In their Summer issue, Asymptote Journal features new poetry from Congolese author Fiston Mwanza Mujila.
Eschewing the more chaotic and brusque style of his debut novel, Tram 83, and the theatrical voice of his even earlier work, ‘Kasala pour moi-même’ (‘Kasala for Myself’) displays comparatively more subtlety.
In his translator’s note, the poem’s translator, J Bret Maney, sheds light on the fascinating tradition of performance poetry in the DRC, in particular the kasala style that Mujila’s verse draws from, and how he transforms it into a confessional dream poem starred with jazz and politics.
‘For Mujila,’ Maney writes, ‘the orality of the kasala survives in the improvisatory freedom of the performer. “If I recite my poem,” he told me, “it will end up being longer because I’m going to improvise or choose variations from the main text.”
‘This extensibility—some critics have charted instances of the kasala extending past eight hundred lines—prompts Mujila to note similarities with the blues or jazz, an artistic kinship he makes explicit in the jazz-suffused soundscape of the final stanza of “Kasala for Myself.”’
Read an excerpt from the poem:
I decided to be happy
to danse the rumba until beat
to take back all my names, shards of the past
to remain the child of the mine and railroad
family memory coupling with the locomotive
exile in the bud, loneliness without end
- Read: Using language without restraint to show the energy of the ‘wretched of the earth’—Fiston Mwanza Mujila chats to Bongani Kona