From distant land, author goes on a nostalgic journey

Cynthia Abdallah

Poet Cynthia Abdallah hosts a public reading of poems from her two books at Soma Nami Books bookshop at Greenhouse Mall in Nairobi on December 15, 2021. 

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • The Author’s Feet is a collection of 18 poems that carries voices from a distant land.
  • From the poems, the persona takes us with her on a journey.

Book Title: The Author’s Feet

Author’s Name: Cynthia Abdallah

Genre: Poetry

Year of Publication: 2021

Reviewer: Oyoo Mboya

Seldom can an author marry the title of their book with its content than Abdallah in this anthology. The Author’s Feet is a collection of 18 poems — more of a chapbook — that carries voices from a distant land.

As is with the title, the feet are symbolic to the sojourns of the author. The places they have had to travel from — and to — collecting stories and scents; Hope sinks with the loud tick of the clock-in, What When. It is through their feet that we get to partake the glories and gloom of yonder worlds. The feet are thus the vessels through which the tales travel to us.

From the poems, the persona takes us with her on a journey. She appears to trace her ancestry to Turbo, where the father had a tranquil, rustic life characterised by livestock keeping - in, ‘My Father.’ Furthermore, from the same poem, we learn that the persona and other of her siblings have since left home; He hugs us when we arrive after months/And sometimes years of being away. In The Here and There, they say; Baba calls to ask about my adventures in the new land…

Where are they?

In ‘En esta noche sin luces,’ the author answers the question. She is in El Paraiso – a Spanish word that loosely translates to, ‘the Paradise’. She, in many of the poems, describes the beauty of scenery, in this heaven on earth.

The beautiful colour of the clouds, the carefree birds and butterflies, gliding through the vast skies, the fireflies and waterfalls. These spaces of serene scenes are contrasted with the other chaotic places of the world, in the poem, The Rummagers; Ferret through filthy bins/Unfazed by the stench…

Cynthia passes for a romanticist bard with most of her poems characterised by a heavy aura of nostalgia. She glorifies the good, gone, golden days with words that evoke a strong sensation and longing to go back. To rewind time. In such poems as ‘Laura,’ ‘In the Mist,’ ‘Where the River says Goodbye’ and ‘The Musunzu Tree,’ she engulfs her audience with poignant glories of a distant past.

Away from being a romanticist, Abdallah like all great composers, is philosophical. The poem, ‘Death,’ composed for her grandmother, asks the age long question; what happens after death? Is there a green garden of eternity awaiting fallen humans or – is death the ultimate end? In, ‘The Woman in a White Dress,’ she takes on religion and its role in making humanity better. She asks if religion is but a plastic mask that hides the turmoil underneath. Does religion ever offer genuine happiness or, like a bridge in a dream, it is hope that keeps us through the passage of time?

The poem, ‘Sometimes’ addresses the question of uncertainties of existence. No one is ever sure about what awaits them. We are living on the precipice. Sometimes we are. Sometimes we are not. It further highlights modern world challenges like the coronavirus; a quiet smile plastered behind my black mask because Covid-19 is still here. The poet thus does not belong only to the past. They are aware of present-day challenges and address them in their art.

Rhyme as a crucial element of Victorian poetry has since been abandoned. Most contemporary poetry identify with free verse, putting content over form. Cynthia, in the last poem ‘El Avila,’ experiments with rhyme. The style seems to have been achieved with little effort and the regular scheme – in structure - doesn’t obscure the content.

The metaphorical, musical tale of The Author’s Feet, is more score than manuscript and, as no two performances of the same musical score are alike, no two readings of The Author’s Feet prompt exactly the same reaction.

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