A Drawing is Worth a lot of Noise

In my many years of blogging I have written about filmmakers, novelists and many other artists but I just haven't come across an illustrator whose work I could put my pulse on and commentate. Well, that's before I spend sleepless nights indulging in Tsepo Gumbi's Noise. Ja, you heard me right, Noise = lerata = umsindo = geraas. The book actually makes noise from the cover page. And it's a noise that never stops until the back cover which is make up of something - I use something with artistic care - that could fetch millions of rands if it was on canvas and sold overseas as what goes on in the head of a manic depressed person.

At the end of the day Noise is a book of poetry with tons of illustrations; so as I go through the saucy words I will also engage with the illustrations. I will try to commentate drawings as if I know something about them except drawing my own. "Gakwi, hope my words inspire you to write more - tsepo gumbi', that's how my copy is on the first page - autographed [advantages of being a reviewer]

Gumbi's poetry can be classified street; street as in township talk, ghetto talk, ghetto surreality and reality.His clever use of metaphors stands out throughout the book. Human organs can best represent situations outside of ourselves. When we talk of a broken heart it is a figure of speech that almost anyone uses without realising how rich that is. 'My heart is broken', we yell, as if our hearts are made of wood. When Tsepo writes, "I am locked behind the prison bars/ of a depressed and distressed mind/ shackled in chains of frustration and turmoil" you start to wonder how people can be enslaved while prowling our streets. And we wonder why so many of our people are savages.

Then on page eight Tsepo writes a disturbing poem which comes with a disturbing drawing. It is that of a man dangling by his neck - shoes off. The poem has that hackneyed line found in many suicide notes; "i can't cope with pressures and stresses of life/ my ass is broke". Tsepo makes a mockery of the 'victim', "so you dope overdose/ you crack your brains/ and try to intoxicate reality but/ the situations doesn't change". He then moralises at the last sentence, "you are a coward GO to hell!"

A graphic illustration of scaaaaaaaaaaaaaars on page sixteen is meant to put colour to a poem on page fifteen titled SCARS. What is good about Tsepo's illustrations is that you can't look at them once and think you have seen it all. I spent a good quarter of an hour trying to single out individual scars on the drawing and ended up settling for a face looking to the left that has scars and tears. But the scars could easily have been cracks on a wall or another smooth surface. And then I thought I saw tired woman breasts. When I read the line, "inside my heart is broken/ pain of hidden wounds", I thought it is possible that the poet/illustrator hid the scars deliberately and my quest to find all of them was doomed from inception. Those are hidden scars; read HIDE = CONCEAL.

And now, while I would give this book seven phat lips here comes my criticism; Tsepo writes quite well, his language is lucid, his syntax informed but it's not the same artistic aesthetic he brings into creatively arranging the book. What I mean is that in almost all the poems with illustrations he starts off with the poem and follows it with the illustration. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Which simply means that starting with the drawing would add value to the poem since I would look at a drawing and wonder what is it all about and then be provided with an explanation of it in a poem. For example; as I read 'a woman's bruised face is like/ a butterfly with broken wings/ a beautiful rose planted in mud/ a bee with rotten honey" I am looking at the drawing less than five centimetres from the last word. I don't think this works. On the same leaf; page twenty five I am looking at a beautiful drawing that's stand alone, it's about a poem on the leaf I paged through. This beautiful drawing on my left could have been that of the woman on page 26.

This is not to say that there's no creativity in the book since it is wholly made up of works that could stand their own in any visual arts platform. The beauty of this book is its experimentation approach; you can see that Tshepo was having mad fun with it. It seems that he has put everything he ever wanted the world to know about him in it. Am not sure if this is his first book but if it is I'm looking forward to his next book; without much of the baggage artists carry on their pioneering projects.

Noise is an inspiring book that should be part of any poetry and arts lover's library. I don't recommend books cheaply; so when I say 'it's a wrap' I truly mean that I'm impressed. I read roughly 150 books, 120 magazines a year and my opinion should be informed. I have never met Tshepo yet but am looking forward with anticipation.

Noise is the book to have. I give it my vote. Can ya all please treat my recommendation like Oprah's. To get the book please contact Tsepo at Botaki Self-Publishing ; tsgumbi@gmail.com

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