Book Review : Akello by Abigail Arunga

Akello is a brave and raw collection that is certainly the poetic mouthpiece of a youthful and energetic generation that’s often not considered poetic. Poetry made in Shuga is what I could think of as I read this work by Abigail Arunga, ex editor at Nation Media Group who calls herself a “passive aggressive narcissistically inclined writer”.

Any collection of poetry whose theme is love is daring. Many poets prefer to write on different themes in their collections. Most if not all books on poetry I have read this year are a kaleidoscope of various matters. Akello is a focused collection. It is polychromatic in expression; with deep blue hues of nervousness and forlorn dependency, warm hues of absolute enchantment, as well as raging green hues of anger, spite and vengefulness.

I sensed in the writing, that Arunga was not aiming at keeping to contemporary standards. Her voice is very candid and rhymes with a particular generation of souls. Youthful. Unfettered. She is somewhat a philosophical and love affected street poet in print. She is very possessive about her style, her emotions, her expression, quite often her poetry taking on the form of free verse. And it is also obvious a lot of the poetry feels like release, like bleeding, protesting or screaming.

Let me define
I have to live with me
So I do not have to play by your rules.

As I read the range of emotions, the ones about a lover, I was curious about whether this was one person or not. See, writers of poetry can sometimes sense that perhaps one is writing about one particular person in different ways. There is a longing, a needing, an acquiring and then the attempt to hold on to what is fleeting, then finally the lamenting and sometimes refusal to let go. The narrative, even though from different pieces in the collection, seems to speak of the terminal nature of love, the associated emotions that come with it – anger, hatred, jealousy, anxiety, lust etc…

And there are quite a number of poems about the lust. The wantonness. The folly. The physical nature of the thing we call love. The persona imagines quite a lot about it, experiences it, worries about its entropy. Worries sometimes that she’s sharing with others while enjoying it anyway… Like in poem number 25.

You’re taking me in
you’re stealing my breath
your kiss is becoming certain death.
And yet, I place myself constantly
on the tracks, before that train
tied to the railings, a steady refrain.

In the above, the expression is of old school romantic terms that meet creative tragic improvisations. I certainly did not see the your kiss is becoming certain death coming, unlike the persona on the railings who’s very conscious of impending destruction. There is a fair amount of tragedy in the collection but it also does flirt with the waters of pleasure. Tense pleasure. There is a lot of teasing, touching, lips and kissing. Whether it falls in retrospect, forethought or the present. There’s not too much revealed but just enough to heighten the senses. After all they say, “Less is more”.

I appreciated the mix of short poetry and longer poetry. Perhaps it is out of laziness that we write odes, haiku;  however a well written ode can have the weight of an epic. I loved reading the short ones. Short phrases that spark like matchsticks and get you into thought. It is also know brevity is a key quality of poetry. When it’s executed well, there’s much to enjoy. Case in point poem number 75

Fair weather friends, my
tears. Come and go as they please.
Rude. Swift. Precise. Here.

I think one of the absolute beauties in this collection is poem number 66 – BASED ON A TRUE STORY.  Two pages long, it narrates one woman’s tale in an abusive relationship and how she sets herself free. It was the images, the rhythm, the seamless rhyme and the tragic nature that made me fall for this one. I feel that perhaps Arunga let something go with this poem.

Before the party
I put my makeup on
a layer thick enough to hide the tracks of my tears
they’ve been there for years
you see them, and still act
so cavalier
foundation, first
smooth, no hairline cracks
unlike us
it does not hide the scars

There is another name in the book, Kylie Kiunguyu who has four poems to her name and delivers some memorable lines like- “How can the sky remain unchanging yet my heart is breaking?” A fist in the air to the weather for failing to empathise with her feelings.

I was wondering? Is she Arunga’s Sasha Fierce or a collaborator? A few Google searches reveal she is a friend to Arunga. I guess there’s nothing better than having a friend with whom you share poetic gift. That said, her poem Glitter made audible, was so psychedelic you almost felt transported to the place she was talking about. I mean who says things like The colours press against my ears. A swooshing like the sea in a sea shell? I suppose one of the key abilities of poetry should be to dazzle. This poem did it. The consonance was executed quite masterfully!

Akello, at the end of the read, is a woman/collection whose youthful interactions with love have evoked a myriad of reactions. It is about lovers,exes, rivals, mothers, gain, loss, pain, joy, expressed in a language that can be understood easily by the young at heart. I certainly felt it carried a lot of Kenyanness with it and reminded me of series like Shuga. I applaud Ms Arunga for courage to express herself outside the accepted poetic norms of high language and structure. I recommend it is read aloud for extra pleasure, it definitely rolls off the tongue easy!


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