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  Authors and Book Reviews  

June 18 - 24, 2010

 

 Coastweek   Kenya


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'How to Euthanise a Cactus'

Although rooted in a traumatic moment in
Kenya's history, thIS collection OF POEMS from
Stephen Derwent Partington is optimistic ...

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Coastweek -- This book contains fifty five accessible poems from Stephen Derwent Partington - a respected Kenyan poet, poetry editor and judge.

As one reviewer commented:

How to Euthanise a Cactus is an important second collection from one of East Africa’s most talented poets ... Partington combines political engagement with highly crafted writing, inviting readers to glimpse the heady mixture of beauty and violence, humanity and danger that characterises a nation and a region of the brink of both catastrophe and hope’

Approximately half of the poems are those that were written ‘raw’ during Kenya’s widely-publicised Post-Election Violence (PEV) of early 2008, and which were circulated within Kenya, especially via a new group of young writers which formed at the time, ‘Concerned Kenyan Writers’.

These include the popular ‘Praise Poem’.

Coastweek -- cover of 'How to Euthanise a Cactus' by Stephen Derwent Partington.

Kenya’s PEV rocked a country that had previously been known (perhaps naively) as one of the most stable countries on the continent: possibly thousands were killed; hundreds of thousands were displaced, and often remain so.

Occasionally journalistic, sometimes angry, sometimes hopeful, but always powerfully responsible, these PEV poems reflect an insider-outsider’s experience of that time.

These particular PEV poems are not quoted as part of this promotional document, at the writer’s request.

Many of the other poems are more personal, but never fully privatist in that manner which often separates much Western literature from that of the postcolonial world.

These poems reflect a British immigrant’s process of hybridising into a new place, Kenya.

They include the impressive ‘Continental Drift’, which speaks from an out-of-body position about overlaps between cultures and the possibility of contented hybridity rather than that traditional ‘alienation’ and ‘schizophrenia’ which was expressed by earlier generations of immigrants and ‘colonial subjects’ across the globe.

Here is the first, UK-based verse paragraph of ‘Continental Drift’, a multi-perspective poem that later screes effortlessly into East Africa:

The sole of your boot grips a stone, and it begins:
flakes of shale cascading over shale
like swarms of graphite atoms gliding over graphite
as an artist shades a mountain, dark Skiddaw,
that has a figure (rapid scratching showing motion),
slate-grey, almost imperceptible: but squint,
you’ll see he’s screeing down the slope toward the lake.

Other poems that shine in How to Euthanise a Cactus include the witty ‘Cerebrology’, which uses an extended metaphor to ridicule certain (pompous?) and knee-jerk myths of poetic creation, and which deliberately wobbles on the border between light verse and the (ahem!) profound.

In this poem, a slightly self-important medical lecturer discourses on a poet’s brain as it is dissected.

The first four lines begin the process:

Place your fingers round the cranium’s equator,
lift, and notice how it neatly tugs away.
The standard image is a walnut, but in cases of
the poet’s brain we choose instead the pecan.

Stephen is a talented young writer, married into Kenya, who studied at various universities in the UK and Germany, including Oxford.

While in the UK, many of his poems appeared in respected magazines and journals, including The Rialto, The New Welsh Review, Smiths Knoll, Verse, Poetry Wales, Thumbscrew, Iron, Swansea Review, Frogmore Papers, etc.

Since arriving many years ago in Kenya, where he heads a small rural school, Stephen has: contributed journalistic articles to the national press on educational and literary issues;

participated in national radio debates on the same;

acted as poetry editor to Kwani?, ‘East Africa’s only literary journal’; published academic articles in leading journals on Kenyan literature;

Coastweek -- the writer and poet Stephen Derwent Partington.

published a critically-acclaimed Kenya-based poetry collection;

supported other emerging young poets;

written a ‘critical manifesto’ which focuses on the new Kenyan poetry, and a postcolonial, post-election study of the creation of ‘tribe’ in Kenyan literature, both of which are forthcoming.

During the Post-Election Violence in Kenya, he joined, as a participating member, the young writer-activist group, Concerned Kenyan Writers.

He lives and works near Machakos, Kenya, with his young family, until such time as he is – say – deported! ?

Stephen’s regular and short author blog can be found at the ‘inpress online bookshop’ website, where How to Euthanise a Cactus will also be for sale: www.inpressbooks.co.uk

Title: How to Euthanise a Cactus. Genre: Poetry, single-author collection. Author: Stephen Derwent Partington. Format: Paperback, 216x140 mm, 80 pages. Publisher: Cinnamon Press, Wales, UK (www.cinnamonpress.com). ISBN: 9781907090165 (1907090169). Cover Price: £7.99.

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