"It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees."
I had ordered Tichaona's book a while back, and since then have been trying to find a way to share its diversity of styles and subject matter, the energy and cadence captured by Tichaona's words, and the beauty of her poetry. I haven't found a way to truly describe the essence of this volume, but simply will say that I love this book of poetry, which must be read in order to be appreciated.
Tichaona has a rhythm and style to her writing, which pulls the reader along. I could not put the book down. In many of her poems, she exhibits a playfulness with words, which makes reading them a joyful experience, as in the poem "The Daily Grind," a sweet and intimate poem on lovemaking. The following is an excerpt from another poem, "Nonsense Makes Sense":
We tango sambo
Delinquency to the tune
Ditto machito & his afro-cubans
Cruz middle passage
Sherbro sho bro
Talk that talk...
Many of the poems in Still Living on my Feet tell introspective stories, as they regard themes such as love, racism, gender, or the searing multigenerational effects of colonialism. Some sound as if they are autobiographical, as Tichaona grows from being a teen to a young woman, then a mother, and in other poems she is walking a mile in others' shoes, which she seems to do with clarity and insight.
One of my very favorite poems in this collection, "Amandla Awethu I," takes place in Soweto in 1976. Each stanza, written in the voices of the young people, is followed by a one- or two-line response, the voices of their elders. Here are just the very first and last stanzas of this wonderful, mesmerizing poem:
It was 1976
A fine time to be alive in soweto:
for a change.
(just to be alive is a fine time)
Love reawakened in those of us who stayed
as our mothers and fathers buried our classmates.
We raised our fists as our mothers and fathers
embraced us with the words amandla awethu
we stomped the ground as nkosi sikeleli 'iafrika
replaced the burial hymn of amazing grace
and the tears we cried at funerals
became rallying cries for further resistance.
(what else could we do?)
(they were our children)
It is hard to select just a few poems to highlight, but here is one final one, the last two stanzas from "Sisterly Relaxation," another one of my favorites in this collection:
On a night like tonight
Of what a blessing it is
To be old school
To venerate the sounds
My generation was conceived
To and by.
I feel the stress on my shoulders
As I open up to the quiet
And peace offered as greeting
From those I love.
Tonight I'm not going to say
No justice/no peace.
Tonight I'm going to say
Peace be unto you
As it is unto me.
Thank you, Ms. Tichaona Chinyelu, for sharing your beautiful and insightful writing in your books, and also here with us at Open Salon!