Poetic milestone

With vernacular poetry currently gaining popularity wave after wave in the country, local poets writing in English appear to be experiencing a total literary eclipse. This scenario is, with no doubt, a retard for those writing in the Queen’s language as it is every writer’s aspiration to have their works appreciated by many.

But one of the country’s promising poets, Ndongolera Mwangupili, is determined to soldier on with verses woven in English. He has just had his 10 poems published in USA on HOWL online literary magazine (www.deltonahowl.com).

His astounding pieces—which are rich in local symbolism borrowed from Malawian aphorisms and employing styles previously used by such local literary giants as Jack Mapanje and Steve Chimombo—have been published as a mini-anthology called Ten Poem Series.

“The online magazine publishes various works of fiction by writers from all over the world. But the editors firmly emphasise that only works that meet international standards will be granted space,” says the poet in an interview with Chill.

Mwangupili: Editors emphasise that works should meet international standards

He adds: “Apart from employing the necessary literary devices, the works should also address themes that are appealing globally.”

And true to his word, a critical review of some of his pieces demonstrates the literary prowess the poet is endowed with.

For instance, I Have Walked looks at the absurdity of modern life. This oxymoron “a handsome ugliness is born” betrays the meaninglessness of life in today’s society. The next piece in the series, The Empty People, expands this theme further by depicting a society that aims at individual prosperity at the expense of the whole society. Some lines in the poem read: Solutions without love/Thanksgiving without gratitude. The piece, in a way, concludes that today’s society is laden with people who remain empty.

At thematic level, it is commonly accepted that HIV and Aids have wrecked havoc the world over. But shockingly, one of Mwangupili’s poems mocks the ‘sad’ victories of Aids—quite a total departure from singing lamentations of the disease’s effects and, thus in a way, glorifying its brutality. In the style of English poet John Donne’s popular piece Death, Mwangupili’s poem titled Aids, derides the disease not to be as dangerous as it is perceived to be, noting that it does not destroy the human soul. It reads in part: For those whom/ You think you have conquered,/Die not, poor Aids.

Another poem, African Lamentations, is a cry for the African continent. The poem explores African problems which, it proposes, need African solutions. The wars and conflicts in Africa need African solutions. The West is not a solution to Africa. It is Africans fighting Africans. Of course, Mwangupili can be faulted here for merely echoing what most Africans have said before about how to solve African problems. Have we not heard before the mantra “African problems need African solutions” times without number?

Away from lamentations and agonies is For the Unmarked Tomb which delves into the theme of heroism. It celebrates the uncelebrated heroes. The piece also challenges readers to question who a hero is.  One catchy stanza satirically portrays the wrong heroism that is celebrated in society. It reads: If greatness is height/ or size/ if prowess is weighed/ by the applause;/if manliness is eminence/and ascendancy;/you are an empty bottle. The poem concludes that heroism is not measured by prize or awards.

On the political front, there is the poem The Political Godfather is Gone which takes the reader to the realm of political satire. It, particularly, reminds leaders that the power that is there is actually borrowed from the people by declaring: Power is a formless chair.

The other poems that complete the series are In Queue for Relief Maize (which already appeared in another international anthology titled Free Fall), Love Letter, Letters to a Comrade and Songs of Children.

When asked what he intends to achieve by composing and publishing the pieces, the poet says it is his desire to remain in the traditional poetry form at a time when most current poets are adapting to spoken-word poetry.

“In these [poems], indigenous Malawian poetry is defined. Poetry craftily rich in local imagery,” he says.

And indeed one striking feature that makes Mwangupili’s pieces singular is the richness in Malawian imagery. The poet makes a great effort to translate and employ local proverbs. This is not a small literary endeavour and he ought to be applauded for that milestone. The variety of themes also shows that the poet does not just write for writing’s sake but has a purpose to tackle social issues affecting his milieu.n

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