Thursday, April 14, 2011

National Poetry Month: Jack Mapanje

"The Cheerful Girls at Smiller's Bar, 1971"

Jack Mapanje

The prostitutes at Smiller's Bar beside the dusty road

Were only girls once in tremulous miniskirts and oriental

Beads, cheerfully swigging Carlsbergs and bouncing to

Rusty simanje-manje and rumba booming in the jukebox.

They were striking virgins bored by our Presbyterian

Prudes until a true Presbyterian came one night. And like

To us all the girls offered him a seat on cheap planks

In the dark backyard room choked with diesel-oil clouds

From a tin-can lamp. Touched the official rolled his eyes

To one in style. She said no. Most girls only wanted

A husband to hook or the fruits of Independence to taste

But since then mini-skirts were banned and the girls

Of Smiller's Bar became "ugly prostitutes to boot!"

Today the girls still giggle about what came through

The megaphones: the preservation of our traditional

etcetera ....

"The Cheerful Girls at Smiller's Bar 1971" appears in The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry, edited by Gerald Moore and Ulli Beier (originally published in 1965; new revised edition, 2007). Poet Jack Mapanje (born in 1944) studied at Malawi and London universities. He was the founder of ODI, a journal of Malawi literature. When his first collection Of Chameleons and Gods was re-published in 1987 he was arrested and held in Mikuyu jail for three-and-a-half years without charge or trial, and then released without explanation. He moved to England and published a collection, The Chattering Magpies of Mikuyu Prison, in 1993.

No comments: