I struggle with that thing popular culture has come to venerate along with Selfies and concision—the ability to select a Top Ten of just about anything and proclaim it with confidence. Some might say my aversion to favouriting is just my inability to be a full adult, to choose, to select with no apology. But I hope this is more complex. I think it is about resisting the trend of certainty for the murky territory of doubt. Here now I’ve been given the opportunity to read ten submissions for Type/Cast’s second issue and select the ones I liked the most. On first reading, the two pieces that stood out for me were “Errant Thoughts on Being a Refugee” and “Portrait of a Girl at the Border Wall.” “All the women in my life are hungry” begins the one, “‘home’ is a narrow bed to sleep in” ends the other. Both pieces are startling which is just about the best thing a group of collected words can be.
Far from symptomatic of being not fully grown my sense is that it’s too easy to Like, to Favourite. What does it mean anyway, that I Liked something. Does it not say more about me, the Picker, than it, the Picked? I suggest that we’re too quick to Like, too unwilling to sit with The Mess of Many versus with just the so-called Top Few. On a second reading through the submissions I was struck by many things coming at me from all ten works. They evoked something which ultimately rendered selection unnecessary.
“A Poetic Space Reclamation” (dedicated to women who walk and run in public spaces) is resplendent in its use of words which seems important, the way the piece careens through the English dictionary is perfect for something that is pushing against how “we were warned not to wander.”
The two pieces of fiction included in the ten submissions, “Bishop to C3” and “Beyond Choice” got me thinking of fiction in general and fiction in South Africa more specifically. I attended a workshop once and Binyavanga Wainana asked the question (paraphrasing) about whether each place has its own essential story. Is this true and is it useful. For instance some would say South Africa’s essential story is Apartheid. In other words a narrative that defines a place, something that is at the core of a place. When he mentioned it naturally I resisted the notion—Yewande, Resistor of Top Tens and Essentialism. Reading these two fictions I wondered if I was reading “new” fiction. That’s another malaise, this clamour for “newness.” There was a strangeness to the pieces which is possibly what precipitated my thought that “I don’t know where I am with this,” I almost don’t know how to read it. “Beyond Choice” in particular had a wonderful strangeness. Like isn’t the word, I didn’t “Like” it but it left me uncomfortable and wondering which seems to hold so much more value.
The poem “I Am The Hare That Lost” carried wry humour, I enjoyed the fact that the poet re-looks at something as tested as the adage slow and steady wins the race. “Johannesburg, A Cityscape” was refreshing, the city personified. I only wished the author had named the piece differently, keeping the reader in longer suspense as to who the “he” in the text actually is. I always read poetry with caution, the way we’ve learnt to accept a mug of tea—careful, it’s hot. “Betel-nut,” “Daddy’s Helper” and “Coffee in a French press, made by my stepmother,” the last three of the submissions, were no exception. I read with caution because I worry I’m missing something, I tell myself “I don’t know poetry that well” as if Poetry is its own language, which, in a way, it is. Often when I read poems I feel it’s like reading music—this isn’t so bad but mostly what I wish to do with music (poetry) is hear.
It’s great to be exact, though, isn’t it? We love that. To be precise and certain, to have clarity. Being emphatic has an attractiveness to it. But doubt carries its own aesthetic. It demands we look again, look carefully, read over, look at ourselves. Considering the blurriness of these times such attention seems paramount.
Yewande Omotoso guest-edited Issue 2 of Type/Cast.