Journal of Humanities

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Evocation of the dramatic in David Rubadiri’s poetry

Syned Mthatiwa


James David Rubadiri (1930-2018), poet, playwright, novelist, academic, diplomat, and political activist, is no stranger to many literary scholars in Africa and beyond. His popularity is not a result of his thespian skills—he acted Othello once—or skills in fiction writing (although he did try his hand at novel writing, producing No Bride Price), but mainly a result of his teaching and his skills in poetry. Although he is famous as a poet, his poetic harvest is rather minimal—his only collection, An African Thunderstorm and Other Poems, boasts only twenty-three poems. What the poems lack in numbers, they more than compensate for in the energy and beauty that they radiate, beauty that has seen most of them translated and anthologised around the world over the years. It is also this energy, the beauty of composition, and their tackling of relevant themes, which have made his poems the staple of many poetry classes in Africa and beyond. In this paper I analyse Rubadiri’s poems that appear in the collection An African Thunderstorm and Other Poems. I argue that the success of Rubadiri’s poetry is primarily based on his evocation of the dramatic, which is in turn reliant on his economic use of language, his descriptive skills, and his use of vivid and evocative images. These aspects do not only render the poetry enduring and memorable, but they also make the poems and the action in them spring to life, cementing the legacy of the poet as one of the accomplished poets of his generation in Africa. The discussion in this paper is divided into three parts. The first part examines how Rubadiri infuses a sense of the dramatic in poems that address issues of colonisation and blackness, the second part discusses how the poet evokes drama in poems about neocolonialism and postcolonial disenchantment, and the final section shows how Rubadiri’s use of imagery and  diction in poems about African life and the environment give the poems a vividness, sense of immediacy and a dramatic quality.

Keywords: Rubadiri, Malawian poetry, style, language, evocative imagery, Africa,

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