Book Review: Beautiful Shards of the Maiden Pot

Title: Beautiful Shards of the Maiden Pot (2019)
Author: Evelyne Ongogo
Price: Ksh. 600

Publisher: Oba Kunta Octopus
Reviewer: Verah Omwocha 

“The African skies mourned from hopelessness of tearless clouds of African songs. The dry rains bathed the African soils with strange rhythms. Today new skies shall bring forth great songs from Africa lost. Let’s dance to these tunes and bring back the African smiles lost.”

‘Beautiful Shards of the Maiden Pot’ is a collection of 37 poems. They form an anthology which stands and shines on the embers of its own light. They form a pattern of a beautiful song. They are a fight between the past and the future; between tradition and modernity. They stand in black power. They are the pride of a black woman’s melanin. The characters; a jilted man, a scorned woman, a conservatist, a co-wife, a widow, a lover, argue out their cases.

Reading this collection birthed nostalgia at Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino and Song of Ochol; in the manner in which both authors maturely explore oral tradition in poetry. But Evelyne does more than seek to follow in the writings of Okot p’Bitek. She writes the kind of poetry that births hope in the love for the art. That bursts forth life. That marvels at the beauty of life.

Some poems give answers to the issues raised in another poem as in the case of Adera’s demands of Abednego to be loved in a new manner that sews them together. Abenego, a conservatist says; “Teach me to love you in this new way you call decent…I will wear this thing you call decency/And cling to it like coat on a windy day.”

This anthology serves the right quantity of humour and satire;

Auma Ny’omenda/ I am telling you this for free/ Cooking for Otiato nails of a crocodile/ Will not make him stay!…Auma Ny’Omenda, A man is a mountain/Just climb slowly till you reach the peak/If you can’t reach today/Start early tomorrow and another day/ Someday, you will stand atop/And stare at the ground below/The mountain will carry you safely.

The words are colourful and with an evident careful diction;

Nyar Asembo; It is in good faith that I ask/Allow me to make you my guard just for once/A beautiful guard/Round with shape like a mature pumpkin/Allow the seeds to grow before the next season/Let my house for once, bear little cries.

Pleas, lamentations, expression of love and pride, a call to order, a call to peace, a celebration of womanhood, an expression of anger; most of the poems herein are addressed to individuals like Ny’Omenda, Adera, Abednego, Tikisa, Achi, Midkizela, Sambili.  They emphasise on the old – the relations between men and women and paint the beauty of culture and hard work for they scorn laziness.

They explore, in a varied and particular manner, the distance between life and death and the in-betweens; sexual exploration, love, male chauvinism, religious hypocrisy, greed, alcoholism.  

The highly metaphorical language to bring out such deep truths as sexual impotence.

My homestead is today pregnant/ With the size of your image – a man taking pride in how ‘well’ his wife has been well fed in his home; contrasting with when he married her; Yesterday you were only as dry as hewn wood.

Highly authentic in the use of local dialect, which works magic for this anthology, these poems are playful yet bold and unapologetic; witty yet address issues of great weight.  Evelyne writes with so much ease and authenticity. With beautiful illustrations, this incredible African song deserves your attention.  

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