A Review of Poetry Potion: On Being Human // 2013.01

Menzi Maseko | May 28th, 2013 | Book Reviews | No Comments

The world of Poetry is like the world of Jazz. There are multiple layers of nuanced existentialisms, familiar phrases, essentialist expressions and traditions within mores and cultural pros and cons. There are also parallel universes or multi-verses, literal meanings and metaphoric imagery. The sole purpose is inter-personal and even inter-species communication.

The world of live or Spoken Word poetry can be as distinctive from the literary types or forms as east is to west. While it has become widely acceptable that most of the rules that kept Victorian and other archaic poetic sensibilities in check have been thrown out of the perpetually metamorphosing train of modernity, there is still a reverent romantic appeal to a perfectly composed poesy.

Poetry Potion: On Being Human – as a singular publication cuts through all the narratives and lends itself to all kinds of poetic graces. In fact after reading every poem in the ‘On Being Human’ edition, I was not only impressed by the near perfect creative articulations of rhythm, swing, improvisations, spontaneous combustion, seething wrath, cynical and righteous indignation, mesmeric joy and even sheer exhilaration in the voices and turns of phrase. The Poets featured in this issue have somehow distilled the whole human experience with their chorus of a pleading, celebrating, wise, humane, unashamedly vulnerable and almost sublime humanity.

I liken the poetic scenery to jazz simply due to the fact that, like jazz, poetry is almost impossible to categorize, correct or even definitively describe. A piano solo by Kyle Shepherd or Taiwa Molelekwa or Abdullah Ibrahim may contain interpolations of a Thelonius Monk melody or a bass-line from Sipho Gumede may conjure up the funky rock experimentation of Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers or an eclectic alternative group like Radiohead –  it is all up to the listening ear and the attentive soul to receive and decide how it moves one. Similarly, Poetry Potion inspired thoughts in me that I could not describe appropriately in any other way but through making more poetry, listening, feeling, being receptive and ultimately simply being more human. The poems are a reminder of this.

As it is mentioned in the Editorial piece, this particular publication was inspired by South Africa’s Human Right’s Day, also known as Sharpeville Day which falls on the 21st of March. It is a day of national remembrance of the lives lost to a murderous apartheid regime, where in 1960; the dreadfully inhuman RSA state killed 69 people who had been protesting against the pass laws. This means that these human beings, who had gathered in unprecedented numbers, had finally grown tired of being hemmed-in and treated as subhuman in their native land. They paid with their lives in order for us to be truly human. The poetry is like a message in the music, reminding us that the struggle continues, both internally and externally.

I feel it is necessary to re-mention what Zamantungwa; the editor of this issue has quoted of Potlano Leballo who said:

We believe in one race only – the human race to which we belong. The history of the human race is a long history of struggle against restrictions, physical, mental and spiritual. We would have betrayed the human race if we had not done our share.”

There is so much that can be unpacked from the above statement, so much we can all learn from in order to be reminded of the value of Being Free and Being Human; but it is apt to allow the poetry to speak for itself. Here is an excerpt from one of the many talented contributors:

The insides of my eyelids, an indigo blemished window …
when eyes are closed,
My thoughts are a cluster of tourists seeking
From pillar to post
To find the source of my innermost jitters that rose
From intangible scars, lessons that haunt me like Ghosts
With smiles bright enough to cast shadows
And clouds my judgment during light conversations that expose
my fragile side … I’m brittle at times.” (P. 26 – A Way of Being by Lucas Serei “Pilgrim”)

And as if that was not incisive and emotive enough, in a piece called Friday, Sihle Ntuli sings the weary blues:

Living life like it’s golden is expensive it costs a lot to be virtuous
And true in the midst of the inauthentic. The radio dictates life
by hits and down the people go dancing on the floor and bleeding
lies and frothing out “game”. Hysteria the more the merrier the
masses touched by 808’s and the incomprehensible lyric.”  (P.37)

And finally, since this is not just a book filled with soul rendering poetry, in the Q&A /up& coming section on page 42, Mapule Mohulatsi says:

Experience inspires my poetry, experience to me is the highest form of education, not only my experience but the experiences of those around me …Pan-Africanism, social constructs, and socialization mostly.”

How much more can one ask for, this is a book that appears deceptively small and rather thin but it is actually a treasure trove of potions which act as balms for our often dehumanised souls. Get yours at www.poetrypotion.com !!!



Menzi Maseko is a Durban-based writer, translator and agitator. He works with Slam Poetry Operation Team, an Arts organization that organises Slam Poetry events, Stage Performance and Writing Workshops. He blogs at www.litmusic-zwakala.blogspot.com


Read the quarterly here

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