Shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection
Forty years after his country’s independence from the British, Jack Mapanje has returned to his concern for ordinary people in Africa and in the world at large. These were the themes that made his first collection Of Chameleons and Gods an inspirational book in Malawi and throughout Africa.
The new poems in Beasts of Nalunga are boldly lyrical narratives cunningly crafted in mesmerising spirals. His voice is still ironically cheerful, his tone impotently angry – but confidently measured with wit and humour, however bleak. He fears the saying ‘once a prisoner always a prisoner’, and questions why prisons refuse to go away.
Jack Mapanje was imprisoned without trial or charge by the dictator Hastings Banda for nearly four years, and chronicled his prison experiences in many of the poems of The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison (1993), Skipping Without Ropes (1998) and The Last of the Sweet Bananas: New & Selected Poems (2004). In Beasts of Nalunga the soul is still skipping without rope, and the landscape the soul traverses provides memorable and fresh metaphors and symbols.
Read Beasts of Nalunga as the soul struggling to liberate itself, and fighting against the beasts of silences that were once rampant in the African despotic regime under which Mapanje matured, silences that threaten to continue today, even in distant homes and variegated exiles.
‘Given the regime, Mapanje’s satire can seem strangely generous, impressively blending the memory of terror with a sense almost of farce when he considers his captors’ – Sean O'Brien, Sunday Times.
Jack Mapanje: prison poems
Jack Mapanje reads three poems relating to his arrest and incarceration in Mikuyu Prison while recounting his prison experiences, telling how he and his fellow political prisoners were completely cut off from the outside world, denied visitors for long periods, with their loved ones knowing nothing of their fate. He describes the appalling conditions they had to survive while maintaining their sanity, humanity, self-belief and resolve not to be broken, and how much of that was down to solidarity, singing and grim humour. The poems are: ‘Scrubbing the Furious Walls of Mikuyu Prison’, ‘Skipping Without Ropes’ and ‘Your Tears Still Burning at My Handcuffs, 1991’. Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed him at his home in York in November 2014. This film is from the DVD-anthology In Person: World Poets, filmed & edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce and Neil Astley (2017).