Review | What I’ve Been Reading Lately, Koleka Putuma, Maya Angelou and more
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
i hope everybody is still treating themselves kindly in light of the new year. i hope you are still listening to yourself. it is so important. i am trying to find out what is important to me, whose voice, whose words, which part of the world, which part of my life etc. the likes of Maya Angelou and others reviewed in this post are included in that faction, i now can say. i’ve been committed to reading what i want post-graduation. it is important that i give myself that space as writer rather than as student.
i feel like i spent the majority of undergrad buying, storing, hoarding books in the hope that i will have spare time to read them all. i now have a bookcase and a growing library of literature that i have collected. and yet i still buy. and more, this year i have set myself a goal to always buy the book. i have told myself not to consider my bank account. (nobody ever collapsed financially due to book buying). i want to be well versed in the words of those that i am in need of, i need to be able to unlearn some (not all) of the narratives a russell group english literature university education has given me to memorise.
so. here is a first of a chain of my reflections of that unlearning. also, i use the term review, i think i mean reflect. i present some reflections of some of the literatures i have decided to let influence my mind, thinking, writings.
de books | Maya Angelou, Koleka Putuma, Warsan Shire and George Orwell together and cute on my living room floor
i have been reading the words of Koleka Putuma in her ‘Collective Amnesia’.
Warsan Shire in her ‘Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth’
George Orwell and his ‘Down and Out in London and Paris’
and Maya Angelou in her ‘Letter to My Daughter’
Koleka Putuma, Collective Amnesia (2017)
For you, the ocean is for surfboards, boats and tans
and all the other cool stuff you do under there in your bathing suits and goggles.
we have come to be baptised here.
we have come to cleanse ourselves here.
we have come to connect our living to the dead here.
Our respect for water is what you have termed fear.
The audacity to trade and murder us over water
then mock us for being scared of it.
a good friend and wonderful poet Sumia shared Koleka Putuma’s work on her instagram story. Sumia shared only snippets of a larger story and i already felt, from that glimpse, that it was about or for me, somehow. i ordered the poetry collection on amazon quickly.
Putuma is a South African, an award-winning poet, a theatre-maker and a new inspiration of mine. I have always felt that I focussed my analysis more heavily on form than any of my peers as an english student. this is a poetry book for me then. Putuma pushes form to the absolute limits of the space that she has in her book. Collective Amnesia discusses womxnhood, blackness, history, grief, mental health, faith, love, homophobia and the unlearning of much. i think, it is a history book. a testament to the undercover lives that must be lived, unwillingly. it should be archived and it should be read aloud at protests and it should remind us of ourselves when we slip into the learned behaviours that a generation before us should not have fed us.
favourite poems: Water, Mountain, Aviophobia, Growing Up Black and Christian
Warsan Shire, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (2011)
Your grandfather is from another generation-
Russian degrees and a school yard Cuban national anthem,
communism and religion. Only music makes him cry now.
from Old Spice
i do not know what took me so long to read this. The title always intrigued me because motherhood and the literatures around it always fascinate me. i guess i also shied away from Shire because of the hype around her. i always do this. but i am glad i got there in the end because this small collection of poetry tells a powerful narrative.
the diaspora daughter narrative is a favourite of mine, one i sometimes feel excluded from since both of my parents were born in the UK. there is an intimate world that Shire invites us into when the collection moves from sexual discovery to war to home(s) to ancestors to faith and back again over and over again. i don’t think any of these worlds are conflicting or compatible. Shire’s poetry is delicate and confrontational and unafraid and womanly. for me, the delicate handling of Somali Womxn experience, proverbs and generational difference/ cycle was beautiful. it is a short read, the type you pick up again and find more and more the likeness of your own family, journey, self in the book.
favourite poems: Old Spice, You Were Conceived, Beauty.
George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)
i picked this copy off the table on my way to the counter to pay for others. i deserved a new book. and one which wasn’t remotely about me. i’ll be honest, i love Orwell’s writing style and have probably let it influence my own in ways i have not meant to. but i wanted to read something that wasn’t about black pain or struggle. so it was going to be detached from me. and then i realised that Down and Out in Paris and London is an autobiographical account of Orwell’s experience of the poverty line in London and Paris and i realised that my own financial situation made this narrative hyper-familiar. HA. i kept reading anyway.
my dissertation has opened up a space in my heart and my bookshelf for autobiographical writings so this was a pleasure. It actually works a lot like Maya Angelou’s autobiographical series. It is a fictional autobiographical work. and it is honest, it weaves humour with real pain. the hunger and desperation reads just as well as the audacious moments, the ridiculousness of the miracles that life bestows upon us. Orwell’s depiction of poverty in Paris is particularly favourable over his description of it in London. i am glad he started the story in Paris actually. i found the humour, the closeness, the riskiness of the Parisian tales a lot more interesting. but then again maybe this is because i was born in London, and have crossed the bridges over the Thames and am frightened to think of sleeping there. It ends perfectly too, with retrospect and reflection and suggestion about what we might do to lessen or better the poverty that Orwell had to encounter. it definitely gave me a different perspective:
Nevertheless, it does suggest a way of improving the status of tramps withoutpiling new burdens on the rates. And the solution must, in any case, be something of this kind. For the question is, what to do with men who underfed and idle; and the answer – to make them grow their own food- imposes itself automatically.
from Chapter 37
Maya Angelou, Letter To My Daughter (2008)
If I insist on being pessimistic, there is always tomorrow. Today, I am blessed.
from Chapter 11
what is there to say? i treat every Maya Angelou book like gold, i hold onto it and try and try and make it last as long as possible, even when down to the last pages. Letter To My Daughter is a series of writings, through personal essay, through poetry, through memoir which allow Angelou to speak to all of the daughters she has not given birth to though has mothered.
As someone well-versed in the autobiographical series, this book became an extension to them. read this after you have read them all. You learn a lot of beautiful things about Angelou too, like why she writes all of her stories on a yellow pad and what life-threatening thing happened somewhere between the first and second autobiographies. Angelou withdraws a lot from some of the experiences documented in the series but here, in this letter written for her many daughters, she realises the necessity to include them, to teach us. Every travel comes with a lesson she learnt the hard way and won’t let us embarrass ourselves with. (my favourite is the Moroccan lesson).
i think my relationship and connection with Maya Angelou runs deep, but this book helped to confirm that for me- every place i am travelling to, want to travel to or have travelled to seems to feature here. i truly believe that there is something about the way that Angelou writes that encourages each of us to find ourselves, concerns, voices in the narratives. this book was a guide on how to become, and be unafraid of doing so. It says ‘look, i have done this thing, made this mistake and still lived and still can find the words to share it with you’.
and the books i read daily
i finished the book of Isaiah and felt urged to begin Ecclesiastes instead of following through to Jeremiah as i might have from a chronoloical perspective. i think if ever the spirit guides you, go with it.
this is big for me, i have consecutively failed to finish the book of Isaiah. i have tried several times and i don’t think i am able to surpass the 20th chapters. i always quit and find myself in the psalms somehow. i considered it a spiritual blockage. so i decided to pray and persevere. i think it is a difficult book to digest. it is prophecy heavy and got confusing for me. ultimately, i learnt about the life we are capable of having, the royalty that we came from, fell away from and need to be obedient to in order to return. it feels like a documentation of trial and error and commentary on how the Israelites needed (and need) to stop complicating the walk with Yah, ignore distraction and simply Love the instruction of Yah. (42:44).
and the book of Ecclesiastes came at a beautiful time of my manifestation and consideration of my youth and my relationship with appointed timing, waiting, trusting.
To all there is an appointed time, even a time for every pursuit under the shamayim:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace; and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek , and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear and a time to sew; a time to be silent and a time to speak; a time to for battle , and a time for peace.
Thank you for reading what I write.