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Review of Stranger by Sihle Ntuli PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 04 February 2016 13:34

Review by, Alan Muller

I first read about Sihle Ntuli and his debut collection of poetry on BooksLive in September of 2015. When Stranger landed in my hands roughly five months later, I was eager to read it since South African poetry collections are difficult to come by and those by emerging poets are even more challenging to get a hold of. The collection is published by Aerial Publishing, a community-based publisher in Grahamstown, South Africa. The striking cover painting titled “Twin Two” by Nigerian artist Victor Ehikhamenor further encouraged me to look into the collection.

The first two sections, “morning” and “midnight” open strongly as they are spatially grounded and reflect on the physicality of both Durban and KwaMashu. The opening piece, “kwa mashu f section bus stop”, sees commuters taking public transport and “travel to find what they can”. Some of these KwaMashu residents, though, “leave to never return”. The poem seems a tip-of-the-hat to Mongane Wally Serote’s famous “City Johannesburg” transposed to the context of postapartheid Durban. The poem “west street” sees commuters reach Durban central and reflects on pickpockets and crime in the city’s CBD and is particularly succinct and sharp, ending effectively with stolen jewellery being traded aboard public transport systems:

inside a taxi

a gold watch is sold

the colour matching

a familiar silence


My enthusiasm for the collection, however, began to wane as I pressed on. The collection suffers is in the sections that follow: mirage, meditations, radiometro, and television. The sections “mirage” and “meditations” in particular become bogged down by abstraction as Ntuli’s experimentation with both form and syntax stretches the medium to a point well beyond which it can withstand. Poems like “mirage” and “film noir” for example seem to experiment with homophonic wordplay purely for its own sake, coming across as facile, empty of meaning, and lacking purpose. Ntuli’s attempt to complicate the meanings of see/sea in “mirage” ends up feeling contrived and fails to enhance what the piece may be trying to convey:

side view of madness

placing your rage in the see

by your hand

your hand rubbing the see

see not so calm

see turns on you

washing you up

on uncertain shores

Ntuli’s debut collection, although somewhat thematically disjointed and marred by excessive and ineffective wordplay, does show promise in its more spatially grounded pieces as he clearly has an ability to watch people and understand their social interactions. With some refinement and restraint, Ntuli’s poetic voice may be one to keep an ear (and eye) out for.


Stranger is available directly from the publisher for R70