Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Homing in on here

I swung by the University of Botswana this afternoon to visit with the Malawian writer Jack Mapanje. The UK based poet is currently on a year long sabbatical teaching a couple of courses at the university and polishing up a manuscript, I last saw Mapanje in London mid last year and although he has been in Botswana since August 2012 I was away doing stuff until recently. I figured its never too late to say 'welcome, I hope we are being nice'. 
Due to my somewhat peripatetic (found that word last week and I've been itching to squeeze it in somewhere) lifestyle I traded holidays last year, I was away for Botswana’s independence but got to celebrate my first ever thanksgiving in Vermont. Mapanje on the other hand was here to witness Batswana celebrate their independence day, I’ve wrangled the first poem he wrote in Gaborone from his work in progress pile

                                                Independence Anniversary Celebration
                                          Makwerekwere Style, Botswana, 2012
They are all gone to their
cattle posts, kraals, villages,
to celebrate independence
among the people; colleague
Maude even bragged about
visiting the golden beaches
of Cape Town instead, on this
umpteenth anniversary of
her liberation; they are gone
leaving our Gaborone Malls,
ATM holes in walls, churches
empty; they are gone taking
their money and morals with
them; let us, therefore, you & I

that they call makwerekwere,
with no cattle posts, no kraals
to boast about, let us, brother,
hope the ATMs they have left
behind can stock up quickly,
so we can visit The Golf Club,
Botswana Crafts, Eros, wherever
live jazz guitars are twanging
and saxophones blustering; if
they too have joined the rush,
we’ll race their naked streets,
perhaps stop for oxtail and pap
at some cafe that must open
on this anniversary

Sunday, March 24, 2013

In the case that Albert Goldbarth is right and "the gods no longer walk around our world in a believable way", and we are whats left

The Botswana government has designated March the Month of Youth Against HIV/AIDS. I often think, especially during this month, of the first generation of young adult Batswana who were born HIV positive. Now in their late teens and early twenties they are applying for educational grants, thinking about relationships and babies. They have never known life without a schedule of pills and check ups but they also live and love and work hard towards their dreams. 

I volunteered as a peer counsellor briefly in my early twenties, and as a sometime workshop facilitator for youth interested in literature occasionally poetry workshops turn into life skills sessions. It's near impossible to live in Botswana and not know someone who is either infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.  What clearer evidence of the leaps left to our humanity than that in reminding our selves what we do we do not always see which histories we ought never to repeat.

Today I'm thinking of J. Allyn Rosser's poem, Children's Children Speech
"What would we want our luckless heirs to say,/Now that we too globally see it will end - /The bees, the buds, the mercurial sea, the air/ All spoiled - that we made waste of miracles...Our mind's made up to stand behind, whatever/ We may do to bees, or seas, or air/ Empowering speech. We have a mind to write/ Our luckless heirs, but what's the use? They 'll call us//They. "They did this. We weren't even there."
Rosser writes "While I don't believe a poem is capable of converting anyone from reckless immorality to a moral viewpoint, I am convinced that poetry can deepen and recharge beliefs, even to the point of jump- starting us into further action."(The Best American poetry, 2010).