take two - no free sleeping, in the name of amandla & magicstan fires There are a few things I know for sure about 35-years old poet Vonani Bila. Apart from him being rooted in politics of social delivery and an art (especially sculpting and pottery) enthusiast, Bila loves to write long epic poems that if they don't touch you in the first two stanzas will still do so on the last two ones. Poems in the tradition of the Afrikaans lament Die Toespraak van Gagool. The Afrikaaners were quite creative with their lies that's why so many years later Agriculture students still use In die Tuin as a readily-available clue to parts of their agrarian paper. These excludes the often-seem-lost Breyten Breytenbach whose muses come trapped in an eternal linguistic transition.
The English, with their myriad of famous bards did try to be the poets laureates of the world, going to the extent of converting dialogues from William Shakespeare's plays into poems. Mark Anthony's eulogising of slain Emperor Julius Caesar became a poem worthy of memory. While everybody knows Shakespeare was a good playwright without being an influencial or brilliant poet.
Then there was a Sepedi lament titled Mahloko ba Mokopane about a school bus accident that claimed a lot of lives of Bapedi children and the Spanish Sala Y Gomez about a ship sent by the King to distant seas that sunk with only one survivor names Gomez. Bila most often writes epics along those lines, storytelling that would have shamed T.S.Elliot and Emily Bronte to early retirement. Laments that would have made religious John Donne look like a serial killer instead
of a death-defyier (sic).
Bila's latest anthology Handsome Jita (Handsome Dude) is made up of all the anger, venom, the serum and the love he's been holding captive, spitting the anger and venom, and trying to alleviate the sudden-death with well-calculated serum since he conspired with Donald Parenzee and Alan Finlay to put together No Free Sleeping (Botsotso Publishing), his solo In the name of Amandla and little-known Magicstan Fires, both published by Timbila Poetry Project, an NGO he founded in 2000.
To really do a review of Handsome Jita would be to revisit the two books Bila wrote alone, which would be a waste of ink and postspace (sic). I have done reviews of one of them before and therefore will spare some poems from there the rod without risking spoiling them.
However there are few pointers worth noting; Mmbengwa,
a poem about an extremely horny mad man about whom Bila writes, 'mmbengwa/ starts a fight when villagers laugh at him/ he calls himself;/ nkuzi malangeni/ nkalakatha/ he threatens to cut women's and children's throats with a sword/ but he digs a grave all alone/ everytime the police come to arrest him/ he swears, mouth full of shit/ he tells them to go to hell/ he threatens he will cut his dick/ with a minora razor blade/ squeeze his balls with pliers...' is included and stretches to six pages. Jo'burg based poet Kabelo Mofokeng confessed to love the poem so much that he once said it's one of those pieces of writing he dissects when chilling with buddies.
A poem titled Horrors of Phalaborwa was written in the event of the murder of destitute fired farmworker Nelson Chisale 'allegedly' by a man who the High Court of Appeals now believes he didn't do it, Mark Scott-Crossly. Okay, a father died, children are today orphaned and the courts say the only white man who owned a farm and lions, which devoured poor Chisale when he was thrown into their enclosure did not 'kill him'. Scott-Crossly is due out of prison where he was serving a long term next year. Horrors of Phalaborwa profiles that story without anaesthetic to guarantee you feel every pinch and prick, 80% less pain than Chisale felt as the lions buried their teeth and sharp paws into his skinny frame. The epic poem covers five pages of the 117 paged book.
Then there are socio-political commentaries like Mandela, Have You Wondered which questions the failure of every bureaucratic scheme conceived without love or consideration for the beneficiary. Mr President, let the babies Die was relevant when the Thabo Mbeki regime was denying pregnant mothers nevaripin and the most of often lack of much needed medical stocks in public clinics. It's still relevant because even the current HIV/AIDS Programme is as badly structured it resembles a pyramid scheme where the chief beneficiary is Dr Matthias Rath and his cronies.
Handsome Jita is made up of 41 poems with enough venom to drive a black mamba to shame. Don't be misled by the innocent cover of a handsome jita standing infront of his corrugated iron shack - looks are deceiving - for real.
The book is published by University of Kwazulu-Natal Press and it's poetry. This at the time when word on the streets is that poetry books don't sell. Handsome Jita is dedicated to Bila's father who passed away 18 years ago, his mother and the village I like to call Betlehem (Shirley Village in Limpopo Province).
It retails for R150,00 (US$21,42) and orders can be placed at timbila@telkomsa.net
It's a fine, well put together anthology so grab a copy for your own private library. Sadly if you have the three books that feed into it, you are better off with the originals. For the rest, you won't miss it - until it's sold out.

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