I’m going to make an entry of a comment by the Queen Bee, whose wide knowledge of things African is always a welcome contribution to this site, on an earlier post, because it’s so interesting it deserves the spotlight:
Another example [of poetry based on a technique of double meaning] is the Malawian poet Jack Mapanje. It was only when the second edition of his book of poems Of Chameleons and Gods appeared that he was arrested. It is thought that it took that long for the authorities to unpick the layers of meaning for which his poems were so popular in Malawi, but which were hidden beneath a relatively innocuous facade. There is an interesting discussion of it here.
I was particularly struck by this case because Mapanje is not only a poet but a linguist:
He was co-founder of the Linguistics Association for SADC Universities (LASU), a forum for sharing and exchanging knowledge and research in linguistics amongst the staff and students in the ten universities of Africa south of the Sahara. He was imprisoned for three and a half years by dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, essentially for his poetry, and now lives in the city of York, England, with his family.
Jack has published three books of poetry: Of Chameleons and Gods (H.E.B, 1981), The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison (H.E.B, 1993) and Skipping Without Ropes (Bloodaxe Books, 1998). He has co-edited Oral Poetry from Africa: an anthology (Longmans, 1983), Summer Fires: New Poetry of Modern Africa (H.E.B, 1983), The African Writers’ Handbook (African Book Collective, 1999). He has recently edited Gathering Seaweed: African Prison Writing (H.E.B, 2002). The Last of the Sweet Bananas: New & Selected Poems, is to be published by Bloodaxe Books by Spring 2004. His prison memoir tentatively titled ‘The Whispers We Shared’ will appear by 2005.
I would like to read his poetry, not least because I love his book titles; how can you resist The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison or The Last of the Sweet Bananas?