March 21 was World Poetry Day, and it is also the day Professor Kivutha Kibwana, launched his book These Words: An Anthology of Poems. The poetry book, full of regrets and what-ifs, indicates that the author is releasing a burden he has had to carry for long.
Tracing beacons of political and social injustices as the drums of a new political era begun to roll in the country back in the 80s and 90s, Kibwana, the creative, immerses himself in deep thoughts. He narrates harsh realities he had first account of, some so blunt brutal atrocities inflicted on his friends, political activists and the ordinary man.
In his poem, You are 18 Karibu, the author talks about life and the transition to adulthood. “Set goals for yourself, follow them as a train does its trail. Yesterday’s child, welcome to the world, there is no ceremony today, you are to give birth to yourself, you must adult.”
The book reflects that Prof Kibwana, who is also a professor of law and led the country’s pro-democracy movement in the 90s, is frustrated by Kenya’s ideas of democracy. He explores societal challenges, oppression of the less privileged, and misuse of power. This book uses powerful narratives to implore a mirror of what was, what is and what may be.
The poems go back to the heydays of activism for the former County Governor of Makueni, who describes ways a dream and abilities are killed.
“These poems have a long history; a few of them were penned in the 80s and most of them in the ’90s, others in the 2000s and some in the 2010s,” said the professor.
While Prof Kibwana said the book was penned between the 1980s and 2010, only to be published in 2021, much of what comes out is what the nation is currently experiencing: the high cost of living, unemployment, poverty and crime.
The choice of Ufungamano House for the launch was symbolic, a trip down memory lane. The author speaks about key landmarks such as Ufungamano House, where he and his comrades hid to pen these poems.
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“Most of the poems speak about a period in our country, post 1982, when authoritarianism, as Reverend (Timothy) Njoya has indicated, was the order of the day. The drafts of some of these poems where actually done here when we would congregate and think of how to renew our country especially our constitution,” Kibwana said.
In one of the poems Last Respect, the author eulogises some of the youth who died in the struggle among them Solomon Mururi, Festo Etaba, Okeng’o Kenneth, Makokha Mukabi and Eric Mutwiri.
“They will kill you in the morning, they will kill you at noon, they will kill you in the evening, they will kill you in the night. Like hounds, they will seek youthful blood. They will seek to nap innocent energy, daring, creative, innovative and unfolding vision. They will seek to destroy the foundation of the future,” the poem reads in part.
That longing for salvation or change appears over and over, whether the setting is a letter to a daughter or lover. What you find is an epic voice of sadness and resignation, as if the best one can do is endure the frustration and bear witness to what Kibwana calls “for Kichamu and others.” For Kichamu is a powerful poem. It brings out the central theme of the poem - sacrifice - which goes unnoticed - for the greater good. That impulse, while understandable, is interesting as the author recounts some of the influences that shaped his development as a writer, activist and politician. The poem Africa Arise feels a lot more like a poet making a call for attention, like a soldier, and less like goodbye from a poet.
These Words: An Anthology of Poems is themed around the reflection of oneself, an introspection of what can be done, what should be done, and, what is done. Rev Dr Timothy Njoya, who attended the launch of These Words: An Anthology of Poems, said Prof Kibwana’s book is evidence of intellectual survival.
“If you do not understand democracy, you cannot understand this poem. Kenya might collapse without people like Kibwana. If he can survive intellectually, Kenya too can. Corruption does not start from the pocket, it starts from the head,” he says.
Prof Kibwana, speaking during the launch, said that he also writes for the religious.
In the poem; Man of Cloth, he speaks about how religious leaders have had the plight of people at heart. “Man of the world, lone voice proclaiming crying justice, forgiveness,” reads a stanza.
The feeling in the book is that of wars not won. In the poem Elegy for the Revolution, the author says; “I see a river of tears, an ocean of blood. I see politicians and leaders trapped in pettiness, selfishness and greed. A tragic circus”.
In the poem Street Child, the author laments the plight of the youth.
And in the poem Kenya, the author seems to be saying goodbye, and it feels like a resigned sign-off, contradicting all the other powerful messages in his book. “Kenya, I invite you to my funeral when I die, the tragic finish of my race,” he says.
At 68, Kibwana’s life itself is many things in one and These Words: An Anthology of Poems opens a new chapter.
The 115-page book published by One Planet Publishing and Media Services Limited has a collection of 47 poems has been described as a collection of poems that give a reflection on the quest for freedom in the life and world of both the writer and the reader.
The release of the book adds to his wealth of authored books, among them poetry books some done in the Kamba language.
In 1974, he published Utisi, a playbook that was followed by another playbook, The Grand Race, Kanzala and Walk with Me God.
In 1999, he published Melodies of the Motherland, followed by Ngaeka Waeka: Myali Ya Kiikamba Poems published in 2010. Some of his novels are incomplete and still being worked on, among them Season of Sowing.
From a different perspective, the title and cover of These Words: An Anthology of Poems do not do justice to the powerful message inside the book.
- Additional reporting by Stevens Muendo