Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Sol Plaatje European Union Vol IV Poetry Anthology review

Title: The Sol Plaatje European Union Vol IV Poetry Anthology
Selected by: Ingrid de Kock, Johann de Lange and Goodenough Mashego
Publisher: Jacana Media, 2014

Once again, I’m going way out of my usual comfort zone because, well, I believe in deviating from the norm from time to time so that I can get a fresh perspective on writing. Part of my BA studies (at time of writing) entails looking at other genres, which obviously includes poetry. This slim volume is the result of the annual European Union Sol Plaatje Poetry Award that, in the spirit of remembering political and social activist Sol Plaatje, anthologises the strongest entries submitted for the award.

Huge disclaimer: I have only recently started reading poetry again. The reason is that for a good while I fancied myself allergic to poetry, which possibly had a lot to do with the fact that I’d seen so much awful poetry posted online or mailed to me by well-meaning folks who say “well, you’re an author, tell me what you think of my poem” that I made a point of avoiding all poetry.

Stupid. I know.

Writing a good poem is difficult. Within the space of a few verses you must encapsulate an essence and convey an idea, emotions, a thought, in deft brushstrokes. Whether you employ free verse or iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets, your words are measured, carefully considered.

But getting back to this anthology, I’m also going to touch on why poetry matters, and especially in this day and age. Poems are snapshots, moments frozen in time that capture the essence of the poet’s perception. Poems are an act of communication, yes, but they’re also an art form, and for those very reasons, this collection is important because it expresses a cross-section of perception of African writers who have made observations, not only about themselves but their milieu. And we need these memories so we can construct a deeper image of our continent and its people. Stories matter, no matter whether they are a scrap of words or an epic saga.

It’s impossible for me to give a blow-by-blow breakdown of every poem collected here, suffice to say that each is a gem. Some resonate more with me than others. Perhaps it’s because there isn’t enough shared cultural space, but most importantly, these writers have words that have been captured and lent a little permanence and evoke often visceral images. Mostly, this is the sort of collection that you can return to, dip into the words, turn them over like small stones that catch flashes of sunlight.

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