Welcome back to our weekly updates on new book finds. Feeling and Ugly by Danai Mupotsa is a gem.
Feeling and Ugly was published earlier this year by Impepho Press, an independent South African publishing company run by three women—Vangile Gantsho, Sarah Godsell, and Tanya Pretorius. As poets, thinkers, and activists, Gantsho, Godsell, and Pretorius are keenly aware of the need to create a space where African poetry can thrive unencumbered by debilitating barriers of entry, which can sometimes be a reflection of the ways in which the publishing industry thrives on patriarchal norms and assumptions. To that end, they are committed to publishing poetry and non-fiction primarily by African womxn and nurturing a pan-African and intersectional feminist ethos within which writers can share brave and honest stories. Mupotsa’s Feeling and Ugly is one of two titles in the press’s debut catalogue.
Mupotsa is a Harare-born poet and academic living in South Africa. Feeling and Ugly is a collection of poems she composed over two years, from 2016 to 2018. In the book, she evokes the full force of experiences accumulated through different roles and stages of life—as a daughter, teacher, scholar, writer, activist.
The collection is, thus, both an interrogation and a celebration of these experiences and how they open up spaces for empathy. The more we experience the more we have things to share with others the more we can see through their eyes. Through her poems, Mupotsa envisions the kind of politics that could come out of empathy generated by the richness of our experience.
The poems in the collection are loaded with impactful imageries and emotional power. Poems like “Wedding Vows” and “Jealousy” expose the vulnerabilities of marital love. The poem titled “Subject of I” is a manifesto to the self, a declaration of its refusal to deny its brokenness and its capacity for triumph. “Undutiful Daughter” and “Recitatif/For My Daughter” explores the violence of influence that makes intergenerational relationship sometimes problematic.
As with any good poetry, questions about politics in this collection emerges out of the fertile grounds of individual experience. Mupotsa’s poems are as much about big questions regarding love, relationship, family, community, as they are a journey inward. As Lidudumalingani Mqombothi notes in the book’s foreword:
A majority of the poems are deeply personal, about infidelity, sexuality, parenting, and reading them one can feel the depths that Danai has gone into to unearth her own feelings, ones that I imagine many of us would rather not, and then she goes to perform the act of writing these feelings into beautiful poems.
The collection touches on a broad range of issues, each woven from the fabric of imagery and language conveying moments of intimacy and intensities of feelings and emotion.
Mupotsa’s Feeling and Ugly presents femininity as a complex framework for thinking about how private life intersects with politics. It shows how through poetry, something as ubiquitous as feeling becomes a powerful means of conveying as much as transcending the ugly side of life. Under the transformative power of poetic language, the capacity to feel and communicate what one feels become this truly impactful way of channeling pain, memory, and the joyfulness of feminist vision.
Feeling and Ugly is available at African Flavour Books in Braamfontein. Email Imphepho Press ([email protected] )for inquiries about getting copies at other locations.