• Modest but vital book recommended in these dire times of warlike pandemic
• Masks are our new uniforms, social distancing our strategy, corona our foe, flattened curve our aim
Jerusha Marete, Echoes of Military Souls: A Collection of Poems. Nakuru: Mystery Publishers, 2020. 51 pages
On Monday, the country marked the first Madaraka Day celebration under the new normal occasioned by the global Covid-19 pandemic.
President Uhuru Kenyatta led the nation in marking the 57th edition of this august day in a virtual ceremony held at State House, Nairobi. He foregrounded milestones of his presidency and the vision of his remaining two years in office. The impending return of the Kenya Defence Forces from Somalia after a decade of Operation Linda Nchi will definitely be one of them.
The operation has come at a great price and sacrifice from our patriots in uniform. Loss of many soldiers at the Battle of El Adde on January 15, 2016, remains a sore wound in the otherwise illustrious mission in Somalia, which climaxed with the spectacular capture of the Port of Kismayu. Operating under Amisom mandate, the KDF launched Operation Sledge Hammer in September 2012, capturing the port in a surprise nocturnal and historic amphibian attack, a rare feat in Africa.
It is this mixed reality of war that has touched the heart of a young Kenyan poet Jerusha Marete. Her new book of poems entitled 'Echoes of Military Souls' came out just as the new coronavirus reached our borders. The war against the virus almost overshadowed the birth of this poetry book. Parallels have been drawn by the President and literary pundits alike on the warlike situation the pandemic has created here and afar.
The book collects 11 narrative verses arranged in beautiful stanzas around eschatological questions that arise in theatres of war and the humans affected by it all. The 60-page book, which features terse words and a black soldier statue leitmotif, communicates central concerns of the young poet candidly.
With military precision, we are taken to the nexus between war and women's experiences. Trauma of broken families as a result of a lost army soul, violence of the mind couched as nostalgia, and the twin roles of memory/testimony are foregrounded thematic schemas in the eleven poignant poems by Marete.
The book opens with a poem called “The Promise” (p1-3). The persona and her son take time to visit the grave of their man who perished in war. This moment of respect and regret provides an ambience for her to dramatically address the dead.
Echoes are what the address is ultimately. Her echo of promises to keep alive in the absence of the breadwinner is moving, to say the least. Behold her new normal as she recounts the rigour of raising a fatherless son, minding a sonless grandmother and fortifying a spouseless self as she exhorts a silent grave.
“Painful Passion” (p7-8) is a throbbing exhortation to duty and sacrifice as the touchstones of the military career. Here, Marete launches an array of parallelisms to bring home the severity of the situation in military lives and duty. “I am talking of you, dear soldiers / Who slept in the bush last night, dug in / Protecting us. I am talking of you, brave soldiers / You put your lives on the line / Sacrifice your all / For the love of your country.” Philosophically, the reader stumbles on the obvious yet startling truth.
It is family that inspires the soldier to set forth towards the war drums with arms clutched like amulets, and the same family is what inspires the soldier to stay alive and return to it. Almost like words fired into the distance only for them to ricochet as echoes, is the life of soldiers, or philosophy of war. War is an art that is painful indeed – a kind of necessary evil that defends and desecrates simultaneously, and paradoxically!
I recommend this modest but vital book to Kenyans in these dire times of warlike pandemic around us. Masks are our new uniforms, social distancing our strategy, corona our foe and a flattened curve is our aim in the war against Covid-19.
Jerusha Kananu’s debut has already captured the eyes of the Kenya Military Academy, and some of her pieces appear in their esteemed journal, 'The Reconnoiter'.
War literature remains a fertile area of creativity in societies of strife or those in the neighborhood of such. Poets like her put beauty to words of the gruesome profession and its human faces.
They serenade the sacrifice, articulate the hurts and versify the hardcore prose captured in books such as 'War for Peace: Kenya’s Military in the African Mission in Somalia 2012-2020' launched by the KDF last month.
'Echoes of Military Souls' was published in April and is available from most of the leading bookstores.
The author can arrange orders: [email protected]
Dr Makokha teaches Literature and Theatre at Kenyatta University