The first time I heard the title of the book was “How to Euthanise A Cactus” I shrugged and mentally shoved it way up there with books entitled “How to Drown A Fish.” The topic seemed, well redundant in a sense. I mean, the cactus is a plant which has been renowned for its ability to withstand the harshest of conditions, even metaphorically how and why would you mercifully kill it? However, upon pulling down the book and blowing the dust off the cover I must say that Mr. Partington aptly titled his book. The poetry in the book makes you almost see just how this metaphorical cactus could be killed so mercifully that its death would be the better way for it to go. I took the title to mean that although the cactus survives in the dessert it doesn’t really enjoy it. Kind of like a cancer patient who, although might be fighting the cancer just wants to die. It hence becomes necessary to kill it slowly and, for the better part, mercifully.
Stephen Derwent Partington is a poet who is originally from the UK. My best guess would be somewhere in the North from his use of words like “Thrutching” and “Barnacles” which, I think, are very British words. The man has however spent the better part of his life in Kenya and the larger part of the book focuses on this. In fact, the greater part of the first stages of the book focuses on the 2008 post election violence period and the end with dedications to a selection of local writers and some seeming personal experiences.
The poetry in this book speaks out at specific social scenarios and recent (and some not so recent) events. A several stops on the journey through this book you can see Stephen stop, turn and flash you his poetic license which he uses to the fullest. Take for example the last stanza in the piece ‘The Presently Secure Middle Class’ (and this is the only sneak preview you will get from me, buy your own copy):
Perhaps I am downplaying what we went through:
you might tell me that our Former Yugoslavia,
is future tense, not past
I would remind you, though, I’m nothing but a poet:
Save your censure for the ruling class.
So, what is so magical about this book? Each of the 66 poems in this book has its own unique, witty yet hitting the nail on the head style that marks Stephen’s type of poetry perfectly. I particularly fell in love with the poem ‘Romantic’ where he describes what it would be like if, just for a day, it snowed in Kenya. He seems to pick on the perfect words to describe scenarios and personas. This is no I-can-rhyme-hence-I-am-a-poet poetry, it seems to have a certain sense of depth. Like there are words that were said while yet still, unsaid. Then, of course, there are the cliff hangers. Severally in the book Stephen ends his poems on a cliffhanger. This would be better off shown than described…
The back cover has a quote by Mukoma wa Ngugi that describes Stephen as a poet’s poet and a people’s poet. I wouldn’t even dare raise my arm for a second to argue with that thesis. His words have an appeal and an allure that few others have managed to achieve. Poetry for everyone. Not only that, the selection of different styles and forms of poetry in the book prove a versatile writer who Shopped in Zimbabwe, saw some Nuns in A Nairobi Museum and has Moonlight Insomnia. Sure every once in a while the teacher (Al Kags interestingly pointed out the title’s abbreviation HTEAC is a basic anagram for his profession, TEACH. Coincidence? I think not) seems to get a bit wordy with his poetry, or calls upon the ‘wrong’ word at the most random of places but no writer, especially of the poetic kind, who has walked this earth can claim to be perfect. If anything, any poet who claims the same is either highly delusional or really not that good.
While reading this book one gets the sense of being there, in the moment, wherever and whenever the poem was written. He brings you all the way down to the moment and you feel like an unseen observer. In fact sometimes you almost feel unwanted. As if you are intruding on the sanctity of the moment.
All in all ‘How to Euthanise A Cactus’ is a delightful book that leaves you wondering what more the poet could have said had he not been restrained by the fact that a book, just like a review, can’t go on for ever. You must read this book.
About The Author
Stephen Derwent Partington is a writer and a teacher who works as the head of academics at a small school outside Machakos, where he lives with his wife, Mutheu, and their young family. He is also the author of the earlier Phoenix Press (Kenya) collection, SMS and Face to Face. Stephen’s poems have appeared in a wide range of reputable international journals. Stephen has written newspaper articles for the Kenyan national press – both The Nation and The Standard – on literary and educational issues. He also writes the cheekily satirical poem in The East African. Read more about him here
How to Euthanise a Cactus can be purchased at special rates (800/-) directly from the reputable Kwani? Trust, using MPesa, and can be delivered. You can also phone Mike at Kwani? Sales and Marketing for direct orders, on 0721837151 or (020) 4441801. It is also available, for slightly more, in all these good Kenyan bookshops and supermarkets.