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Pattern of Dust, A: Selected Poems 1965-1990, by Timothy Wangusa:
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by Peter Nazareth

published in World Literature Today, 70, page 459
1996-03-01
A Pattern of Dust: Selected Poems, 1965-1990
Author: Timothy Wangusa
Publisher: Fountain, 1994
Review by: Peter Nazareth

In addition to being a novelist (see WLT 64:2, p. 352), Timothy Wangusa is one of Uganda's best-known poets. A Pattern of Dust: Selected Poems 1965-1990 looks slim for a volume representing a quarter-century of poetry, all the more so because the poems are short. For example:
Being thus surrounded by concrete
Concrete above
Concrete below
Concrete this way
Concrete that way

I have become a concrete man
concrete neighbour
Concrete tenant
concrete passer-by

Dropping concrete smiles
On concrete staircase.
This is a complete poem, yet it shows us Wangusa' s strength: his brevity makes serious points (here, that one can become what one is trapped in). His note refers to a West African oral tradition according to which "a particular key word appears in every line of a poem."

Wangusa evokes the spiritual relationship of the people to the land (and the mountain in his own area), the coming of the colonizers, the suffering of the common man, the selfishness of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie ("The State Is My Shepherd" is a parody of Psalm 23), the feeling of impending doom (a forewarning of Amin):
What frogs are these
And what eye-terrifying spectres
Over Africa's face

At the climax of rotten time?
He travels to pick up anything relevant: to England, the U.S., and different areas of Uganda. His poems have echoes of T. S. Eliot and Yeats when he is being most African, and he pays tribute to Wait Whitman:
Broke the insular tyranny
of Bill Shakespeare's smug
iambic pentameter
And hijacked the Olympian muse
To the ragged Rockies.
He retells a story by Grace Ogot of Kenya, which she based on a myth about Oganda, a virgin who is being sacrificed for rain but who is saved by her lover:
And let the disappointed god
Shed tears of such rain
As has never fallen before!
One can rewrite history, Wangusa says. From Whitman he has learned about "the melting cauldron" from which can emerge "the unbreakable man." In "At the Bahá'í Temple" he notes that the temple near Kampala is to date the only Bahá'í temple on the African continent. The volume ends with an invocation to God, the last two lines forming a cross made up of "ACCEPT MY CRY."

Profoundly concerned with the devastation to the human spirit in Uganda and in Africa in general, Wangusa offers hope by presenting a broader and deeper spiritual world in poems that are concrete, that make us see.
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