Engaging with 'Something Quite Unlike Myself'
I have never reviewed a poetry book before. But after reading a couple of poems in Michael Onsando's (2014) Something Quite Unlike Myself, I felt a strong urge to do so. So, here we go.
As its first poem intimates, the book is like an open bag, full of poems that got spilled and could not be gathered (p. 7). Collecting them into one coherent theme had thus been a challenge. No wonder, earlier on, the 'foreword-er' notes, "with a massive sense of transgression – of breaking multiple taboos" (p. iv), that it "is a restless poetry..." written "at a time of fracture...." (p. v)
One may hence conclude that its main theme is the "self." Could it be that its author, by employing the negation "unlike myself", is trying to tell the reader about a 'restless' and 'fractured' self? A self that is striving to "inhabit what might be possible"? (Ibid.)
But is it simply poetizing about Michael's self? I doubt it. The poetry is a journey into the quest for self-determination. Resonating with my reading of Ngugi's Re-membering Africa, Onsando's text focuses on selves that constitute Africa's dismembered self. It is thus a poetic conversation of African selves among others.
My favorite, of course, is the one that sets the stage to what intrigued me as a very creative style of organizing and concluding a book: "She asked me about my blistered feet. I asked her about her manicured hands" (p.11). After sharing a number of poems, the poet returns to this central question at the very end: ""you still haven't answered my question about your blistered feet' she says."(p. 38). Then the answer comes - a line that would leave you, the reader, with an urgent sense of why we need to re-member the self.
If we do so, "another throat" won't be "slit" while the "white dove sits on a branch high above...and watches..." (p. 27). Yes, if we re-member Africa(ns), "a black crow" won't be a "sign of wisdom trapped inside an unspeaking body..." (p. 37). We will indeed be something quite unlike our gendered, racialized and 'classed' selves.