ART CHECK

Benny Wanjohi and poetic voices of African sunsets

His is a collection that educates and entertains

In Summary

• The poet showcases his growing verve for narrative poetry

Benny Wanjohi
Benny Wanjohi
Image: HANDOUT

Benny Wanjohi is a rising name on the terrain of contemporary Kenyan poetry. His second book of verse, After Sunset & Other Poems, came out in late 2020. It is receiving good accolades in poetry circles. The book is a collection of 36 poems that pour into our senses, vistas of African life today.

Wanjohi is a co-founder of Friendswhowrite, a Kenyan writers group. Also, he works as the poetry editor for Writers Space Africa. This is a Pan-African circle of creatives who help propagate new literature besides mentoring emerging talents across different literary genres. Together with Christine Lwendo and Omadang Yowasi from Uganda, Wanjohi edits the first rising WSA literary magazine.

In his new book, the poet showcases his growing verve for narrative poetry as he encapsulates anecdotes and vignettes in lines that capture the reader's imagination with elegance and thought. Poetry to Wanjohi is a wistful recollection of scenes and sights experienced in the wake of our everyday African life.

The poems in this brightly covered collection paint vivid pictures of African sociocultural lives touching on sub-themes of marriage, love, dowry, parenting, friendship, food and social media impacts on society and human beings.

Speaking to the Star, Benny Wanjohi revealed his passion for the land of Africa and its vivacious lifestyles. To him, not all from the continent is a harvest of gloom and a promise of doom. The land of Africa is diverse, alive and energetic, so that every encounter with night here is simultaneously countered by the promise of a better tomorrow. Each sunset ultimately ushers in sunrise and sunshine.

In the premier poem of the anthology, the title poem, “After Sunset”, a pristine image is painted almost like the ones sighted in the rolling tea farms of Limuru. A tea farm in twilight provides the setting for an evaluation of the everyday. The daily helter-skelter tones down its pace as the darkness creeps in, with elderly men sharing aspects of tradition with their eldest scion (p 1).

In the poem, as people retire to their smoking huts, a leopard lurks in the vestiges of the boma, ready to pounce. It reminds one of a similar scene painted by pioneer Kenyan poet the late Jonathan Kariara and his famous poem, “A Leopard lives on a Muu tree.”

However, unlike in this poem, Wanjohi’s promises us that the danger has already been sighted by the village braves, its footmarks spotted. They await its impending attack with a readiness that reassures all of safety. Such is the trademark of this poet who always shows us what dangers lurk in our eaves yet promises us that hope and light triumph always.

In other poems, such as “Blinks of Hope” (p 2), this opening gambit of hope in the midst of despair continues apace. The poem holds: My skin shines black/That the world thinks/That my heart is also dark/The art of their judgemental ink.

Using rhymes and other features of prosody, most of the poems of this new collection demonstrate a keen ear for the sound-based aesthetics that characterise attractive poetry.

Some of the poetic features Wanjohi uses include contrast and juxtaposition as witnessed in “Just a Year”. In this poem, the poet philosophises the passage of time and its attendant consequences, most of them being immediate and fundamental.

He calls our minds to attention on how a year can be enough for such awareness of time and its gravity thus: a child is conceived; a child is born/a candidate revises; a candidate is examined/ a man is a civilian; a man joins the military/ a body is health; a body falls sick….et cetera. (p 39) Wise words minted with wit that fit the mood of our pandemic times, behold.

Some poems take the dramatic technique of dialogue and discussion, such as “Not theirs if not rich” (p 18 – 20). Yet others are rhapsodic on nature and its influences on human senses and sensibilities. This includes the poem “Riverside” (p 21) that is an ode to a love flowering with hope.

However, it is the magnificent dialogic poem on Kenya’s famous tribalism that took my breath away. Titled “Identity Crisis” on page 37, it educated me better on just how “origins affect perception” of self and others, with massive consequences on our lives here in Kenya.

In a nutshell, this is a collection that holds great gems of erudition and entertainment to those with a sweet tooth for beautiful words, arranged beautifully, to beautify our souls. It asserts the homecoming of the youthful vase full of promise that is Ben Wanjohi.

Dr Makokha teaches literature and theatre at Kenyatta University. [email protected] or tweets @Makokhajks