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Hullo Bu-Bye Koko, Come In by Koleka Putuma

‘this country buries us before we are born, calls us by our obituaries before it calls us by our names’
 

You know where Koleka Putuma left me in Collective Amnesia (you can read my review here)? A place where I felt like every wound had been addressed and dressed in verses. That was just the beginning and I am glad that her second collection did not disappoint me. It picks up from most of the issues that she raised and explores new ones too (including form) I am glad tha Koleka Putuma is one of the voices out of not only South Africa but Africa that we can listen to because her poetry reflects the times. In her poetry, truths of how we have ended up where we are are layered into verses that bear only a style that belongs to her.


In this collection like the last, Koleka Putuma helps us to confront issues arising from race, identity, politics, existence, womanhood and queerness. The collection is made up of four parts ‘Hullo,’ ‘Bu-bye,’ ‘Koko’ and ‘Come In.’ The title of the collection is lingo widely used in South African communities which speaks to the accessibility of her work, her immediate audience who will sense the familiarity from the outside but it does not end there, the inside is more familiar to queer people, women, those living in neglected communities,the youth who are finding their way in South Africa, etc. As also explained in the end notes, the term was also popularized by Brenda Fassie in the song ‘Istraight Le Ndaba’ in 2009. Hullo Bu-Bye Koko, Come In is a collection that speaks to those forgotten, erased and hidden. The first poem is a dedication, a love letter to those who have suffered some injustice. No matter who you are and what you think you have experienced that first poem just sees you and asks you to begin this process of naming yourself, others and that which has been unnamed by theft and erasure. This is what this body of work does, it exhumes the truths, the people and the experiences that were/are subjected to this violence and begins the process of naming. Naming as it was then and as it is now, telling it like it is. Call it what it is; rape, femicide, discrimination, racism, abuse, corruption, looting, othering, erasure. As heartbreaking as this collection is, it makes me think of liberation. What it means, what we must do to be liberated and how we must keep it.




There are women who are referenced and mentioned in this collection, I would like to believe that these are women Putuma reveres, women that the she chooses to see beyond what the media, their families and colleagues would like us to see. Women who have been abused because of their popularity or accessibility to people; Brenda Fassie, Lebo Mathosa, Nina Simone, Miriam Makeba. There are also poems where other artists are celebrated in this text; Tsitsi Dangarembga, Lorraine Hansberry, Ntozake Shange, Audre Lorde, Sylvia Andler, Ama Ata Aidoo and so many more. In this book Putuma says to us how can you forget these brilliant women, how can you erase them from archives, from the history books and the legacies that they so built with their own strength. ‘you built this country with your movements too’ is a poem of celebration and frustration. Here we see women who were an integral part of South Africa’s Struggle for freedom but whose efforts have been considered insignificant if not totally ignored, being celebrated by the poet. Their contribution is enough yet it is erased or reduced. How can you not be enraged?


The message is loud and clear, you will not erase as you please, you will not forget and say there were/are no resources. Here is one resource that will help you to do further reading, to know your history and your story. The use of repetition reinforces the importance of the message getting through to the reader, the presence of the editing process on the page is a fresh and innovative way of ensuring that we remember what erasure is and its consequences. I struggled with it in the beginning but as a writer I remembered the number of times I have used backspace, what that action means, how you can just erase, leave a fresh space on a page, type a new text, be it lie or truth. Further, evidence that history is in the hands of those who hold the pens to write, if we can write let us do so. As hard as it is, we must find ways.


In poems that appear to be more personal the artist’s pain is brought out in the poem ‘let us count the ways:’ which is heartbreaking as it speaks to the artist who is owed money by chains of people, a bestseller who has failed to afford their own book many a times, ‘that there have been times you could not afford your own book. that it has taken you not fully owning your story to know the cost of your story.’ Loaded with meaning, this is not only true for the artist but for anyone who has pursued a purpose with little support. In that same poem Putuma asks the costs that black women must pay for being the first to do anything in a world that has been structured to ensure that they remain at the bottom, and if they somehow get through, that they should be ‘mannequins of representation.’


This collection gives and gives more knowledge and awareness. Where it takes from the reader it does so to make you ask yourself if you really need the ignorance, the lies and the laziness. I love this collection that reminds me that I will remember. I will know those that have been maliciously omitted from the legacies that they built. These poems ask me to look at my self and others with kindness while looking at the truth as it is. This is some brilliant work!

 

Book Details

Title: Hullo Bu-Bye Koko, Come In

Author: Koleka Putuma

Genre: Poetry

Pages: 124

Publisher: Manyano Media (2021)

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