`How to Euthanise a Cactus' contains fifty five accessible poems from a respected Kenyan poet, poetry editor and judge. Approximately half of the poems are those that were written `raw' during Kenya's widely-publicised and sometimes misinterpreted Post-Election Violence (PEV) of early 2008, and which were circulated within Kenya, especially via a new group of young writers which formed at the time, `Concerned Kenyan Writers'. These include the popular `Praise Poem'. Kenya's PEV rocked a country that had previously been known (perhaps naively) as one of the most stable countries on the continent: possibly thousands were killed; hundreds of thousands were displaced, and often remain so. Occasionally journalistic, sometimes angry, sometimes hopeful, but always powerfully responsible, these PEV poems reflect an insider-outsider's experience of that time. These particular PEV poems are not quoted as part of this promotional blurb, at the writer's request.
Many of the other poems are more personal, but never fully privatist in that manner which often separates much Western literature from that of the postcolonial world. These poems reflect a British immigrant's process of hybridising into a new place, Kenya. They include the impressive `Continental Drift', which speaks from an out-of-body position about overlaps between cultures and the possibility of contented hybridity rather than that traditional `alienation' and `schizophrenia' which was expressed by earlier generations of immigrants and `colonial subjects' across the globe. Here is the first, UK-based verse paragraph of `Continental Drift', a multi-perspective poem that later screes effortlessly into East Africa:
The sole of your boot grips a stone, and it begins:
flakes of shale cascading over shale
like swarms of graphite atoms gliding over graphite
as an artist shades a mountain, dark Skiddaw,
that has a figure (rapid scratching showing motion),
slate-grey, almost imperceptible: but squint,
you'll see he's screeing down the slope toward the lake.
Other poems that shine in 'How to Euthanise a Cactus' include the witty `Cerebrology', which uses an extended metaphor to ridicule certain (pompous?) and knee-jerk myths of poetic creation, and which deliberately wobbles on the border between light verse and the (ahem!) profound. In this poem, a slightly self-important medical lecturer discourses on a poet's brain as it is dissected. The first four lines begin the process:
Place your fingers round the cranium's equator,
lift, and notice how it neatly tugs away.
The standard image is a walnut, but in cases of
the poet's brain we choose instead the pecan...