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.
Being thus surrounded by concrete
Concrete this way
Concrete that way
I have become a concrete man
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
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
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
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