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Poets Printery

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Review of Unbreaking the Rainbow, Voices of Protest from New South Africa

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“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: www. 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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