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Get your hands on this global poetry collection from Oxford University Press

| September 14, 2018 | 0 Comments

Title: Poems from All Over
Compiled by: Rustum Kozain
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 9780199079636
Reviewed by: Fiona de Villiers

It was a delight to discover recently the work of Swiss poet and social anthropologist Andrea Grieder.

Grieder has organised many cultural and artistic workshops about Rwanda in her native Switzerland aimed at exploring the power of creativity in social transformation. She has also travelled to Rwanda to organise two-day workshops under the theme “Discovering the transformative power of poetic writing” at the Goethe Institute in Kigali. Her visits to Africa were in part inspired by a trip to Australia where she attended a poetry “slam”. It left her breathless and determined to make things happen in Rwanda, a country still recovering from a brutal genocide: People spoke about everyday challenges, about fear, about love, about naturalisation, violence, about the female body, about being a woman, and what makes people feel alive, and that’s also why I call the event “Kigali Vibrates with Poetry” because poetry is being alive and having this kind of energy that makes you move on in life. It makes you feel alive [sic]. Grieder has also spoken passionately about poetry’s healing power, saying: “Sometimes you don’t know what is happening inside your mind but when you start writing things get clearer, and also you can have access to your intuitive strength, such that you can write out something without thinking, because thinking sometimes stops our connection to intuition [sic].” Oxford University Press (OUP) also believes in the transformative nature of poetry. Consider this brief poem by Cecil Rajendra from Malaysia, just one of the pieces in OUP’s Poems from All Over:

Sedition (2003)
According to
The shorter
Oxford Dictionary –
is: agitation
against authority;
conduct, speech
(or literature)
tending to rebellion;
a breach of public order.
According to
Received history –
is a fist
in the face of authority;
a tumult
of words/emotions
an insurrection
in language;
a rage
against night
neatness and order;
a fracture
into the establishment;
forever leaning
towards rebellion
revolution et cetera –
Ergo, every poem
is a wanton
act of sedition!

Can you imagine the sort of powerful lesson you could create for senior students around this poem? Sensitive teachers would ground it in the context of current global conflicts, including recent student movements such as #feesmustfall and the more generalised #blacklivesmatter. Rich discussions could then follow, looking, for example, at what the poet is saying about the power of the word, the language he has used, his skilful dig at different cultural perceptions and the structure of the poem on the page. Then it’s time to get up and moving, whispering, speaking and shouting the poem, stamping out rhythms on the floor to the accompaniment of drums and other instruments, and playing with words themselves, transposing them, repeating them and echoing them, all the while experimenting with tone, pitch and pause. OUP’s Poems from All Over is jampacked with similarly potentially transformative poems. Alongside Shakespeare, Wyatt, Donne, Herbert, Rossetti, Owen, Dickinson and Yeats, teachers and students will discover Lynton Kwesi Johnson ( Jamaica/UK), Sipho Sepamla (South Africa), Ahmed Tidjane- Cissé (Guinea), Cathy Song (Hawaii), Chris Abani (Nigeria) and many more. Additionally, compiler Rustum Kozain has provided extensive and provocative exercises that will satisfy both teacher and student when it comes to understanding poetic structure. Poetry has always been my favourite form of literature. I have a special “poetry shelf ” on which this book sits alongside other special volumes. Poetry must be spoken aloud, and this I do happily, committing some verses to memory, belting out others from the page on a bad day, revelling in language that speaks directly to my whole being. What an interesting experience it would be for teachers to talk about Rajendra’s poem in the context of, say, Wordsworth’s “London, 1802,” which contains the powerful lines, “England hath need of thee: she is a fen/Of stagnant waters: altar, sword and pen…”

Category: Spring 2018

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