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Saturday, September 19, 2020

A strong poetic voice The Phoenix: A Collection of Poems by Juka Jabang Fulladu Publishers, 2012, 78 pages

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In 2006 when she published together with Matilda Johnson and Therese Ndong Jatta, Repeal, another anthology of poems, I wrote that the poems were the early voices of Gambian feminist literature. But I have since then had a second reading of that book, and now conclude that in fact, Mrs Jabang’s poems were more moving and relevant than mere feminist moaning; for her, she goes a step further to champion African womanhood. She extols the virtues, beauties, strides and tenacity of our women. And she does so very well.

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In this brand new collection issues last month by the very capable Fulladu Publishers of Fodeh Baldeh, Mrs Jabang entertains, educates and elucidates on sundry issues. Take for instance, the poem ‘I Am Leaving’ (p.12). This is a soliloquy of a woman, forced tinto divorce because the husband has taken a new, second wife. In this poem, the woman bemoans her suffering since the husband had a second wife which act ‘tear my-self worth down’ and ‘No faith is left for you/In me’. The woman then goes into a tirade of sour grapes: ‘Tell her I have been/The supreme devourer/Of your bud and bloom’ (p.13); in other words, the new wife will inherit nothing but an empty pipe, void and limpid. Here the serious issues of irrational polygamy is tackled but in an almost hilarious manner.

‘The Injunction’ (p.140) tackles another serious issue concerning women: clitoridectomy. This matter has been much written on, and so  it will be hard to say anything on it that had not been said. But the poet brings freshness to it by allowing the victim herself to speak, again through a soliloquy. The girl sufferer laments the plot hatched by ‘patriarchs’ to extinguish ‘the venomous inferno’, in other words, to cease  her sensual rights so that she will become a mere ‘stony proselyte’ (p.15): submissive, compliant and kowtowing, even in suffering. The poem has a profound glare of pathos, because the poet uses powerful imagery, and first person voice to elicit our sympathy and pity.

If the pathos in ‘The Injunction’ is solid, so is the bathos in ‘Irreplaceable’ (p.18) irrefutable. Here, the poet moves away from addressing a serious issue to the more mundane: a paean to the mother, all mothers, who are indeed irreplaceable.  Here the poet moves from lamentation to celebration.

The celebration of a coronation is hardly worth writing home about because coronation is itself a celebration. However, the latter poems in the book such as ‘In His Eyes I am Weak’ (p.64) and ‘Hope is a Gift’ (p.75) follow the sanguine and exhilarating path. Here hope is touted and raised skywards; the poet contends that despite the foibles and hurdles, African women can thrive and perform as well as men.

I must now address Mrs Jabang’s flawless use of metaphor, assonance, alliteration, imagery and comparison among much other figurative diction to colour her poems in the most beautiful of hues. In ‘The Fold is Muddle’ (p.530), a woman forced into conjugal retirement laments nostalgically the old good days of early and hot love when ‘chaste and flawless’ she and her hubby cuddled in the ‘raw savannah hut’; this latter personification of the ecological landscape raises the bar of poetic expression to Olympian heights. And consider the imagery that inheres in these lines: ‘…How I was/Like your farmland/Arable and promising/Waiting for you to till,/Burrow and cultivate’. The image of a virgin land been put into good use, harvested and then abandoned to fallow has a double entendre also of how women remain the guardians of the food basket as cultivators. 

The poet has a strong command of poetic diction; this cannot surprise us she is a holder of a BA (Hons) in English from Fourah Bay College, and a most experienced civil administrator and management specialist. In her poems, Mrs Jabang becomes an exponent and proponent at one go, of African womanhood as symbolised by their stoicism and tenacity and toil. 

This new anthology is a milestone addition to Gambian literature and it is worth reading. It is available at Timbooktoo.

Author: Hassoum Ceesay

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