Book Review: Poet catches the eye with literary offering

The book was released on October 30, 2021. Photo/Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • The persona hits you square between the eyes by declaring himself “bleeding to death” with all the jokes about his height or lack thereof.

Tupac Shakur, the best-selling rapper of all time, was also a poet who wrote an eight line poem entitled “The Rose that Grew from Concrete” where he used the power of symbolism and metaphor, in an undefined rhyme scheme, to wax lyrical about outgrowing poverty. 

The rose, in the poem, represents a person. While the concrete symbolises the hard existence in which that person grows up. The rose serves as a metaphor for a person in full flower against the concrete, which threatens or has the potential to make the rose wilt. 

However, the rose grows in defiance of this potential. So, at the core, the poem is about redemption and beating the odds stacked against us in life. It is also about self-expression as a means to self-realisation. 

This is similar to Origi Akatwijuka’s literary offering Rock-Bottom & Up: A poetry collection, which is also about Akatwijuka baring his soul. One wonders what motivated him to write such a confessional verse in a society, ours, which is not always good at letting its hair down, if you like, in this fashion. 

This personal work led Origi, writes about his poetry collection, “down some interesting roads and caused me to re-introduce myself to myself. In these pages, I will re-introduce myself to you.”

Immediately, he goes even further with brio and hilarity in Short Guy Bummer:

“I’m not supposed to like girls taller than me

Because it doesn’t look right

But I’m supposed to marry them somehow

To give my kids a fighting chance…”

Throughout the poem, one gets the impression that the persona is fine with being “vertically challenged,” the tone of each line being decidedly whimsical.

Then, Wham, the persona hits you square between the eyes by declaring himself “bleeding to death” with all the jokes about his height or lack thereof.

This is a clever segue, making the poem at first circular rather than linear by the persona indulging his tormentors with a roundaboutness that betrays an unconcern, when not expressing his true feelings.

Then, suddenly, the persona expresses his true feelings. This contrast, a word that comes from the Latin word “contra stare” meaning “to stand against”, lends the poem its depth through the persona’s inner conflict. 

In the process, he indicts those who insensitively toy with the feelings of others—an indictment that puts us all in the dock and leaves us all guilty as charged.

The poem Katamba Are You Okay (To the Tune of Smooth Criminal) will leave Michael Jackson’s classic jam mentally playing in the background as you read every word.

The writing style is unstuffy, written in the first-person plural pronoun, employing “we” a lot to evoke a sense of commonality and rapport between the persona and reader. And it works gloriously.

“He declared his health status

And we sniggered

He brandished his financial status

And we laughed some more.

He attacked his ex

and we scowled.

He checked into a rehab

And then escaped…”

You catch the drift, I am sure. Katamba was that happy-go-lucky entertainer who was not so happy-go-lucky, yet nobody wanted to know. As far as we are all concerned, clowns are not supposed to have tears. They are supposed to help us wipe away our own, a burden which we do not estimate in terms of the emotional responsibility of the clown.

Again, Katamba, who personifies all those we assume to be “okay”, was not okay. He was on the brink, like so many of us, but we rarely make genuine connections in this world because we do not ask the obvious: Are you okay?

Please Put Some Effort Into My Tribute is, as the title suggests, an elegy or a poem about death. The persona, if we take all these poems as a linear construction, was “short” in life and now hopes to loom large by towering in death.

“Make me an icon of the scene

A conduit, Like George Floyd was for the Black Americans. Make me part of your culture, like Tupac and Hip-Hop.”

The persona is dead serious about being immortalised by his death. Indeed, he wishes to be embalmed in our collective memory; a phenomenon that’s been called “memory survival”.

As the persona calls on his community to preserve his life through memory, Ancient Greek poetic traditions are reflected, especially the epics, as these provide a means of preserving memories of important heroes (real or imagined) within communities in much the same manner this persona hopes to live on after death.

Possibly my favourite poem in this collection is the eulogy, known as a word of praise in poetry, of musician Philly Bongole Lutaaya.

Man Like Philly is a fitting ode to this legend, made more fitting by the words, “…Because the journey of a thousand miles

Begins with the first brave man. And is completed when we all come together.”

To grow like roses from concrete, Tupac might have added. 

Book title
Rock-Bottom & Up: A poetry collection

Origi Akatwijuka 

Year of Publication