‘Serurubele’, Katleho Kano Shoro’s debut poetry collection, is so multilayered that even after a full week of carrying it to work with me, I am still peeling off new layers of it as I reread the poems. Or rather, new layers are being peeled off me. One revelation that this book gave me is that our languages are as much a part of us as our names. In the poem ‘Sesotho sa ka will not be written in italics’, she asserts that her Sesotho will not be bent or slanted:
‘Next to English, Sesotho sa ka, too,
will have her back up straight’
This poem rebuked me in many ways because in my own writing, I tend to italicize words that are in African languages, to the point of adding a glossary where I explain the words for English-speaking readers. I realise now that it is not necessary. Imagine if we took it as far as typing our African names in italics? What would we be saying about our mother tongues, that we are bending them in reverence to a superior language?
Such deep revelations about identity do not come from ourselves. In fact, we are still learning from those who came before us, those who have lived long enough to impart knowledge as well as those who have left this world, those whose names we bear as our own. In the poem ‘Ode to Badimo le Baholo’, Katleho says the following:
‘We think these are simply our revelations.
But it took many to turn the lights on.
There will be many keeping the lights on.’
There is no ‘lightbulb moment’ in a child’s life where they discover the truth about their people. We are taught by our parents le Baholo (the elders) that we show respect in certain ways, conduct ourselves in certain ways and that those ways of living are not ‘backward’ at all but a part of us. I remember in high school when a classmate of mine told me she called her mother by her first name instead of ‘Mom.’ I smiled politely but I knew that was something I would never adopt in my home. Saying ‘Mama’ is a form of reverence to my mother, a verbal thank you note for her sacrifice. I feel this in my bones when I say ‘na khensa’ (thank you) because I am thanking all those who came before her.
I know the wealth of knowledge I would carry with me if I were to sit at my grandmother’s feet right now and ask her questions about life. ‘Ode to Badimo le Baholo’ is a celebration of the people who have taught us how to be. Katleho says it best in the second stanza of the poem:
‘there have been people in our corner
from the days we wore nappies.
People who began the process,
hoping these would be our revelations, our revolutions.’
A recurrent theme in this book is that of invocation. By definition, invocation means ‘the action of invoking something or someone for assistance or as an authority’ or ‘the summoning of a deity or the supernatural.’
In this book, Katleho manages to do both of the above. In the first poem, titled ‘In the name of poetry’, Katleho calls upon poetry to roll out the proverbial welcome mat to readers:
‘I present both hopelessness and moments that
the taxi mgosi that makes me write.
I even offer you these butterflies of mine, if
you’ll accept the invite.
In the name of poetry
I speak with you
in the hope that you find your own words,’
The first poem is so welcoming and so affirming that the rest of the book feels like settling into a home that is both new and yet still yours.
The theme of invocation continues through several poems in the book, most notably ‘A young debriefing for Sankara’, where Katleho calls upon Mr Thomas Sankara:
‘our visionary martyr
we resurrect your cotton-clad spirit
We, the children of women and workers
whom you once let bloom in it.’
She later calls him ‘Upright Man’, a beautiful reference which spills over into the next poem of the book where she speaks to the men of our generation, calling upon them to be upright, to stand up and do the right thing:
legacies for boys
curved spines will
to love UPRIGHT.’
I am in awe.
To Katleho Kano Shoro MA, thank you for the precious gift that you have given the world through this book. I remember the moments before your book launch on 24 August 2017 at Exclusive Books Rosebank Mall (I am being overly inclusive with the details here because I always want to remember that day). You, Bhud’ Vus’umuzi Phakathi and I sat huddled together and talked about the book before the panel discussion. It was almost a prayer before proceedings, a prelude to the main events of the day. I am truly grateful to have had a chance to glimpse at the magic before the rest of the world could. I am still carrying ‘Serurubele’ everywhere I go. There are so many caterpillar moments in my life that are learning to transition into butterflies because of this book. Kea leboha ausi Kano.
Photograph by Wazi Kunene.
Book review by Nkateko Masinga