor it. Yes, you can browse your favourite bookshop but Timbila, like angel dust, is never in the mainstream. Drugs are illegal and if one supplier goes another sprouts out but in the case of Timbila, of words, it is exclusive, for very, very few.

My beautiful girl, the bone of my bones once said it as she un-boned herself from my bones:

Poetry doesn’t feed babies

Yes, black men are a virile lot and babies need be fed.

Yet I chose to play –
I allow him to swallow
me in exchange
for this mockery of love:
I am his Venus today,
His piss tomorrow

Timbila, don’t find rest.


» read article

Review: Shutter Man by Richard Montanari

Shutter ManThe Great Crime Thriller will always have a setup crime, with every act relating directly to this crime, and the thrill of crime fiction is the mystery of how it – it, it might be the wit of the investigator, the shrewdness of the perpetrators and the chase – unravel until the perpetrators are caught or the crime is solved.

Richard Montanari sets up the crime scene – the gruesome murder of a family of three and three more subsequent ritual murders with the same MO. Then the author takes a detour; the bombing of a house, the suspicious death of Detective Byne’s childhood friends and the epic look into the Farren crime family, as well as the unsolved murders of eleven-year-old Catriona Daugherty and her “supposed” killer Des Farren. These detours in the end serve no purpose or function to the story as they remain unsolved.

There are very few moments of brilliance in this tale and the story falls face down at the end when answers that were supposed to be an integral part of the story become statements from the characters. What is really a Sotar square? And how does it relate and influence the murders of these witnesses and their face skinning, and their birth certificates? How was the brutality of murdering these witnesses going to elevate a family curse? Because if criminals leave clues, it is always with intent or an unfortunate mishap. Here Montanari sets up the playing field but fails to master it.

Book details


» read article

Review: Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

Fifteen DogsWhat would happen if animals had human like intelligence? That they could feel, be angry and rage, love and laugh, feel inadequate and fight to have – what all humans need – power and respect while struggling to live a perfect lives and die happy.

Author André Alexis drives us into this world by giving human intelligence to a pack of dogs. Fifteen dogs, hence the title, are blessed with human intelligence or rather cursed with it. Blessed, as they can assert their lives and be better dogs. Cursed, as animals are much better suited to living animal lives without human burdens and consequences.

FYI: Human reproduction: we complicate this with the word LOVE and almost all of our female counterparts have found themselves burdened after this magical mystical word has been through their ears. Love brings about human reproduction and we decorate it and call it love but that is no love. It is in a way the creation of poverty.

The allegory that George Orwell presented in Animal Farm: the power relations between the animals taught us about our power relations as people, as nations and as countries. That unforgiving truth that is hard to live with: All animals are equal but some are more equal than others. You love it or you loath it, it speaks universal truth.

The premise is the same for both books but the settings are different: in Fifteen Dogs the dogs are given human intelligence to survive dog life and human relationships to see if they can die happy – I don’t think there is a human soul through all the ages who died happy.

The pack is destroyed by fear and discomfort in their new unknown situation. They are caught between the comfort and traditional habits of mere dogs, who are directly (pets) or indirectly (stray) dependent on humans. They start by defending the comfort they have known and fighting what they have gained. It is by this first step – which is indeed a human phenomenon, fear of change – that Alexis loses the plot and the potential that this novel had.

Fifteen Dogs follows in the footsteps of Animal Farm but loses the track and then fails to rise above it. The dogs start off being ruthless, killing the dogs that claim this change and are willing to live it. The book fails to portray the premise, ‘What would happen if dogs had human intelligence?’, as these fifteen dogs die out and are viewed as ordinary dogs while they can speak and think. Imagine walking opposite a dog and it comforts you, “don’t be scared I will not bite you”. Or maybe it begs for some change, crying hunger. Only once did the book come alive when one of the canines was adopted and the owners discovered that it could talk, there a beautiful moments there that are spoiled by the couple’s reaction.

At the end, the human intelligence serves the dogs no function and purpose because they persist to remain dogs. They survive life like all other dogs and kill each other to maintain a dog’s life. The idea was great, but the writing lacked a soul, feeling and emotions. Imagine entering a house without noticing the warning sign, and suddenly seeing the dog and hearing it welcomes you: “Fear nothing, come in.” This is the story that could have been.

Book details


» read article

Imagined Liberation: A review

Imagined LiberationThere are many factors that propel life forward, just as there are many that qualify and give life purpose, individually and collectively. We hardly question them, but find ourselves willing or unwilling contributors and sustainers of these factors in our lives. I have never asked who made the shoes I am wearing. I have never asked why I was born black, or why it is that I found myself living on this dark continent, just as I have never asked why and who called this The Dark Continent.

Yet, we humans have tried to answer questions beyond our basic function of living. We have probed outer space. We know the relationships and living conditions of whales. With all this knowledge, one would believe that human beings would have near perfect interrelations. Yet even in this Global Village we are still as strange as the Caveman.

In Imagined Liberation, Heribert Adam and Kogila Moodley ask vital questions about what has affected our daily lives since Adam. Presenting their case through the prism of three countries, their study attempts to give answers and solutions to the problems of xenophobia, citizenship and identity, and ask how we can be better human beings in sophisticated cosmopolitan cities and nations. Reading Imagined Liberation, I realised one fact: It would be an easier task for human beings to tame a shark and teach it how to communicate rather than teach a human being to be Human.

The misinterpretation of religions belief as a form of xenophobia in Germany, where Christianity is threatened by Islam. Northern Ireland takes the stand, where equal people have fought tooth and nail merely because they are separated by their religious beliefs. In India it is the Muslims and the Hindus and in Rwanda the Hutus and Tutsis. The break-up of Yugoslavia and the wars that resulted. The list goes on and on through history, and there will always be additions in the future.

However, Imagined Liberation fails to give answers or even theories that can serve as the starting point to finding solutions about why it is so easy to separate human beings.

Since 1980, illegal immigrants from Mozambique have moved in numbers to South Africa and there had never been an attack on them. We accommodated them and many became citizens. Why suddenly this violence against immigrants? We have been living with Zimbabwean immigrants from 1995 and Malawian immigrants since 1986. Maybe there were unreported incidents.

Why is it that today we have labelled ourselves xenophobic? What is the root of the problem and what are the related issues, primary and secondary? Why is it that different religions clash with each other? These are the questions that the authors of Imagined Liberation fail to probe and answer, thereby failing their study.

But the answers are there: In South Africa where the poor and the disenfranchised’s anger is labelled as black hate. All the supposedly xenophobic attacks occurred informal settlements, where poor South Africans occupy land illegally with immigrants who are taking low paying jobs and further driving the minimum wage, set out by government but not regulated across all industry. That these immigrants are making a living below the minimum wage and surviving angers a South African, who cannot accept lower than minimum wage. This rage builds, it roots itself and flowers and you can feel it in the children at a foreign-owned spaza shop, even while they are buying from the foreign owner. The owner smiles, making the transaction, as angry money is still money.

It just needs one incident to explode; the news that foreigners were attacked in Mshengoville, west of Tshwane, ignites the anger brewing in an informal settlement in Germiston, Harvest Time. Then the government will say that there are individuals trying to destabilise the country. I don’t see xenophobia, I see econophobia, people waiting to live, waiting for RDP houses, waiting for services, waiting for justice and equality, hence we have service delivery protests, we have dwindling voter registration and a diminishing voting queue.

As diverse a country as South Africa is, as any nation is, our human separation is an onionskin. Far more dangerous are the thoughts, the principles and the social values and conditions that thrust us forward. They are the marrow that separates human beings.

Book details


» read article

Deadly words:

How many times has you mother told you these words? When did she stop? Why did she stop? A million times, before you turned sweet 16. That time when you started to wipe away your mouth after she gave you a kiss. You felt irritated. She stopped, saddened because she knew that you were no longer hers. She knew that she offended you every time she said those words.

You were fortunate but you never knew it, those words from your mother were unconditional, conditioned only by the fact that she gave birth to you. You were privileged as, in some instances, some of us never hear those words until we hear them on the streets. On the streets we love, appreciate and value them but they are at their most dangerous, distracting and destroying young lives. Even creating new lives on this path of destruction.

These words are dangerous – believe me – because mostly they come on a blank contract and after signing your name to it with the very same dangerous words –

‘I love you too.’

You have just gave away your life. Men have an unfair advantage with this blank contract. They can excuse themselves from the resulting damaged lives. These damages become a women’s lifelong burden. It is the foundation on which poverty is sown, nursed and at times loved.

We go on signing blank contracts without realising that we are damaging our lives with these beautiful yet deadly words. It is not a legal issue and there are no legal repercussions to telling your spouse that only death can separate you. But while you can have a divorce decree, the words that you have said bond you to that person, even if you remarry and make new vows.

My girlfriend came back – my first surprise of this sweet 16. It is sure going to be a super year – married to the honourable me in a marriage of hearts. Of vows only the two of us witnessed in body, hearts and soul. My first girlfriend, the intelligent, super successful feminist-at-heart, and officially a divorcee of her first marriage – recognised by Home Affairs. I could not live my life because of the enslaving vows that I made with her. She was so ignorant of these vows that we made that she just left, after realising that – in her words – “poetry doesn’t feed babies.” She left the poet to make babies. And, yes, she did make two beautiful babies, and tried to build a home in the exclusive gated suburb of Northern Johannesburg.

After 14 years of trying to build her family, it fell apart. You can give her a lifetime to write a half page of what went wrong. She will never pin it down. It is because she gave me her heart and I gave her mine, and then she got married despite my broken heart, which bled for all the 14 years. In everything they were doing, she was doing it with my bleeding heart, just as I was doing everything with her heart. I was conscious enough to know that I could not love another woman but only pretend. Yes, I have Poetic Skeletons in my cupboard as a result of this lack of heart.

Two lives broken all because of a marriage of hearts.

But she traced and tracked me and finally she found me. I did not know what to say to her. She did not know what to say either. Her tears touched me and all the anger gave way to tears. Then she recited the shortest poem I ever wrote:

    You.
    You are mine
    For a life time
    Your spirit is mine
    For eternity

Dangerous words. Deadly because they were from my heart and true. How can she remember them 22 years after I have wrote them if they had no impact? They created a lifelong covenant and, sure, maybe she had plagiarised the words to her husband. That is a secondary covenant to further destroy lives. There are many things I have gained over the 14 years since she left. You, the poem, exist in our heads – even the spouse I am with is juxtaposed by You and she can never be loved like You but she doesn’t know it. She thinks I love her. And equally true there is a man I am juxtaposed with in her life but I know it.

This is the danger of words. I love words and I play with them but this Sweet Sixteen, I have learned that they are dangerous and destructive. So I am going to take heed to what my mouth utters because I don’t know how to break covenants.


» read article

The Art of Defusing

The Detective's SecretThere are times when an author completely loses the plot and focus of their tale, defusing the genre, and then we have a watered down novel. The fact that the novel is well received by readers, certified by the words: Number One Bestseller, aids the de-purification of the art

Lesley Thomson’s The Detective’s Secrets is such a novel. There is always a problem with starting a series in the middle as some vital information may have been disseminated or implied in the previous instalments. The author does not find necessary to divulge that information again or repeatedly as the readers who are following the series already know. This is not always a loss, as the book might necessitate one to read previous instalments even before finishing the one that they are reading – then the intention or unintentional act of leaving that information out becomes a success.

With this fact in mind, I ploughed through The Detective’s Secret carefully, but there was nothing that made me think of getting the previous instalments or even future instalments. I found an author with a readymade-to-consume market, hungry to take on whatever comes and mindless of the contents.

In The Detective’s Secrets the said detective is deceased and his daughter Stella is trying by all means to walk in his detective shoes with the help of Jack – her train driver friend – while her day job is Twenty First Century Designer housemaid on call.

The detective’s secret is the surfacing of a son, Dale Heffernan, that the wife of the detective had while they were still young. She had to give the child away. With the arrival of Dale the crime story becomes a family saga. The author flies over this family saga with nothing resolved and no payoffs to the main story.

The crime: a man jumped in front of a speeding train. Suicide. His brother doesn’t think that it was a suicide as he believes that his brother would not have committed suicide. The trained police wrote off the death as suicide. The brother then solicits the detective’s daughter to help prove that his brother was murdered. Stella is reluctant to take over the case. She is reluctant to do anything that is concerned with “walking the detective’s shoes”. She is even reluctant to open a letter addressed to the dead man whose supposed murdershe is investigating.

In the end, a cleaner and train driver solve a related 20-year-old cold case, which didn’t in fact look like a cold-blooded murder; a young boy closed the door of a tower, the victim could not come out, there was a heavy storm, and he died.

Lesley Thomson loses the plot telling us that two deaths that occurred in a particular train station – where this particular train doesn’t stop – were actually cold-blooded murders. Nowhere do Stella and Jack prove beyond reasonable doubt how the killer had the power/ability to push the victims in front of the speeding train while he was metres away from them. Murders that trained police officers and CCTV footage wrote off as suicide.

Then while Jack is in a physical confrontation with the killer – a killer with some ability to make people do as he wants – the author shuts us out of the action. When we come back the killer is dead. End of story, triple murder solved. The reader is left to believe from the narrator’s mouth that the suspected perpetrator – a man of high standing and achievements – was capable of all the acts he was accused of without any proof.

Great stories, I believe, are not told but shown, where the reader gets involved emotionally in the whole process. Whether the writer identifies the perpetrator from the beginning or the evidence trail leads us to him. Crime stories are about unravelling to the reader the intricacy of the story, about investigations and proof, the action and danger. With all this circumstantial evidence Jack, the train driver, could be charged with murder. The Detective’s Secrets fails and falls flat on its face.

Some of the latest crime thrillers show authors slowly and successfully moving this genre into soap opera territory, telling the story rather than proving beyond reasonable doubt. In that, when they fail to prove the complexity of their ideas, they can talk about it and get away with it.

It fails the tale. It fails the genre – the thrill and the suspense of crime novel, that moment when the reader is involved – they want to shout at the detective, “you are missing it”. Those moments when the reader feels that the perpetrator is getting away with it then the surprise and relief when they are caught. “Good work”, the reader wants to tell the detective.

In The Detective’s Secret, the complexity of the characters and the intricacy of the author’s ideas are great but the author falls short in unravelling this intricacy and completely fails the story.

Book details


» read article

Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters

Taban lo Liyong’s Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters

May be there were reasons of undisputable value why has this collection of poetry was not published when it was conceived, somewhere during the seventies. I think it was so as to give us a refreshed view of what had really transpired in the life of the average men by the poet. A poet as a national symbol representing and presenting the nation as an individual, not the individuality of the poet but each and every individual forming the nation therefore the poets are singularly more powerful than any president/king/queen dead or still breathing. Presidents and Queens rise and fall but poets reside forever within their words, hence this screaming words from the seventies.

This collection was penned during Adi Amin’s reign. He died in 2003 but he has lost “his power” in 1979. Mainly because that power was not his, it was imposed on him by the position that he occupied. In some instances that “power” is imposed on individual by the people/votes. A poet’s power is by virtue of the fact that the poet is a poet. Years after the poets have died, their words – the poets’ artillery – their power remains poet-ing and puppet-ing us.

This forty years plus old collection of poetry about Ugandan life, valid then to the Ugandans, and still more so valuable now not to the Ugandans only but to the continent at large, the universe: the ultimate power of the poet weaving us from between the pages.

Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters is presented in three movements, the poems are unnamed but numbered creating an enigma of each, to name a poem is to give it away. Within these individually themed movements, the ‘sweet-sad music’ of living life, the agony of living is scrutinised presenting Taban, presenting human beings.

It is a continuous journey of life, the circle of life. The raw honesty of the penning revealed the nature and early maturity of the poet at an early age validated the fact of publishing this collection thirty years later after Amin’s fall without re-editing and adding changes to validate in to our present but the words are valid today.

Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters is poetry of the personal exposing the life and the men, exploring the primary relations: mother and son, sister and brother, president and the common man to reflect the national and propel it further into the future.

Leading us into the main question here; are you a corpse love or corpse hater? Are you contributing to the betterment of the nation or are you contributing to the benefit of the self? Of course there are weak points as is life but here are the weak points of life: that mix-up to live life, are you a capitalist or socialist, Christian or atheist. The lines are not clear.But ultimately and intimately, we discover the tears of poet Taban lo Liyong as is the tears of every poet, love, a cry for the betterment of society without ulterior motives is deeply portrayed.

Movement one, Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters, is a reminder of past way of life as it is a powerful warning to the present way that we are living, of the divisions within us, economic, race, nationality, corpse lovers and corpse haters.

My heart has a song to sing;a song difficult to construct or decipher
My heart yearns to give vents to thoughts
Thoughts to clothes ideas with words appropriate

Yet my heart fears the utterance, leave alone the initial point of aim
My heart wants to give praise to the deeds of one who deserves a statue of gold
Yet my heart is troubled
Because the gold will have to be purified by my brethren’s blood.
[…]
Woe betide them who needs any heroes

Movement two: I Can’t Write Like Kafka, it is a search for the purpose of a man, the powerful (mis)conceptions that we, human being have as we are searching for a purpose to purpose our lives and the world as we see it, understand and live it.

In our fastination with the West
We shall settle down
Basically the Eastern group
With an honourable mention
In the serpentine west

Movement three: The Curse Of Unfulfilled Talents, is the resignation to life, to ‘fate’ but still a continuing contest of individual perceptions. The ‘sad story’ of dreams that were never realised, of life never lived. The poet ceases/retires/stops/disengages/desist and refuses to write any more.

Sisters and brothers
I now leave the house of Laias to its fate
Adieu, adieu,adieu
My life course is run
My thread has come to an end
My mouth is now sealed
The breath has run out of my lungs
Adieu
That is my last word.


» read article