Utanu Maa’s RISE AND FALL OF MY BELOVED is a short biographical poetry collection, focused heavily on the themes of grief, mourning, recovery and resilience. It details the heartbreaking and harrowing story of the author’s brother Zola, who was orphaned at birth, and despite great struggles, succeeded academically, secured a stable job and enjoyed a fulfilling marriage, before finally succumbing to AIDS.
This is a work that was clearly born out of grief and a need to memorialize a loved one- which makes it all the more human to read and empathize with it. The writing is exceedingly lucid, free-flowing and conversational, dealing with complex and relevant issues of childhood abuse, trauma, sexism, polygamy, colonialism and so on. Although some of the poems have some sense of internal rhythm, they are shorn of metaphors and other ornamentation- speaking directly, unabashedly and openly to the reader’s emotions. Thus although, the story is deeply personal, it speaks for countless individuals who are voiceless and marginalized.
Divided into three parts, “Childhood”, “Rise” and “Fall”, the book traces the different stages in Zola’s life, focusing on his strengths, flaws and hardships, with remarkable empathy and without any judgement, which is particularly striking. This is most prominent in poems like “Sorry”, where the author simultaneously addresses both Zola and the reader, apologizing as well as enjoining to others to read his tale. Another poem, “Fond Memories” is full of tenderness, expressing gratitude for the small moments of togetherness and redefining love: “Love, here in his country, is powerful in acts, not in words/Because it may seem fake if only vocalized without action.”
Through Zola’s story, the writer highlights the different structural inequalities that prevent indigenous people from living the life they rightfully deserve, even as she acknowledges the problems within the communities themselves. For instance, she talks about how patriarchal notions of what a woman should and shouldn’t do, as well as the toxic structure of polygamous marriages, not only ended the lives of several women, but also unwittingly passed on their trauma to their children. Similarly, following the AIDS diagnosis, Utanu Maa emphasizes on the difficulty of gaining access to affordable health and medical care- a particular drug that could save Zola’s life was registered in only six countries, while it remained “unaffordable, expensive and inaccessible” to others.
Nevertheless, the writing never seethes with anger at the injustice and unfairness. Instead, it is full of empathy, understanding and acceptance, and may be a cathartic experience for some readers, especially those trying to heal from trauma. Although the collection may have benefitted from some more editing and stylistic detail, the version as it is, is raw, honest and hard-hitting, reminding us to treasure the present moment and cherish those we love, for they may not always be around.
Utanu Maa’s RISE AND FALL OF MY BELOVED is a heart-breaking collection of poems that teaches the reader important lessons in resilience and trauma-recovery in the language of simplicity and love.
~Archita Mittra for IndieReader