Poetry by Ngwatilo Mawiyoo
Reviewed by Mutheu MulingeBlue Mothertongue. The title was enough to make me look twice at the little book and wonder at whatexactly would cause one’s mother tongue to take on a hue. I was then informed that “blue” alludes tostate of mind rather than to a hue. Thus having had my blonde moment swiftly dispelled, I found BlueMothertongue to be a delightful and uncomplicated read in as far as Kenyan poetry anthologies areconcerned.A collection of urban poems about growing up in Nairobi, it is quite the study in the diversity and richnessof variation that is possible with the open form of poetry. Blue mothertongue has a certain wandering inmeter from poem to poem that quite frankly will cause you to read from one poem to the next almost as if it were a novel. I heartily wish this anthology was on the prescribed curriculum teaching list for Englishliterature classes in my younger years; when we struggled to find work by local poets whose open formedprose we could simultaneously dissect for an A grade and easily prescribe to.Poetry teachers should have a look at this anthology and perhaps use it as an example of the evolution of poetry in Kenyan, especially in the urban space. Perhaps this is the reason why seasoned thespian andpoet John Sibi Okumu says of the anthology, “When those of her generation have children, NgwatiloMawiyoo will have provided them with teachable, home grown specimens of the poet’s craft that will be aworthy testament to her times.”Each piece seems to stumble into the next almost as if it was not on designed so. Yet as you readthrough, you can identify many situations on living in Nairobi which we can all relate to. Her works evokememories of the myriad experiences of growing up in Nairobi’s sub-urban estates, of living alone in aforeign land, coming back home, going up country to your parents’ rural village and feeling a stranger asyou speak your mothertongue amongst your father’s people which resounds strongly through out thiscollection. It is almost as if she has taken the experiences of her generation and preserved them for posterity in sixty odd pages of emotionally bare and honest prose.What is most endearing about this anthology is the simple use of imagery and other literary devices thatconjure up strangely vivid visuals of the situation, and emotions that carry through each individual poem.Ngwatilo’s subtle use of imagery to describe situations in a variety of settings is a testament to her skill asa poet.The humour of eavesdropped conversations about the state of the nation that for a time was commonplace in public transport vehicles is unmistakable in the piece ‘Heard: The traffic light monologue”. Her refreshing use of the popular slang language
in a typically Nairobi-speak fashion authenticates thefeeling that these are poems by a ‘
’ for ‘
and Kenyans at large.Reading the piece
‘Sins we Committed’
I’m transported back to my own experience in my father’supcountry place of worship, where the loud gasps of surprise that this
should know how tospeak her mothertongue so well we clearly audible when I was asked to stand up and greet the church.
After a time in America
is a poignant reminder of the danger of the loss of identify caused by theenvironmental changes that surrounds each of us that were raised in one country and educated inanother.The collection is not without its share of loves lost and sometimes not fondly remembered, as embodiedin
and Dear E, while mourning the loss of a loved in
Silver Bristle (Your voice).
Ngwatiloinfuses a bit of comedy with the piece
Heard: African Violet Monologue
and the wisdom out mothers passon to us even when we are far away in
Mothering Long Distance.