ART CHECK

Review: Setting noon and other poems

With this new offering of paradoxical poems of conscience, Richard Mbuthia triumphantly earns his stool in the circumference around the pithy tradition of written poetry

In Summary

• Mbuthia stages a performance of curiosity, visiting the nooks and cranny of private and public lives to shine a spotlight of art on hidden absurdities

• However, the personas take an overly moralistic comportment. This may turn off a reader, but teaching is an all-pervasive career

Richard Mbuthia reads his book, 'Setting noon and other poems'
Richard Mbuthia reads his book, 'Setting noon and other poems'
Image: JKS MAKOKHA

Title: Setting Noon and Other Poems

Author: Richard Mbuthia

Publisher: Royallite Publishers

 

Year: 2017

 

A key mechanism of bringing together thoughts and feelings of humans is poetic expression. This statement is demonstrated in a new collection of poems by poet Richard Mbuthia. He belongs to a new generation of poets across Kenya who continue the tradition of written poetry.

This is the era where spoken word has become both art and activism, or what is being referred to as ‘artivism’. The recent explosive song released by King Kaka has captured the nation’s imagination and palaver.

Spoken word is arguably the most poignant method by which the current generation of youth in urban Kenya explore the spirit of the times we live in. Mbuthia’s incursion into written poetry is, therefore, a welcome deviation from the norm.

In his new book, Setting Noon and Other Poems, Mbuthia collects 31 poems of diverse breadth and depth in terms of technique and theme. He primarily focuses on the essence of existence and environments, both internal and external, which provide setting for our contemporary anxieties and aspirations.

A teacher by training, some of the poems take a didactic tone as they cajole the public to uphold ethical and moral etiquette in the affairs of the everyday. ‘My Son, Take it Slow,’ is a cajole to the youth on the epidemic of HIV-Aids, and he offers lessons akin to those of proverbs on the practice of control and self-management. The lack of restraint among the youth is called out as one of the chief contributors to the spread of the disease through negative sexual practices.

 

In yet another piece that goes by the title of the book, the poet remembers the precarity of boyhood and the boy child’s location in present societies. He calls out the absentee fathers and laments about the erosion of family values and firmament upon which the society is anchored. ‘An absentee father you are / Your seeds you gave with relish, ecstasy… / Who will teach boys a man’s life? / Who will hold their hands in the canyon?

As the poems arrange themselves in a litany of such existential precocity, the reader is cast on the cusp of deep thought. Surely it is notable that poets are the town criers at the market square, who point out the ironies of life itself. Mbuthia stages a performance of curiosity, visiting the nooks and cranny of private and public lives to shine a spotlight of art on hidden absurdities.

One of the points about this poem that cannot escape chastise is the overly moralistic comportment that the personas take. Granted, society is like a dislocated planet today out of its orbit of normalcy. However, the overdose of preacherly atmosphere that oozes from the poems may turn off a reader. Though as with such art, a poet who hatches out of the sage profession of teaching like Mbuthia ceases not to be on duty by exiting the threshold of his workspace. Teaching is an all-pervasive career from the stage of classroom front setting to the pages of poetry, like this new book shows.

The poet has achieved a superior measure of mixing art and activism without necessarily descending into the banality of calling names and name-calling, as is the vein of Kenyan spoken word art today. With this new offering of paradoxical poems of conscience, aptly entitled, The Setting Noon, Richard Mbuthia triumphantly earns his stool in the circumference around the pithy tradition of written poetry inaugurated by the songs of Okot p’Bitek and interfaced orality of King Kaka.

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NB: The book is available from leading bookshops. Also, it is available from the publisher, [email protected]

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Dr Makokha teaches Literature and Theatre at Kenyatta University