Jen Hamilton-Emery (2008) editor
Wild Berries Inside and Behind the Yard: An Anthology of Contemporary Botswana Poetry is a joint publication between the British Council and Books Botswana resulting from The New Authors Competition initiative. The anthology contains poems by nine poets. The poets are Gaopotlake Duncan Mongwaketse, whose winning entry, is Guided Lessons in the Park. He has contributed other poems too. The other poets honoured are: Tshepo Tilia Thupa, Betty Sethunya Norkjaer, Godfrey Ntuluki, Rebaone Maradona Moiketsi, Abednico-Kay K Chetelo, Snr, Fatima Natalie Jackson, Tjawangwa "TJ" Dema, and Waff Elliot Nkhwanana.
The book begins with an introduction by Jacob Sam-la Rose, followed by the Winner's acknowledgement by Mongwaketse. Then follows Mongwaketse's winning poem Guided Lessons in the Park; two runner up poems, headed Highly Commended, being Thupa's SMS to Mama; and Norkjaer's African Rain and then a section with more poems under the heading The Rest of the Best of Contemporary Botswana Poetry and finally a section entitled Meet the Poets.
The latter provides photographs of the poets and a brief profile of the poets, their education and training, their aspirations and achievements; and their other engagements besides poetry writing. The poets were mainly born between the 1960s and 1980s. The nine poets have each contributed a varying number of poems - the largest number coming from Thupa and Mongwaketse.
The winning poem, Mongwaketse's Guided Lessons in the Park is about a visit to a wildlife park and the Chobe river, the perceptions of the visitor and the diverse parallels to every day events. Guided Lessons in the Park resonates with the country setting and paints Botswana as an attractive tourist destination. The poem talks of nature and makes very successful parallels with modern human life and lifestyles. It shows an appreciation of local fauna and flora.
Thupa's runner-up poem, SMS to Mama, sounds like a celebration of motherhood (and or womanhood); the unending, firm and unshakeable bond, all-enduring strength of a mother (woman). Motherhood is described in a business-like fashion and paralleled to the disciplined forces serving a nation.
Norkjaer's runner-up African Rain resonates with a celebration of rain that typifies Botswana (and Africa) and rain dependent societies over time.
In Botswana, rain (pula) is so cherished that politicians and those in government use it as a national greeting; it is also the name of a journal, a publishing house, a school and of the currency.
The poetry collection is very rich as each poet tackles a subject and theme of their choice in a poetic style that is distinct and personal. The various poets' diverse social backgrounds, fields of study and occupations, personal life experiences and teachings, challenges and successes, aspirations and inspirations have all added to the wealth and value of the anthology. While each poem is complex and comprehensive in its own right, bringing them together in this anthology has made it an extremely enriching wealth of literature.
This allows readers a collection from which they can draw many conclusions, deduce varying themes, analyse the treatment of different topics, and appreciate an array of poetic styles, techniques and devices. It also allows the reader or critique a pool for examining both the similarities and differences in each, but more apparently in this collection is the influence of the Botswana environmental setting making the collection harmonious as each poem adds on to another creating a
Chetelo's Botswana is a celebration of the country's achievement of remaining a peaceful country despite the absence of peace in other parts of the world. Of special relevance to Botswana is Thupa's Vision 2016 that echoes the nation's vision and the poet beckons by saying:
You are the pin code to prosperity
Let our predictions come true
Soothe the nation of Botswana" (page 37) Also, Thupa's Roy Sesana is a celebration of a hero and the winning of a hero and nature.
"Nature is where he was bred,
Let him play with ostrich
Let him kiss lions goodnight
Let him dance to the tunes of the owl" (page 34).
The poem ends with the pronouncement in court in favour of Roy Sesana.
The poems are also a commentary on international, transnational and cross-border issues such as Thupa's On Menace and the Bloodthirsty Face of Terrorism. Chetelo's peaceful Botswana is contrasted with other parts of the world where terrorism is thrive. The poem's first and last stanzas have elements of alliteration and rhyme. Peace is also central to Mongwaketse's Paradox voices and he successfully, through a variety of powerful metaphors, tackles it from religious differences perspective.
The celebrated performance poet, Dema's Tonight denotes the inevitable aspect of change in life. The poem suggests the speaker who has been a poet is quitting poetry and moving onto singing. Jackson's Love and Abuse can also be seen as denoting change or shifting of positions. About love she writes, "It begins as a blank slate of carbon ... and sculptured by your heart into a simplified masterpiece". While Abuse has it all expressed in Crucified till this hell becomes home. The eminence of change also comes through Mongwaketse's The wall-watch in that during a romantic valentine evening, the lovers who seem not to be concerned about the tick tock of the clock, are actually thinking of "... folding sleeves for matrimony".
A number of poems are about fond memories of people who are no more that linger in people's minds. Examples are Moiketsi's Lingering and Mongwaketse's Grandmother (Relections of May 1993). They seem to be conveying the power of the mind and of the past on the present.
Nkhwanana's Bashi stands out as a very distinct poem in its style. It is a creatively crafted poem of five stanzas, whose every word begins with the letter "b". It takes the reader from young baby Bashi's childhood and events of that stage, up to his adulthood. The poem begins "big bouncing baby boy" and ends Bashi big bold bloke. This is a poem about street kids, like a psychologist describing the various stages of child development; Nkhwanana's poem takes readers intricately through the stages of "street kid" development.
Ntuluki's The Universal Language suggests that music is an international language, one's various moods and feelings can all be cured with singing; the moods are likened to different continents and each has an appropriate song.
The anthology provides a range of poems of varying lengths and style for a diverse background of readers and poetry lovers who love stylistic devices. It is also a special anthology because of the creative manner in which it educates readers about issues and important themes, such as, nature, peace versus terrorism, music, change, development and achieving goals and visions, and heroism. It is well worth reading.