Have you ever read a poem that makes you feel like you are exactly in the shoes of the person who is writing it? A poem that places you at the scene of the inspiration and makes you feel as if you are watching the event as it happens. No, not intruding on the sanctity of the event but are in fact a welcome guest to the events. It is almost as if the characters in the poem are acting for you and you are their audience and hence they would do anything to impress you? Well, if not then you clearly haven’t read the book Mines & Mind Fields: My Spoken Words by Njeri Wangari. The poet, who is based here in Nairobi, has the ability to use her words to create a show for you as a way to depict real events.
The book is set in seven chapters each of which captures another part of the diverse poet’s spectrum. It could be said that Njeri is diverse in her writing because the world has changed so much while she has grown. Seeing from her works, this is a lady who has had to change from the girl in the bush who knew the only way of communication as the one phone a couple kilometers away from home to a force to be reckoned with in this digital age where all communication is via tweet. Such diversities show up in her work. It is seen as she writes Women Behaving Badly where she completely captures the image of a lady from the village and how she sees city women and then goes on to write Digital Hearts where she shows her ability to write quite the decent piece about the online world.
The book strongly identifies to its African roots with some pieces being completely written in Kikuyu or Kiswahili (thankfully they provided translation to the 2 or 3 pieces in the former language because I was totally at sea). Yet despite her allusion to African roots the poet somehow managed to steer clear of some of the overused images of Africa – those of beautiful sunsets, poverty stricken children, lions and corrupt leaders (in whatever order) – and instead created images that one can only imagine she had seen or heard of at one point or another during her life. Images that she could relate to and by virtue of this relation to the images she depicts them so vividly that you can’t help but see through the personas eyes (she prefers first person) or see exactly what she wanted you to see.
I was particularly impressed by the poem Fire, She said. This poem, exactly 61 words in length, is pretty short yet the story it tells, the power behind every one of these 61 words, is immense. In fact I have just decided that I won’t get my excerpt for there because I will just be forced to write the whole poem as opposed to just a short passage, sorry. So I will have to give you an excerpt from my second best poem from this poem which is, well, longer. This poem, What Happened to The Music, is basically a lament, as the name suggests. The following lines are from somewhere in the middle of the poem:
What happened to the music?
I ask, what happened to the soul
All I hear is commercial sloth
What happened to the music?
It would be prudent for me to point out that both my favorite and second-best poems from this book came from chapter one (Urban Blues) which was by far my best chapter in the book, this is not to say I didn’t enjoy the rest of the book, I just happen to have enjoyed chapter one most. I also had a good time with chapter four (these chains).
A large – in fact all – part of the poems in this book are free verse and are written from pure emotions. This is not the book to go for if you are looking for structured rhyme alliteration or the like. It is the place to go when you want the truth as it is, uncaged. Speaking of uncaged I wouldn’t o the book justice if I didn’t mention the poets love for Maya Angelou’s book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the book is alluded to at least 3 times in this book. Yet again, as this poet has proved severally such allusions are dropped so casually that if you weren’t looking for them you probably wouldn’t notice. Reading this book one gets the thought that the writer must be someone who has perfected the art of conversation to a fault.
Ever had that feeling that you are watching a show and the curtains are about to close. So you get up on your feet and go on to give a standing ovation for the lovely show but stop yourself just in time because you notice you are reading a book? No? Then clearly you haven’t read this book. I would love to read it again though. It is one of those books that you open, read a poem or two and put aside to pick up later and read another poem or two. One gets the feeling that ten years down the line, it will still be relevant.
About The Author
Njeri Wangari has come to be known as the voice of reason and change in the Kenyan poetry circles due to the content and theme of her poems which range from Culture, religion, human rights, technology and everyday challenges in the Kenyan society. Having written poetry since 2004 and performing since 2007 she has slowly grown into the person she is today.
The book is available for Ksh 750 at all Silverbird book stores, Bookpoint, UON bookshop, African book service and on amazon