The A to the “Zenah” of great poetry
“I saw traces of Love,
Affection, devotion, passion
Inside the eyes that winked
At the pace of my heartbeat;
There was commitment in the spilled
Words and acts made;
There was romance in the fingers
That crawled over my nude skin!
There was confession
And possession of passion;
There were promises
And utterances of unending love…”
No poet should fail to reckon with modern reading habits. As each day goes by, we have less time to do things we love to do. This includes reading. So a poet who wants his or her poems to be savored for the passion and words they are worth must recognize people’s fleeting attention spans. Zenah Nakanwagi’s poem above, entitled “Spit my Heart”, which is also the name of her poetry collection, appreciates this modern reality.
Apart from her apt employment of “enjambment” (incomplete syntax at the end of a line; the meaning runs over from one poetic line to the next, without terminal punctuation), there’s more.
The simplicity of her words and delicacy of the emotions they embody appeals to the sensibility of the heart while allowing the mind to register the sense.
She is a lady with a romantic awareness of her own need to be loved through the accessibility of her tender expressions, which are never obstructed by some obscurity or fancifulness of language.
She is honest, too. In her poem “A Lie”, she writes:
“The ache rips at my gut!
I burn from within
Like Tilapia on the grill!
The world consumes me,
Piece by piece, roasted!
But my face has to keep
A fragile lie…”
Even though she is being honest, she is hardly sincere. For although she is not lying to the reader, her feelings are not really genuine.
To be sure, what does she know about the feelings of a Tilapia on a grill? Can such a simile best conjure the image of how she burns within?
I doubt it.
It has been said that imaginative readers rewrite poems “to suit their own taste, omitting and mentally altering as they read”.
So, in this case, Zenah’s literary helpings of mismated metaphors seem to be casting around for the right words instead of expressing the right feeling, which seems fishy to a reader (pun intended).
Her poem “Come, Love!” doesn’t suffer such insincerity:
Feel my ribs
Through these exotic
But soft garments!
Part these breasts
With those fingers!
The different texture
In a different way
And peel me to the
Until the moon retires.”
Her emotions are easy, less contrived. They are simply phrased by fluent lines and punctuated to follow one another so easily and inevitably, and with such economy of analogy.
You get the feeling that, this time, she is not trying too hard by fishing for an image emblematic of how she feels.
This is surely love, and therefore lovely.
Her eagerness to please is unhurried (although pleading) as she favors the simple over the grand, with a fairly clear notion of what she wants to say.
She continues in this vein with the poem, Rest In Peace Papa:
“I wake up
Looking at life
In its million pieces
On the floor;
Even when I try
To pick one by one
It does not feel like
I beg the sun
Day one, day two
My heart screams!
Then I realize
That I am shattered.”
The poignancy and pathos of this piece come at you, so you feel her pain.
You appreciate the sadness, it requires no verbal alterations. It’s “on point”, as millennials would say.
I realize the poet likes to summon the elements (moon, sun) to illuminate and delineate her words. It seems to be more than a matter of style; it is her whole being projected upon a page.
This marks her out as a romanticist, placing her as an adherent of a movement or style which sprang into literary being during the late 18th and 19th centuries in Europe “marked by an emphasis on feeling, individuality, and passion rather than classical form and order, and typically preferring grandeur, picturesqueness, or naturalness to finish and proportion.”
As is inevitable with Ugandan poets these days, a socio-political conscience bubbles over the surface of the poetic page:
Uganda Is Bleeding
“Uganda is bleeding!
Have been scratched again
And her life ripped from her soul!
Blood is flowing,
She is maimed and stained;
She wails and sobs,
And screams and moans
Still there is no rescue…”
There seems to be a formulaic familiarity in the way the poem is written, her feelings are breezy and therefore bereft of the intimate charm of expression.
A good poem, indwelt with a social conscience and political message, is not easy to pull off.
Most poets end up treating serious issues shabbily by thinking wholly in clichés. Zenah falls in this grouping with her use of words like “blood is flowing” which merely repeats her own or someone else’s remembered phrases.
The poem has rhythm, but lacks general philosophical or historical context. We know Uganda is bleeding, but the poet fails to make us know that she knows. And how she came by what she purportedly knows.
Instead, she merely recycles expressions of societal angst to vamp out a rhetorical introduction and conclusion.
Thereafter, she gives us something different.
Her individualist feminism somewhat redeems her originality in the poem, Womanism:
I want to be full
On my own
And not need!
I want to be a woman
That fills her own empty parts
To an overflow!
I want to be a woman
That feeds on her own;
Smile and not hope,
A woman made of herself!”
The reflexive pronoun of the eighth line leads to a double message because of the misplaced semi-colon.
It seems like she was about to imply that she leeches off her own, then we realize that she actually meant that she sought to be enriched by her own happiness (without any externalities beyond her control).
On the whole, however, it is a good poem with a great feel to it.
When she settles the punctuation in the right places, we can admire the typographical conventions and metaphysical vocabulary of this poetic rendering.
Zenah’s whole anthology is very well put together, the pictorial splendor heightened by the poet’s ethereal beauty.
But also the passionate necessity which arises from her writing is easy to grasp and enjoy.
“Spit My Heart” remains to true to its title by capturing and releasing passions which the reader holds and the poet lets loose with the intelligibility of someone who knows how to get her point across.
This anthology is a joy to read.