Modern poetry is rendered through several devices, one of them is the rhetorical.
This involves the method of rousing and persuading one’s readers or hearers as would an orator standing on a soapbox.
“A Christmas of Roses and Other Poems” by Wafula Khisa is in both style and substance a miscellany of rhetorical voices united by the pen of an excellent poet.
In the poem “When Music Stopped”, we experience a paradise lost:
“We used to dance here
To one favourite rhythm
Of hope, inclusivity, devolution, ethnic & corruption intolerance
Until our guitar broke one morning
And music stopped.”
The steady rhythm of this stanza lends a musicality to its words without detracting from its nostalgic tonality. As with much rhetorical language, it draws you in and keeps you at bay all at once.
For although filled with despair, this poem is not expressed in angry terms, but is kept fluid by a clarity of feelings which crystallize with lyrical ease.
The relationship between the poem’s music and its virtues is undefined yet clearly defined by its poignant phrases and strongly related clauses.
“Being a mother is hard
Sometimes you don’t sleep, because kids are sick or haven’t eaten
Sometimes you are beaten to pulp and insulted by the man you loved
When they err and everyone turns against them
But you stay to carry their cross, for you can’t let them grow or perish without a mom
No mother lets her kids suffer when she is breathings till!”
This stanza from the poem “Cost of Motherhood” weaves the same sad tonality threading through the poet’s anthology like a coat of demure colors.
On closer inspection, one can see that the poet may confuse the reader by switching from the singular “the man you loved” to the plural “when they err” as the stanza runs from one line to the next.
This might be deliberate, but it is not as seamless as he might have hoped it would be.
One of the most relatable poems in this anthology is “The Net Swallowed My Love”.
Not only because it harps on communication which is all too often lost in translation in our digital age. But also because love is a universal emotion whose language is not confined to any idiolect.
“Yesterday she bombarded me with emojis, and I blankly stared at them like an illiterate goat
Unsure of the mystery wrapped in the damn things. I dipped my head in silence, fearing I
could upset her with my outburst
She hanged her cleavage on the sizzling net, and littered its traffic with numerous faces;
to be devoured by vultures
She tagged my wasp-like self, and shared in her circles to trend, and be ridiculed by idiots
Whoever stripped naked, to seek the world’s approval of how beautiful they are?”
Here the poet’s tone is consistent with the magisterial detachment most poets pride themselves in.
He is standing aside from the madding crowd of social media users and viewing them through a polemicist’s lens.
Due to this, his delivery is a little contrived and stiff. The tone is at once standoffish, mocking and disagreeable to those who worship social media.
This gives his words an iconoclastic power pointing to a postmodernist call for more meaningful communicative engagement online, and off.
Then, because of the poem’s loftiness, it relates to the style used by the cleric-bureaucracy of the Middle Ages.
Not because it is dated. But because it is written stiffly, in the manner of the clerics writing in the name of the feudal lords of those Ages.
Thus, it’s also incautious due to being elevated in expression.
“Waiting for Stars in the Moonlight” is a rhapsodic and romantic poem, evoking George Benson’s classic song: “Kisses in the moonlight.”
“I am hanging on a thin thread of hope, that
Before the sun kisses the rim of the sky again
Before the rains leave the arena for the sun
Before the cocks crow at daybreak
Before another scandal is reported in government
Before another man kills for love
Before another tide sweeps me off-balance
You will be back in my arms, singing hallelujahs
With me in the moonlight.”
Oftentimes, poets write love poems with obscurity. The need to be subtle is what serves such obscurity.
It also caused by a poet’s disinclination to be released from his or her mercurial temperament, which makes for obscure language.
This often leads to vague professions of passion stripped of definite and literal wordage.
However this poet has come out clearly and strongly by use of juxtaposition, involving words and images such as “before the cocks crow at daybreak” to convey the depth of his passion and how his longing will soon be at an end.
He also employs anaphora by repeating the words “before the” at the beginning of successive clauses to emphasis his love.
Inevitably, in the poem “A Tale of Time”, politics rears its ugly yet poetry-compliant head:
“We gathered at the village square
Listened to his gospel of redemption, drank his wine & collected his handouts
and clapped thunderously until our hands bled
as we chorused his slogan :tukopamoja!”
There’s an intricate emotional rhythm here which reaches a crescendo as the poet’s tone rises to condemnatory proportions.
There is hurt, a sense of grievance which lends itself to feelings of betrayal.
But the poet rages with a knowingness and world-weariness which almost spells an “I Told You So”, told to himself by himself.
While this 136-page anthology has its weakness, it is manages to strike the right notes through a diversity of message and clarity of expression.
It is indeed a good book and its prefatory words ring true when the book is described thus:
“A Christmas of Roses & Other Poems is a potpourri of poetic voices that traverse the length and breadth of literary expedition.”
I fully agree.