Sex, Range Rovers, wine and poetry: Let’s bear it all
By Tony Mochama
| May 31st 2014
What is wrong with Prof Evan Mwangi?
That is the question I found myself asking after reading his literary article (on one Anthony Wesonga’s ‘Jam on our faces’ in a Sunday paper), a commentary that I thought left the professor with quite a bit of egg on his face – we must wipe it off, lest like a chap with his zip open, he walk about the streets of Nairobi, bits hanging out, but blissfully unaware and without covering underwear.
Mwangi wrote about how he would ‘cringe’ every time the writer Wesonga tended towards erotic references in his poem, and I quote, “ as the writer tries to explore our sexual desires – some deeply hidden, others ambivalent and many tentative.”
Come to think of it, Evan Mwangi does seem to have a queer pre-occupation with sex in his criticism of literary works and his commentaries even when it seems immaterial (one time he spoke of inter-ethnic mating in Uhuru Park as a peace path or something), and this leaves the objective critic curious in the Shakespearian manner, “Why doth the man protest too much?”, even bringing in his ‘born-again’ Christian status and enemy stance against ‘pornographers and other miscreants’ into a poetry review?
But those are his views, and inner struggles.
In Yale University Prof Harold Bloom’s book, ‘The Anxiety of Influence’, written over 40 years ago, he propounded a compelling theory that students labour under the weight of their self-chosen masters, that the poet’s encounter with the master is bound to provoke anxiety.
Perhaps that is why Prof Mwangi continually, and queerly, attacks ‘After 4.30’ and Maillu’s ‘My Dear Bottle’ as the ‘pornography of the 1970s.’
But anxiety, as well as sexuality, can prove a source of poetry and originality as its practitioners know. We have not yet achieved the status of exalted critics like Evan Mwangi who can boast in a national paper that he has reached that stage of life where he can read nothing new, and ‘still survive on the old Plato.’
Personally, I am constantly ordering contemporary literature and poetry books from Amazon.com (seeing as our major bookshops seem to have completely surrendered their literary sensibilities to the terrible troika of How-to-books, spiritual guides and popcorn popular best sellers).
I still have lots to learn about the literary genre, and certainly have not reached the level where I can tell my editors I am ‘done with literary commentary’ as Mwangi did, (only to recant in the face of Wesonga’s ‘Jam on our faces.’).
Certainly Evans has gotten so complacent he says he ‘bulked’ at the mention of the term TIA in Wesonga’s poetry. Which means he read it and grew fat? Or did he mean balked? Or perhaps, baulked?
Yet, this literary gangster may still have a trick or two to teach an old dog like Evan (who talks of ‘Range Rover Poetry’) about how to utilise sexuality in poetry over the next week or two. After all, in the same way the Range Rover can operate on city streets and still roam over the range and other forbidding landscapes, so the poet must be able to be both urbane or rural and rustic but also shocking and daring, walking boldly into the forbidden cities. No subject should be taboo for the true poet.
Let us demonstrate with practical life experiences, no?
I was at the DisQuiet International Literary Festival in Lisbon a couple of years ago when this major Portuguese poet (he had a long name, Mendosa Pessoa or something) stood up, said he was going to read a poem about why he divorced his ‘whore of a wife’ (sic), then roared: “ Oh Marianna how you fornicate, you make the balls of other men explode …” (Here Mendosa paused to apologetically explain it was in the present tense because he had written it in a ‘present frenzy,’ three years before).
I bet many a reader here has wondered about how they were conceived. Because poetry and originality should be no servant of suppression and taboo, I recall exploring this common but oft-not stated curiousity about how we were created in a poem called ‘Conception’ that was published here.
It (partially) goes: “Last night I dreamt I was at the party/ where I was conceived. Mother had dad straddled/ on a hippie chair made of cloth. It was a Saturday/It was August/ It was 1984.
I walked in on them, on me, through the burnished door.
Mom shyly looked over her shoulder/ attempted to cover her breasts. Dad yelled: Don’t interrupt us, boy, when you’re about to be born.”
The poem utilises sex, shock and awe, yes, but the reader will agree that its existential profundity would recluse it from pornographic slanting – and indeed go beyond taboo into the area of the Oedipal, Hamlet-like pre-apparitions, DNA, the topic of abortion and even the Einstein-ish ‘Grandfather Paradox’ when one considers the persona’s father’s timely warning in context, that is, against ‘coitus interruptus’ when one is on the verge of coming, no pun intended, into one’s fundamental being of existence.
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