Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review: The Poetry Express by Elias Mutendei Akhaya Nabutete

I purchased Elias Mutendei Akhaya Nabutete's book Shadow Walkers: The Glory of Kings at the recent Toronto International Book Fair, and received The Poetry Express as a bonus gift. I was drawn to read the poetry first, after reading the individual titles, taking a quick scan of the images, and realizing that this snippet of creations from Nabutete would be a great introduction into his other projects.

In this first edition of The Poetry Express, entitled "What Would I Want to Be?" Nabutete presents 17 pieces that explore a variety of topics, emotions, and writing styles. One thing is consistent: Nabutete is a compassionate artist, and also a thinker. A deep and critical thinker.

For me, it is difficult to assess and review poetry because the perception of each piece and each message will depend on the reader, the reader's state of mind, and their knowledge of poetry and experience with this form of writing. As a fiction writer--and someone who is admittedly not extremely familiar with the unique and beautiful art form of poetry--I was challenged to look at each piece as its own story and at the end of my reading, take a look at the collection as a whole.

There are 17 pieces, and they all resonate well on a social awareness level. Readers of all backgrounds can find familiarity, truths, and will be moved by the carefully constructed phrases, and the numerous questions that are highlighted within the writings.

In Vision, Nabutete discusses leadership, responsibility, and what we base our personal evaluations of life on. The Day I Met Myself explores the progression of life and the internal quest to self-discovery by challenging oneself. The Question is Why investigates why he has chosen the field of poetry/spoken word to express himself, while The Wave that Swept Away the Sea gets romantic and describes Nabutete's time with a particular woman and how he learned to put her needs first.

The poem The Wind That Blows explains how we never really know which direction political powers will move, and What Would I Want to Be explores the creation of Nabutete's art and how it should always evoke a positive feeling, elements of leadership, and reflect value. Few and Far In-Between investigates thoughts about time, opportunity, human hope and belief, while I Didn't Pretend continues to explore a romantic relationship and his role as a man.

How You'll Remember My Name reflects on racism, and Nabutete's understanding of Canada (I loved the line that read "they didn't realize I was a king"), and I The African Leader continues in the same direction, as he contemplates how he will create an inspirational image and legacy. The poem Nathaniel's Ode is about a childhood locale named Spruce Street, his humility and coming of age as a quiet soul, with a few words of encouragement for setting a plan and purpose for life.

Shisha and Tea (my favourite poem in the book) describes the shared pleasures between a man and woman, highlighting their deep connection, and the impact that special moments have on their lives.

The Horn of Empty, the longest piece in the book, is a writing that addresses the political upheaval in Kenya following the presidential elections of 2007, and the resulting climate. In this piece in particular, Nabutete's passion for Kenya is evident, as well as his dedication to understanding leadership, his hopes for the future of Kenya, and his recommendations for change.

Honey and Creation is a charming play on the natural beauty of honey, while comparing it to the emptiness of money and what it represents to the human soul. Coin Flip proposes that it is a sin to hide one's talents, and the importance of staying true to one's heart. Love and Joy reflects on the two "pillars that have been tried and tested," and I Took A Walk outlines the writer's reflection through his own personal history, and his journey towards self-knowledge.

From love to violence, politics to honey, internal exploration to external questioning, this book of poetry leaves you feeling as though you have touched on a variety of subjects, yet they all still hold the same central themes: understanding, awareness, progression, and purpose.

Through exploring these themes by constructing these poems and spoken word pieces, Nabutete proves to be a writer that is not afraid to expose his personal weaknesses and challenges, yet is also not afraid to celebrate his natural powers and culture, while aspiring for continued greatness. There is a quiet strength to his writing, and as a result lends to the perception that as a writer he is someone who is prepared to take on the toughest of challenges and subjects, but with the sensitivity and insightfulness to understand the bigger picture and social implications.

I was pleased with this introductory book of poetry from Elias Mutendei Akhaya Nabutete, and recommend that others use is a tool for self-evaluation through the various questions posed. It is an entertaining read, with helpful social messages as well. A great combination of Nabutete's knowledge and creativity.


Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

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