By Nyambura Mutanyi

You have probably not heard of Oreu Leunoto.

Which is a pity because he has a delightful voice and ‘A Melancholy Harvest’, his anthology of poems, is a beauty to be enjoyed over and over again.

This book covers a variety of themes that are accessible for most, make that all, of us. Loss and grief seem to be particularly dear to the poet. The multiplicity of the expression and experience of these emotions is explored with candour and intelligence in the poems that deal with it. Leunoto somehow handles these issues with a deftness that spares the reader the darkness that they elicit from most poets. The poems leave you nodding, musing, questioning.

Youth, wisdom, aspiration. The brigade agitating for young leaders would do well to read this anthology. Are these three matters of a kind? Does youth preclude wisdom or just constitute aspiration? Leunoto brings something new, something old, something borrowed to this conversation. There are no hard and fast answers to these questions in his poems or in life for that matter. His poems show one thing, though-their contemplation can be enjoyed. And what the brigade might learn will, in my opinion, surprise them.

What would poetry-and poets-be without love? This theme, dear to many hearts, is not relegated in this work. Not too flowery, but not cynical either. The love of adults; sometimes infatuated but generally quite mature. The discerning lover will pick a few gems in this collection that will impress and entertain.

The style of the poems is a break from the practice of poetry as traditionally practised by Africans. No pots and gourds for our poet. His poems speak more to the human experience as a whole than to the experiences of the billion-plus people that call Africa home. The style he employs in presentation  is most reminiscent of that of e. e. cummings in the motion so evident on the text, making it fresh and aged at the same time. A delicate balance, one may call it.

There is a particular modern twist to this work-the poems lend themselves beautifully to performance in the style of spoken word. Reading them, you can picture them being performed by an orator on a stage as you sit in the audience absorbing the words coming forth. This is quite the feat. A number of anthologies based on one art form (read versus performed) stumble in translation. This somehow manages to surmount that hurdle.

For all this praise I heap on it (full disclosure: I have a particular weakness for Romantic poetry and Leunoto’s poems remind me a lot of that genre), some of the poems feel a bit put-upon. Talk of spring, for example, falls flat in the tropics. This being his first collection, one feels tempted to forgive this attempt to try to give everyone something. This quality of the poetry doesn’t so much detract from the work as leave the reader a bit confused as to the goal of these Western elements to the work.

If introspection is your sort of thing, you will thoroughly enjoy this collection. Leunoto tackles the issue of the self in such a variety of ways as to put himself well on the path to redemption with regards to having something for everyone. In a society that constantly seems outward-looking, this work manages to smash the perception that to look inward is the preserve of a few Eastern and Western minds. The author invites us into his contemplation of the self in its various manifestations and brings a new voice into the inner lives of people. If you feel that there is a dearth of depth in thought, the section titled ‘Inner Voices Preach’ will particularly appeal to you. Even if introspection is not your sort of thing (or if, like a lot of Kenyans, poetry brings back memories of unhappy Literature classes), you will enjoy how Leunoto deals with the matter of the one entity each one of us has to deal with.

The greatest disservice to this collection has nothing to do with the poems. My issue is the presentation of the anthology. Editing might not have been foremost on the publisher’s mind but it subtracts a lot from the enjoyment of the work. That and the typesetting: numerous instances of strange fonts and capitalisation leave a lot to be desired as one reads. The glaring lack of a preface, introduction or author profile left me confused. The publisher would do well to deal with these issues in the next printing lest a less patient reader passes this book by. While one doesn’t (literally) want to judge a book by its cover, it wouldn’t hurt to make it appealing.

Those issues aside, I especially  recommend the third of the book’s five sections-‘Historical Trails and Tales’-to those that might stumble upon this book at the bookseller’s. It showcases Leunoto’s breadth of expression in the best possible way and might just be the push one needs to acquire a copy for themselves. Get the book if you enjoy reading and performing poetry and are more focused on content than packaging.

Publisher: Magnolia Media House

Year published: 2012

Price: Kshs. 500

To get your copy call:

Nairobi: 0738 512710 / 0725 153777

Mombasa: 0721 112258 / 0735 636723