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Two contemporary Namibian poets



I must admit that up until my first visit to Namibia just after 2007, and on other subsequent visits, my only idea of Namibian literature did not go beyond the works of Jennifer Davis and Dorian Haarhof. I particularly worshipped Jennifer Davis’s poem, “Song of the Namib” which ameliorates the seemingly dead Namib desert, in saying that the old desert is not merely a “bare” place but is actually full of “wondrous things” because ‘there are creatures that swim beneath the hot desert sand” and “lizards that dance to the song of the land” and “scorpions that hunt only after dark” and many more amazing things. On visiting “the land of the brave,” as Namibia is fondly called, I found it teeming with young and vigorous poets like Keamogetsi J. Molapong, Christi Warner, Tusnelde Aries, Sifiso Nyathi, Petrus Haakskeen, Axaro Thaniseb and others. These stylists brought a deeper meaning to the wide beaches, the rolling desert and the open contemplative plains of Namibia that I have become very fond of. I am one of those people who believe that a country is best known through its poetry, music and its food. Soon, through my constant visits to Namibia, I became more closely attracted to two contemporary Namibian poets whose books I have been reading attentively. These are Keamogetsi J. Molapong and Christi Warner. Keamogetsi J. Molapong’s poetry in his book of 2014, The Scars on my Skin has three distinctive thrusts. The first thrust is made up of poems that try to define poetry and quest towards the definite role of poetry in society. The second thrust is made up of poems that look at personal matters. The third thrust is based on poems that look at the post-independent state in Africa and Namibia in particular. In the first thrust there is that poem called “If My Poem Can’t Move You” which begins by indicating that the poet would love it if his poems could help readers and people develop new and different perspectives of life from those that they may always have held: “If my poem cannot move Your ignorance a bit to the left Why starve yourself ‘til today?” Then in another stanza the poet wonders whether it is true that writing poetry is a matter of stringing words together with no care for finding something that readers can hold on to. If being a poet is easy, why is it there are many poets in the world, the poet asks?: “If poetry is an art form, And the poet a words smith Why are there so many poets?” Then in a very exciting turn, the poet says there are many poetic voices in the world but what brings them together could be their incapacity to say the truth and be ultimately honest: “If the minister is a poet And the clergyman is also one I don’t see myself as a poet.” Molapong also believes in the power of poetry to make the reader empathise with the poet. To him, the power of imagination which poetry brings to the fore is the ultimate forte: “If my poem does not give you an erection And make you grab your lover with lust Why waste your time and listen to me?” Then in a poem like “This Poem,” the poet considers a poem as something that happens in the path of the poet. A poem is like a stranger or an object that falls onto the poet’s path and his duty is to pick it and delicately place it somewhere where it stays and be available for posterity. Molapong indicates that writing poetry is something that could actually become obsessive, something that he tries to get out of many times without managing. The second thrust of Keamogetsi Molapong’s poetry in The Scars on My Skin is made up of poems that look at personal matters. For doing this alone, Molapong is praised on the blurb by Dr Sarala Krishnamurthy of the Polytechnic University of Namibia as “signalling the maturing of Namibian poetry.” In this category falls the titillating love poems of Molapong like “What Love is” which begins with: “Would love be What love should, could be Yet love is what love would not be Should, could not be.” In another poem, “The Greatest Thirst,” Molapong writes about the mysterious thirst that drives men and women into drinking beer excessively: “So we drink as if the bottle Has insulted us or urgently needs To be returned, refilled and resold. We drink as if being sober Has a pain so deep It will forever pain our hearts.” As you read on, you recall the warm nights of the Katutura township of Namibia, with the countless shebeens and car washes lining the road, where music blares all night long.: “We drink as if tomorrow Will only become a reality Once all the bottles are empty. We drink, we drink and drink And get and drunk and settle Like dust in our ignorance.” The third thrust of Molapong is based on poems that look at the post-independent state in Africa and Namibia in particular. Such poems dwell on the challenges that have been experienced across post independent Africa. The poem “What is It You Fear?” is a key poem with three very critical stanzas. The first stanza talks about the beautiful struggle that the nationalists and liberation movements put up to free the country from colonial rule. The second stanza speaks about the euphoria and excitement that independence caused. The third stanza talks about how the leaders eventually betray the people during the post-independence era. The poem “Fake Money” talks about leaders who “eat the economy and talk of democracy” and they “talk about respect while we die of thirst.” The poem “Look Around, Don’t Just Be” is most probably the poem that carries the title of this book as it talks about how versions of misrule scar the faces of the common people in Africa. To move from Molapong to Christi N Warner’s collection of poems called Ice Cream and Politics, is like moving from an open public voice to a private space. Warner’s poetry is dense and private, even on so-called “public matters.” As you read Warner’s work, you survive through a re-reading and another reading, as you work through your way. For an experience of her poetic density, consider reading aloud the first stanza of her poem called “Feelings”: “I feel my intuition signalling harsh emotions I sense a dark mood threatening to destroy any sign of bliss There’s something real urging my feelings to find a voice…” I must admit that to read Warner’s poetry is somewhat an academic pursuit. You may need to take out your pencil and underline here a word and there a phrase and decide on how to move on. Maybe that is why Athol Williams writes, “Christi Warner’s poems slow the clock and invite us to take a closer look at the many dimensions of life…” These poems feel like they are selected from a broad scope of Warner’s writings from a long period and styles as they go over a very wide variety of issues; women’s issues, love, politics, human rights, identity and the life of post-war Namibia. This in itself is one of the strengths of this collection. Perhaps the most convincing of these poems are those that dwell on the question of identity. In “Family Portrait,” the philosophic thrust of the persona is that you can only belong through what you bring to the collective and not through your ordinary every day presence within a family or society. In the family portrait, “you belong if you are the missing piece and just remember that ‘without you there will be no portrait.” In the poem “Reflection,” the individual learns that even when one is alone, the mirror will not reflect back one’s loneliness but a multiple personae that have helped the individual to survive many difficult situations elsewhere. Identity therefore comes from what we have transcended and not from the superficial mirror visuals that we see now-now: “When the blue waters shine like a mirror My eyes paint a vision the colour of water The colour of dust, lonely dust And when I look real close I see the face of love the wink of hope the smile of tomorrow I see no fairy, But I see the one to trust Me, myself and I” In the poem Auditioning, Warner’s persona is back to the mirror once more, trying to see beyond the immediate image because she is not content with narrow definitions of the self: “Who am I? I guess I am that shell reflected in the mirror Mirror, go deeper, show me my emotions Emotions, be my sprinter, help me feel who I am.” In the poem “Becoming Human,” Warner goes through a long list of iconic and positive black figures in human history, taking care to tease out what each represents in the world today. Tsitsi Dangarembwa is referred to as “you are the female warrior in me, the face that can allow me to stand tall.” Then Madam Wangari Maathai is: “every time I see the poor smile, I can’t help but think you have showered them with hope.” Winnie Mandela is: “when humiliation threatens to swallow me, you help me stand from the dust and fight back.” In this fascinating poem, there is a quest for excellence and ultimately a festival of all the global stars. Christi Warner can also turn to narrative poetry through which she tells intriguing stories. In “Less Ordinary,” the persona says that for six full months, she went past an ordinary looking township house where an ordinary old woman is always staring in the distance. The persona would say hello to the old woman just in order to very briefly distract her from the deep reverie, to no avail. Then one day, during the sixth month, the persona walks into the yard, uninvited, in order to come close to the solitary old woman. That is when the persona realises that the old woman is constantly thinking about her son who was one of the guerrillas in the struggle for independence. Ever since the war ended, over twenty six years ago, her son has not returned. So she sits out here, hoping he will come back from the war! The other intriguing and haunting narrative poem is called “Hide and Seek.” It is the boy’s turn to look for his father during the hide and seek game. He cannot find his father until he gets into the bedroom to find the father hanging by the neck from the ceiling! The chair from which he climbed to his death is still there! In the other narrative poems, “Ways of the Desert” and “Hopscotch,” the drama of the meeting and parting of lovers is going on. Often in the poems of Warner, love is portrayed as a journey with a powerful fate. Love affairs are a school and the participants come away with lessons for the future. The most sensual of these poems is called “When you Have Time” in which you are tutored that love should be a full package and when you have time, you have to lend your mind, your time, your eye and your lips to your partner if you want to be fulfilled. “Painting for Sale” is a poem about contemplating on a very sexual art piece being bought because of its capacity to enact the female body for those who want to gawk at it to feel sexually satisfied. In the beginning, the piece being sold is a powerful painting of a sexually provocative woman but when you come to the end, it is a real woman’s body that is being sold to those who love to ravish it and her vulnerability is staggering. Keamogetsi Joseph Molapong (born 1972 in Windhoek, Namibia) is a poet, actor and dramatist. He has been publishing poetry in English since 1990. Molapong was a founding member of the “Kitso Poets”, a group devoted to practising and teaching performance poetry as a way of educating the population and combating illiteracy. The Kitso Poets take part in workshops and festivals and appear regularly on radio and television. Christi Warner is a Namibian poet, singer, songwriter and theatre for development practitioner. She became popular in Namibia thanks to her work as a television presenter and actor. Memory Chirere  

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