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Tuesday, 30 October 2007

A picture of grandpa

I remember the first story my daughter wrote.

She had only just started walking and she was in diapers.

She brought me a piece of paper.

I could see her excitement.

"Dad, I've written a picture," she said. "It's grandpa. He has a tooth ache."

I looked at what she'd written. But all I could see were spidery lines and squiggles.

Monday, 15 October 2007

[Blog Review] The Mind of a Working Writer

Emmanuel Sigauke teaches English at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento and is one of the Cosumnes River Journal’s editors. He is also founder and editor of Munyori Poetry Journal, which publishes poems by established and emerging writers from all over the world.

His own poems and other writings have been published in journals and magazines that include Virtual Writer, Slow Trains Journal, Ibhuku and AfricanWriter.com.

His blogs, Wealth of Ideas, Chisiya Echoes: New Zimbabwe Poetry and Namatsiwangu give an insight into the mind of a working writer.

Chisiya Echoes is the oldest of the three and is a collection of over 370 poems in English that Sigauke has been writing since February 2006. The second blog, Namatsiwangu, was started in November 2006 and is made up of 10 Shona poems.

Wealth of Ideas, which is the focus of this article, is three months old. So far, it has about 20 posts of varying length. The posts focus on Sigauke’s observations on African literature and poetry.

One of the things that make Wealth of Ideas interesting is that it shows how a working writer can use the blog as a creative tool, as an aid to writing and creativity.

For example, in one of his posts, Sigauke tells us, “I blog my poetry first, which means I create and publish my work instantaneously”.

He emphasizes that the poems he creates in this manner are drafts.

“I am aware that this is some form of drafting. I always transfer the work to a local document for editing. Once the poem sounds polished, I send it to journals,” he says.

He points out that one of the effects this has had on his work is that it has allowed him to produce more poetry than he would have done had he not been blogging.

“Look at the blogged pieces as the raw materials for high-quality poetry,” he says.

Wealth of Ideas also reveals the link that exists between visual images and poetry.

The blog has a small collection of photographs, one of these is of a bird’s nest on a tree in Capitol Park, Sacramento. Sigauke’s brief comment about the nest reads and sounds like a poem. It has the rhythm, the rhyme and the effect of a poem.

“The nest is a poem that no words (even these) can build yet. But what bird, under what influence, would build a nest this close to the ground?” he asks.

Another of the things that is engaging about Wealth of Ideas is that Sigauke uses it as a writer’s notebook or a journal. This gives the reader the feeling of eavesdropping, the feeling of listening in to a person talking to himself, the feeling of watching a mind brainstorming about literature, books, poetry and life.

You see ideas being formed. You see those ideas giving birth to other ideas and possibilities. You get the feeling you are standing over his shoulders and watching him write and you want to tell him, “This sounds good… What happens next?”

One of the reason why Sigauke’s blog entries have this effect is because they are short and packed with concepts, associations and allusions.

For example, in another post he starts off by talking about reading, about how he reads and about the effect that this has on him as a writer. He then talks about John Steinbeck’s description of a fog in The Chrysanthemums and the associations he has been able to make between that description and an event in his own life.

“I am taken back to Chipinge or Rusitu valley; I am reminded of the morning fog there, especially on that day when I arrived at Chipinge bus terminus and found out that all the day’s buses had already left and the next troupe of buses would not arrive until the next day. I slept at the bus rank in the rain. All night I shivered; all night I shared a talk about life with a vendor from Bulawayo who had slept at this place too many times to worry about a little bit of rain.”

If you have been to Zimbabwe or some other parts of Africa, Asia or South America, the scene Sigauke describes will be familiar. You want him to go on. You want to find out how it was for him. You want to find out what happened next.

He does go on in his own inimitable way.

“The fog is what I remember most about the morning of the night the rain pounded me at Chipinge. To the east of the town lie mountain ranges which seem to guard the town from some possible intrusion. On the morning I watched the fog first veiling the ranges, these sleeping lions, then the veil rose to cover the whole valley like the lid Steinbeck describes. It gets better; when the sun arose, the fog vanished, but then some low-lying beastly clouds settled on the peaks of the mountains and spent some hours feasting on the ranges. The longer I looked at the white beasts, the longer the bus delay seemed. I did not leave Chipinge until a day later, after spending another night at the open terminus, soaked on the outside, arid inside. Then from somewhere between insistent night rain and greedy beastly clouds, the self harvested new hope, the beginning of a new journey, already bruised by the grazing clouds.”

His account is captivating. It leaves you wanting more. It makes you want to pat Sigauke on the shoulder to get his attention so that you can tell him to go back to it and work on it a little bit more and see if he can’t turn it into a short story or a piece of creative non-fiction piece stands on its own.

All this is part of what’s positive about Emmanuel Sigauke’s blog, Wealth of Ideas.

However, possibly because he sees the blog as a personal platform for ideas he wants to gather and work on later, a personal platform that happens to be accessible to everyone who has access to the internet… possibly because he sees himself as more of a poet than a blogger, Wealth of Ideas doesn’t have the polished feel of his poetry blogs, Chisiya Echoes and Namatsiwangu.

The paragraphing could be tweaked up a little bit more.

The blog is also riddled with spelling mistakes and other typographical errors. This is understandable. It’s a common pitfall of writing on the huff. But if errors of this nature can’t be avoided, you can at least go back to the entries and correct them later. Sigauke does not seem inclined to do that. For example, in a different post he tells us he’s been reading Dambudzo Marechera’s Symetry of Mind when he meant to say Cemetery of Mind.

The most challenging aspect of the blog is also one which sets it apart from a lot of other blogs that talk about literature and writing: Sigauke’s tendency to make very short entries that are densely packed with allusions to a diverse range of concepts. The thing I found particularly challenging about these is that Sigauke does not really define the concepts or adequately relate them to the main topic of each blog entry.

For example, in one of his most recent posts, he writes about Valerie Tagwira’s novel, The Uncertainty of Hope. He suggests that there is conflict between the language(s) Tagwira uses in the novel and the message behind the novel. He says this leads to writing that is “a bit journalistic or anthropological.”

This is an intriguing observation but it’s so raw and undeveloped that a person reading the comment can only respond to it with more questions, questions like, “When a novel is “a bit journalistic” or “anthropological” what does it do? What does it not do? In what way is The Uncertainty of Hope “journalistic” or “anthropological”. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Why?”

Sigauke has promised to answer these and other questions in the book review he’s going to write after he finishes reading the novel. I look forward to reading the review with as much interest as I look forward to more of the entries he will make on Wealth of Ideas.

This article was first published by OhmyNews International.