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Book Review: Women, Men and Country

By  | 25 November 2013 at 02:08 | 970 views

Book Review: Women, Men and Country (An Anthology of African Poems)

The book ’Women, Men and Country’; an anthology of African poems, was first unveiled in London October 26, by the anthologist, Khadi Mansaray of London, UK (photo).

It complements the Books Not Babies project; an offshoot of the Peagie Woobay Scholarship Fund (PWSF). Ms. Mansaray also doubles as a rookie publisher under the brand name Sondiata Global Media. The book is set for its Sierra Leone launch on December 20.

The book itself assembles different poets of both sexes, and from different nationalities, ranging from aspiring poets such as Abi Marie Samura of the UK, with The Lion and The Flag of Sierra Leone, Marie Forna with Mena Hills to career poets such as Festy Natty with The Apothecary and a literary critic Professor Eldred Durosimi Jones whose contributions include For Valerie and The Superior Race. It seems that the author’s intention is not only to publish poems by seasoned poets, but also to give a chance to emerging talents.

The tone for the book was set by Milton Margai’s A Seed Doesn’t Bear Fruit Overnight. The message of the poem is vividly illustrated in the first two lines:
“I want books/Not babies at this time". The protagonist made a determined appeal for her to be allowed to have a natural growth, cognisance of the expectations of society, for which (motherhood) she asked to be put on hold until she achieves her personal fulfilment:

’Give me books and send me to school
And I’ll be the mother
You want me to be’

Themes

There are plenty of rich themes through out the poems. These range from rebellion, protests, love, protection, rape, greed, traditions, female genital mutilations, materialism, racism, solidarity and even terrorism.
The theme of terrorism is made fresh by the Kenyan Poet Linda Ochiel in the poem In The Name of God and reminds readers not only of the recent calamity that occurred in West Gate, Kenya, but also, the poet, cleverly made prominence the cutting short of the life of a girl child:

’You did attend the cookery competition
At the Gate in the West, right?
So how did you end up in the mound of the lifeless?’

Topical subjects such as rape and FGM are accentuated by different poets. Claudia Anthony and Ade Daramy dealt with the theme of rape from different angles. While Caludia Anthony’s title They Call it Culture ridiculed this cultural belief from the onset, it developed into serving an indictment with the lines:

"I wasn’t told why I should’ve been there
When at tender nine a cut so severe
With blade and days profusely bled..."
What the poet achieves here is a case of child abuse and barbarity said in one breath.

Ade Daramy on the other hand did not detail the practice in his poem Am I my Sister’s Keeper?, but rather developed a male protagonist who searched for answers to a practice he grew up in with his sister, but yet knew little or nothing about. He hated himself for betraying his sister, as he watched at the threshold where men are forbidden to cross. As he watched his sister been led away, the guilty set in:

’She smiled and waved, I couldn’t help but ponder what I told her
How I would always be her protector
And I asked myself am I my sister’s keeper?’

The poet ended by questioning whether such cultures should exist or be allowed to continue.

The theme of rape is captured by Roland Marke in his contributory poem Violence In Silence. He shattered age boundaries at one sweep to emphasise how sick rapists can be. The poet might be referring to war-time rapists and victims, but the same holds true for rape, in whatever situation it may occur:

’They are little girls, teenagers, grown, ailing, old women:
they appear helpless, powerless, against their assailants
Yet, despite their status, they are seized, openly raped
again and again...

Battered though the victims are, the poet made sure good prevailed over evil by the sheer resilience of the victims:

"Ruthless men have assaulted our bodies, not our spirits,
we are fearless, vocal, stigmatised outcasts our society
detest us. Prayer for justice unveils violence in silence"

Themes of feminism could be found in poems like I Refuse by Khadi Mansaray, My Pains, Our World by Isata Mahoi and plenty in poems by Peagie Woobay including The Eyes of A Woman and The Strength of A Woman.

At the core of the project is the education of the girl child. Peagie Woobay set herself a reminder by slotting in the poem Educating The Girl Child. Though her poem starts with lines that are now clichés and at times used by politicians for political correctness:

"You educate a Child
You educate a Nation"

Peagie’s poetic skills achieved a momentum towards the end, which translated to a didactic message:

’Once with patience and love,
Capable of doing multitasks.
A woman she becomes,
And thus a powerful driver of progress’

Imagery/symbolism

There is a wealth of imagery throughout the poem. One that however stands out is the imagery of an Apothecary in the poem The Apothecary by Festy Natty. An apothecary is what is known as the modern pharmacist. Like its job of prescribing medication to cure one’s health, Festy Natty in his poem likened one’s Focus to an apothecary. He starts the poem with the lines:

’Temptation sports a transparent thong....’ but suggested that one’s lust could be tamed by ’focus’ and ’discipline’

Symbolism comes handy in the use of the word ’Gate’ by two poets, Abdul Tejan Cole in Others and Linda Ochiel in her poem In The Name of God. The use of this symbol by both poets juxtaposes each other. While Abdul’s ’gate’ symbolises success and implicitly life, Linda’s ’gate’ is a symbol of death- the West Gate in the Kenyan scenario.

Styles and techniques

All the authors explored different styles and techniques to achieve their goals, maybe because of a particular audience in mind or to hammer home their points. Claudia Anthony, Fatou Wurie, and Roland Marke for instance made good work of this aspect. Claudia gave the readers the slang name for a necktie in Krio ’tabacca leaf’, Fatou’s poem Bear With Me used plenty of krio words, at times bordering on onomatopoeia such as Maaama yoo for not only want of originality, but also for effect. Roland’s Cup of Agbo is another good example, with Agbo connoting a concoction of bitter herbs thus signifying oppression.

Khadi Mansaray on the other hand braved it with an attempt at writing Haikus. Though her Haikus lacked the complete features of a Japanese Haiku, she however utilised her own version of Haikus to make contradictions on her topic-Sierra Leone.

Some of the poets had tried to stick with conventional rhythms, metres and rhymes, while others went for free verses. The free verses might pose some of the weaknesses of the book, as Robert Frost once said, ’writing a free verse is like playing tennis without a net’. These weaknesses, though, should not make one sacrifice the objective of the author and publisher as well as the Books and Not Babies project, which is to encourage Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad to write and get published. What the amateurs lack by way of poetic strength are well compensated for by poetic heavyweights, not least Professor Eldred Durosimi Jones.

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