Report & Essay

Contemporary Vennyan Poetry, Circa 2010; a Manifesto, not for a Movement, but for a Moment in the History of our Kenyan Poetry.
Stephen Derwent Partington (and various other hands that are his and others...)

With especial thanks to the poets who are discussed; for the Kenyan group of cultural scholars at the University of Witwatersrand; for Evan Mwangi; for the cultural studies Profs-in-Place such as Mbugua wa Mungai; for Keguro, who bullied me

'When the great lord passes, the wise peasant bows low, and silently farts' - Ethiopian proverb

Hehehe, and teeheehee,
Let's have a chat about po-e-tree...

I refuse to formally structure this thing: you will come to see that we dislike formal, unitary structures, each thing in its miserably herded place, Luos to the Left and Rendilles to the Right. No: let me just write as it comes.

Since I arrived in Kenya, many many years ago, ostensibly 'highly educated' people have told me, ex cathedra, to Shut Up, that I have no right to speak about 'our issues'.Some others amongst the many who are miserably denied an education - specifically, matatu touts - have told me to 'Go back to your own country, America'. This latter rather confused me, as I've never been to America, and have little immediate desire to go there, let alone by matatu.

Being a young New Socialist, I'm afraid that I can not respect the elitist, high-low binary that would enable me to listen respectfully and respond thoughtfully to the first group, but simply ignore the second. Instead, let me conclude: both are imbeciles, and of a type with those far-right racists from Britain - where I did once live for a short time - who believe that Kenyan or Indian immigrants, say, have fewer or no rights when compared to the supposedly 'indigenous (for which, YAAAAWN!, read 'White') British', let alone rights to contribute to the society to which they, as part of a wider 'Us', can and do so invaluably contribute. Lyotard calls such silencing ploys, such attempts to eliminate folk from the language game, 'Terrorism' - indeed, they are, and Kenya's had enough of terrorism. I don't necessarily mean (again, YAAAAWN!, if this is all we mean by 'terrorism': Islamophobia) the Al Qaeda attacks on the US embassy, the bombing of the Paradise Hotel, or the attempts to shoot down an Israeli passenger plane over the Indian Ocean - no, I mean the repressive and ideological terrorisms of Colonialism, Flag Independence Dictatorship, KANU ni Baba na Mama, Clergy Idolism and all that rather dissonant jazz that we've come to sum up in our national catchphrase, 'This is Kenya!' We need something realistically upbeat and - heyhey, here's my Ngugi-ism - 'progressive'?
Still, we'll come to like and have solidarity with matatu touts and Jua Kali artisans at the end of this long essay, and might come to like them more than some of our, ahem, 'Higher' Profs.

Now, I've no desire to speak 'for' anyone, and am acutely aware and miserably respectful of the potentially oppressive consequences of such a thing: I've read my Spivak, even if Professor Wotsisname hadn't - or, for that matter, hasn't read anything since F.R.Leavis. The whole point of my chat here is to point out that the New Generation of Kenyan poets, many of whom are being simultaneously published in 2010, can speak for themselves, thank you very much, Mr Big Don Professor Man. After all, if you're gonna be a 'young New Socialist', you have to realise that this means avoiding the cultural defoliation occasioned by earlier forms of Vulgar Marxism, which couldn't nuance women, ethnic groups or other marginalised types into its Grand Narrative - mate, Stalin's dead, if you didn't know! If Stephen Derwent Partington were to write definitively 'for' Phyllis Muthoni, Ngwatilo Mawiyoo, Mukoma wa Ngugi, Siboe Makhoka, Njeri Wangari, Tony Mochama and the other New Generation poets who form a constellation larger than these six stars, then he'd run the risk of possibly falling into the age-old trap of cultural imperialism. But as we may see, the issue is rather more complicated than this: I am possibly one amongst these, much as their writings are an integral part of complex little me - little hybrid Stephen, who's as multiply-interpellated by various discourses as any of these six, and so who considers himself one amongst them as a Kenyan.

Now, this really is a claim: that I'm 'one amongst' my colleagues - as a reader, then, you'd better keep an eye on me, so I really don't become the fifth columnist, the sneaky cultural imperialist who hides himself in a disguise of words. But if we bullet-pointed the biographies of these exciting young poets - and along the way, we will allude to their situation - we'd find a mobile and delightfully motley group of poets who overlap and interact like a Kenyan Venn, me as happily as any. Us Vennyan Versifiers, who sometimes speak for each other when speaking of our(complex)selves, and perhaps in a manner that speaks to you, too. So forgive me if I sometimes seem to discuss myself as me, or one of us, but at other times have a sort of 'themmy' feel - I'm as happily hybrid as the next person.

Stephen Derwent Partington is a talented young writer, married into Kenya, who studied at various universities in the UK and Germany, including Oxford. While in the UK, many of his poems appeared in respected magazines and journals, including The Rialto, The New Welsh Review, Smiths Knoll, Verse, Poetry Wales, Thumbscrew, Iron, Swansea Review, Frogmore Papers, etc.

Since arriving many years ago in Kenya, where he heads a small rural school, Stephen has: contributed journalistic articles to the national press on educational and literary issues; participated in national radio debates on the same; acted as poetry editor to Kwani?, 'East Africa's only literary journal'; published academic articles in leading journals on Kenyan literature; published a critically-acclaimed Kenya-based poetry collection; supported other emerging young poets; written a 'critical manifesto' which focuses on the new Kenyan poetry, and a postcolonial, post-election study of the creation of 'tribe' in Kenyan literature, both of which are forthcoming. During the Post-Election Violence in Kenya, he joined, as a participating member, the young writer-activist group, Concerned Kenyan Writers.

He lives and works near Machakos, Kenya, with his young family, until such time as he says, is deported!

Stephen's regular and short author blog can be found at the inpress online bookshop website, where How to Euthanise a Cactus will also be for sale:

Click here to download the essay


Bookmark and Share