Friday, 11 September 2015

SABATA-MPHO MOKAE reviews Free State of Mind

Book: Free State of Mind
Authors: Nthabiseng Jafta, Rita Chihawa and Lebo Leisa
Publisher: Jah Rose Productions

Reviewed by Sabata-mpho Mokae

Three Bloemfontein-based poetesses; Nthabiseng Jafta, Rita Chihawa and Lebo Leisa have collaborated in a new poetry anthology, Free State of Mind. The title of the anthology is derived from the name of their home province, the Free State.

The title, to begin with, indicates that the trio are to present to the reader a no-punches-spared, unrestricted poetry.

In her poem, Brown bag, Jafta relates the story of an ordinary woman whose strengths are often overlooked because she is unassuming. The poem can be said to be a tribute to that woman.

“She took her time to open her brown bag/ that she heavily carried on her back/ long distances she would walk/ to home from work.”

Then in another poem, Another brown bag, which can be said to be another side of the coin, if not a sequel to the first, Jafta tells of another woman. This time, an urban dweller with no strings like children attached to her.

Both poems speak to the varied faces of womanhood.

Chihawa says that she was inspired by other women in her life; her mother and sisters.

“I observed how they went through different phases of their lives, how they overcame challenges and how they kept the tradition of sisterhood flowing.”

Most of her poems in this anthology speak of love; how it is elusive and longed for.

In a poem, Oh! I loved that man, she writes:

“With this black pen/ I will write my love for him/ I see him in my dreams/ To awake him not being here/ life is unfair/ he left . . .”

But she also pays tribute to womanhood. In a poem, Women of strength, she urges women to be strong because “nobody said it’s going to be easy”.

The trio are unapologetically feminist in their presentation. They challenge the status quo and established notions. They attempt to awaken a woman by opening her eyes to the strengths she possesses.

Leisa addresses a woman who was abandoned as a child in a poem, Thula Sana. She is wondering “where is her mother/ to hold her hand”.

In the introduction, a well-known poet/playwright Napo Masheane addresses the concept of ‘black women writings’. She hopes that the label would fall off and that people would also stop saying that it is ‘angry’ poetry.

“There is something powerful when women voices come together like a spider’s web. Because once the spider’s web has begun to weave its base, God, the universe and our ancestors send a thread. There is something magical, almost unbelievable when hands of women find words between their fingers.”

Masheane also quotes from Maya Angelou.

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

The three poetesses have a song that they hope to get their audience to sing with them. Their stories, as contained and presented through their poems, are intertwined. This is mainly because of their shared background – all are black women who were raised in the time of freedom in South Africa. 

It is therefore expected that they would add to the tradition of post-apartheid women’s poetry. Their politics are closer to home than that of their predecessors. To them the struggle is more innate. The personal is political.   

That the trio also performs on stage, their to-and-fro migration from page to stage and vice versa seem effortless and relatively successful. Like all performed poems, most of their poems are easy on the ear just as they can engage the reading audience...
There are also some poems written in Sesotho and some carrying titles in Nguni languages.

O Bolaji writes in the foreword that this book is a ‘literary repast’.

This is one hell of a good book. Not only for women, but for all genders and races.

1 comment:

  1. Good to see young African ladies coming together to produce an impressive work like this