Book review: Unbreaking the Rainbow.

unbreaking-the-rainbow

REVIEW OF

“Unbreaking the Rainbow – Voices of Protest from New South Africa”, The Poets Printery, South Africa, 2012, ISBN 978-0-620-52212-0.

Unbreaking the Rainbow – Voices of Protest from the New South Africa, includes poetry by thirty-seven talented and accomplished poets (many of whom are well-known in South Africa’s literary circles). This handsome paperback edition of ninety-four pages, seventeen and a-half by twenty-five centimeters in size is edited by Dr. Amitabh Mitra, who is also a contributing poet, illustrator of the book covers, and the publisher (The Poets Printery, East London, South Africa), and the book’s forward was written by Ela Gandhi (granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi).

This anthology has many strengths. The selection of contributing poets is quite impressive, including: Naomi Nkealah, Sarita Mathur, Anna Hamlin, Sarah Rowland Jones, Fiona Khan, croc E moses, Betty Govinden, Vivagalatchmie Ananthavallie Naicker, Deena Padayachee, Jean Marie Spitaels, Hugh Hodge, Tauriq Jenkins, Molefi Vincent Kau, Jennifer Ann Lean, Khadija Tracey Heeger, Patrick Tarumbwa, Kobus Moolman, Raphael d’Abdon, Graham Vivian Lancaster, Brett Beiles, Sonwabo Meyi, Gillian Schutte, Pratish Mistry, Shabbir Banoobhai, Gona Pragasen Kathan Naicker, Harry Owen, Stephen Marcus Finn, Kogi Singh, Sue Conradie, Geoffrey Haresnape, Irene Emanuel, Karen Lazar, Ravi Naicker, Peter Horn, Gary Cummiskey, Amitabh Mitra, and Arja Salafranca. The quality of the poems included in this anthology reflects positively upon the overall product, as do the variety of styles
which includes all from the elegiac to Beat-inspired prose poetry. There is some excellent imagery included in the book, some of which is “academic poetic” and other more “street poetry” in demeanor. Many of the poems in this edition would easily lend themselves to public performance, as they beg encouragement and participation by the reader/listener. The overall message of the book would seem to be that revolution is a process without beginning or end, and perhaps never fully-attainable as while “oppressors” may change names and even skin-color, the underlying state-of-humanity and cultural values often remain the same, forever controlled by systems of thought, systems of avarice, power and control, and which are ultimately undemocratic because they perpetuate inequality and injustice despite the veneer of rhetoric and so-called new freedoms of expression which are both limited and limiting.

It is difficult for the reader/listener not to reflect upon and consider the commentaries and images presented against his/her own ideas and experiences – no matter where in the world he/she resides. In this sense,
the sentiments in this book are both universal and timely, whether one is in South Africa, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Europe, Asia, South America or North America. Many voices from Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Occupy etc. echo the same refrain: “What the hell happened to our Revolution?!!”

And yet the very strengths of this anthology might point as well to a few limitations, both as a surviving literary work and as an important historical document. Such is often the delicate balance of political poetry: inspiring, provoking, ranting, and inciting reaction and change but at the same time providing a sense of hope to temper the outrage and disillusionment with the current status quo. The inclusion of so many contributing poets with so few works each is understandable from many perspectives but – on the other hand – could also be seen as a weakening factor. The impassioned works in the anthology have a relentless quality in totality, which hammer and build throughout the entire book and fill both the mind and stomach so fully that I – as an interested reader – found myself exclaiming “Okay, I get it!” … as well as feeling a bit depressed by the messages of hopelessness and disillusionment. Had the book included half as many contributing authors and given each more space to show a bit more breadth in sentiment through several poems then the anthology might have been more inspirational. The process of revolution is – after all – a lifestyle, which requires a myriad of experiences, perceptions and emotions in order for society members to endure over time.

That being said, this is a remarkable literary and historical document, which says as much about the spiritual state of humanity in general as it does about post-revolution South Africa. While all of the poems are well-written, I would like to mention a handful that particularly moved me as a poet, activist and literary critic: “A poet’s dilemma” and “My president” by Naomi Nkealah set the tone for the book quite well, “Fire is our favourite colour” by croc E moses is excellent active poetry that is colorful and engaging in language, style and imagery, “Show me the Rainbow” by Vivagalatchmie Ananthavallie Naicker is a vibrant political essay that dazzles in its “tell it like it is” approach, “Holy war” by Hugh Hodge is simply brilliant in its undressing of the cause behind the cause, “In the house of exile” by Molefi Vincent Kau is sobering and beautiful, “Loxion workers” by Raphael d’Abdon – which is dedicated to the miners murdered in the eland shaft – is a haunting work which deserves several readings, and the beautiful, violent, disturbing images presented by Gary Cummiskey in his poems “Today”, “And we watch”, “What’s on today’s menu”, and “Never forget” are riveting and unforgettable for those bold enough to face the realities portrayed. Perhaps one of the most satisfying works for me is Amitabh Mitra’s “Mdantsane”, due both to its quiet poetic reflection and the remarkable poetic imagery created.

All readers of this book will find his/her personal favorites, as the overall selection of poetry is quite good. This is an ambitious project which works very well. See the publishing company’s website: http://www.poetsprintery.co.za for more information about the book, the publishing company, and how to order this and other publications.

– Adam Donaldson Powell, Norway, 2013.

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