Jack Mapanje (b. 1944, Malawi), currently Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, is the author of 4 collections of poetry, the editor of several more, and the recipient of awards including the Rotterdam Poetry International Award and the African Literature Association (USA) Fonlon-Nichols Award. He studied in England, before returning to Malawi, where he rose to the position of Head of Department of English, University of Malawi at Chancellor College, which he held until his book Of Chameleons and Gods was banned and he was incarcerated for almost four years as a political prisoner in Mikuyu prison.

Many of the poems on this recording display defiance in the face of this experience, and Mapanje’s introductions are striking for their matter-of-fact tone as they recount the awful happenings that inspired the poems: the religious persecution of his sister’s family in ‘The House That Florrie Intended’, for example, or political disappearances in ‘Vigil For A Fellow Credulous Captive’. This is epitomised in his preface to ‘Scrubbing the Furious Walls Of Mikuyu’, in which he says “of all the prison poems I have written, this is my favourite little one.” Political references are also often suggested allegorically, so that the singer of the ‘Song of Chickens’, horrified by the switch in its master’s attitude toward it, is not openly linked to any human parallel.

Further poems show the range of Mapanje’s attention, from the hypocrisies and blind spots of those who think themselves “civilized” in ‘Now That Sept. 11 Should Define Mr. Western Civilization’, through the impressions on a young student recorded in ‘Sketches of London’, to the coastal joy that informs ‘The Seashells of Bridlington North Beach’.

Mapanje makes reference to the oral tradition while introducing ‘Song of Chickens’, and his own oral skills are shown here to great effect. He embraces moments of contemplation, declamatory passion, and rhythmic exuberance, sometimes moving between these styles within the same poem, which work in performance to bring a great sense of presence to each poem in this reading.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 28 June 2005 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Poems by Jack Mapanje

Song of Chickens - Jack Mapanje
Visiting Zomba Plateau - Jack Mapanje
Scrubbing the Furious Walls of Mikuyu - Jack Mapanje
The Seashells of Bridlington North Beach - Jack Mapanje

Books by Jack Mapanje



Rotterdam Poetry International Award

Prize website

PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award

Prize website

African Literature Association (USA) Fonlon-Nichols Award

Prize website