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IN A RIBBON OF RHYTHM (article first published : 2005-09-30)

Edited by Don Mattera, In a Ribbon of Rhythm is published by Oshun Books, an imprint of Struik Publishers. This collection by South African spoken-word poet Lebogang Mashile is the first publication of her work and it is remarkable.

Lebogang grew up in exile in the USA. She returned to South Africa in 1995 and is best known as presenter of SABC's L'atitude. Her debut collection represents material that has previously only been delivered in the spoken form.

While many local black poets remain parochial and bound by the language of the struggle, Lebogang embraces a varied range of issues and approaches that transcend the confines of political niceties and social expectations. Hers is a fresh, candid voice that has plucked moments from her life, her Africa, and artfully woven them into 'ribbons of rhythm'. She has keen insight into these 'moments', circumnavigating them at first, then penetrating and paring them as effortlessly as the halves of an apple. This fearless poet has amassed an armoury of words that she brandishes in her defiant war on apathy and injustice.

Throughout the collection, the loneliness and disassociation of exile rings out, and her observations can be brutal and despairing. At times her poetry brings to mind the torment and self-flagellation found in the works of the French poet Baudelaire but a stronger theme of hope and joy surmounts these observations and a resolute spirit triumphs.

Lebogang seems unconcerned with the orthodox conventions of poetry, creating her own formats within which to express herself. Poems of disparate length, rhyming poems, even some prose make up this collection, with the overall impression that this is poetry to be shouted out, not just read. Try yelling her poem, Perfection Sucks, for example:

If I had to spend lifetimes / Learning how to clean all of my rooms / Making my days look unlived / where would your laughter sit?

Lebogang Mashile’s incisive style is refreshing. The humour that creeps through in even her darkest poems makes In a Ribbon of Rhythm a pleasure to read. I would like to see this distinctive artist collaborate with a composer to provide a musical platform for her talent.

But enough: buy the book. – Clinton Marius

In a Ribbon of Rhythm ISBN 1 77007 045 1 is published in softcover with flaps. It retails at R99.95.




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