The poetry of Linathi Makanda is both universal and about searing personal experiences. I think each reader will find something here that particularly resonates for themselves. Often poems can each be read as stand alone experiences whether or not they are linked with others. This compilation cries out to be read as one poem and journey.
The four parts begin with ‘Love Rising’ and here the poet’s thoughts may at first seem to concern the common enough subject of poems, looking for love and yearning to be wanted for oneself. The poet is young and confident. She trusts in her love and her lover.
‘.. I am liberated.
Let us join hands on arrival, let us celebrate.’
But even in early pages there are suggestion that this is not going to be about starry-eyed love somehow resolving itself. The poet is already thinking beyond her situation to that of other women.
‘My mother never talks about love
Only about the men she’s lost.’
I was also intrigued that next to a joyous poem about her lover she places memories of her grandfather, good memories, which will be a contrast to her later bitter thoughts on men.
Now the story evolves into one well known to too many, one of hurt, betrayal and self doubt while struggling to put on a brave front. The poet offers lines about thoughts people hide tightly within and do not share even with those they trust ( … ‘My mother doesn’t know’..). The poems are not complex, the language is the easy rhythm of spoken English, yet time and again Makanda can express the universal feelings of self doubt and insecurity in a few plain words. This question, for instance, asked by all wounded souls, will inform the rest of the book.
Why can’t you see me?
In the bitter lines of ‘Internal Uprising’, we see doubt and hurt rise to anger, anger directed to oneself as much as anyone. As the narrator curls up into depression, her thoughts turn again to where she could surely seek support, her mother. But she cannot ask:
‘How do I tell my mother I attract men who do not stay?
How do I tell her I attract men like my father?’
In the midst of lines about blaming all on men, she can still see that they are not the whole crux of her turmoil.
‘Sometimes these men do not hurt us.
We hurt ourselves.’
And then she is taken down and taken very low.
It smells like it wasn’t my fault but it feels like it was.
At this point, I just stopped reading. I felt I had seen something too private and raw for some reader or other like me to stumble over even in a published book. I picked it up again because the poet has chosen to express the dark hour known to far too many women, and so it is for knowing.
Because within this book each reader will find lines that resonate with their own memories, experiences and dark hours, I think it is important to know that the last part concerns Hope. The narrator thrashes her way back above chasms of suicidal thoughts by caring about herself and expressing hope through art and poetry for fellow women. She is writing now:
‘ .. A letter to all the mothers who have daughters that hurt when on-one is watching.’
When No One Is Watching is an emotional journey for the reader and one well worth taking.
Linathi Thabang Makanda is a South African-based writer of poetry and prose. She strives to portray genuine emotion through her writing and photographic art. She believes in creating a home, through her crafts, for people trying to find their voices. Her website also offers work beyond her poems such as the videos Letters To The Ones We Miss. (Please be mindful of the trigger warnings.)
Where to find When No One is Watching, by Linathi Makanda.
Publisher Odyssey Books, from BookDepository (free shipping worldwide), also Bookshop Org, Waterstones, Amazon (in Kindle too) and Barnes and Noble . (The images here are courtesy of the author and the publisher, Odyssey Books).
I encourage you to also consider the poetry of Loic Enkinga. How to Wake a Butterly can be found at Bookshop Org, at BookDepository (free shipping), Waterstones, Amazon in Kindle and also in paperback, and Barnes and Noble, among others. My review of this collection can be read here. This too is published by Ensorcellia, an imprint of Odyssey Books where you can find more fine poetry.
Mark is the guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.