Abhay K’s collection of haiku, The Magic of Madagascar, is a gift. Upon reading it, the two people I shared it with were a fellow poet, and a lecturer in geography, environment, and sustainability. This encapsulates the two iridescent threads upon which the writer travels in these elusively powerful poems. The use of simple vocabulary welcomes the reader, while being used enchantingly to evoke vivid sights of Madagascar’s everyday life. That life is shown to be astonishingly varied in all its forms – plants, animals, birds, skies, mountains, and people. Most urgently, however, this work demonstrates a mode of engagement, which is direly needed to protect the complex and precious web of life on this island (and many others) that sit literally on the frontlines of climate change, with rising sea levels and extreme weather already threatening their existence.
I first read it in my homeland of South Africa. Having returned there for the first time in 31 months, I gazed with new eyes at each hoopoe, jackal buzzard or baboon; the mountains of the Klein Karoo, and vast seas at Muizenberg and Pringle Bay – places I’ve always known. But it was while living in England, living away, in the cold of being a foreigner in London, that I began to feast on the natural world, the way my father always wanted us to. But you cannot be talked into it, to having a need fulfilled, to finding belonging that transcends nationality, immigration status, hostile environment policy and even species. It was a feasting, no, a gobbling of life. I spent months seeking my vocabulary for it in a poem, longer than I ever have before. And so, Abhay’s reaching for a new form upon coming to Madagascar makes sense.
As Dalene Matthee writes of Mauritius in Pieternella, Daughter of Eva, the island has invited him into its heart, presumably because he has tuned in – listening to the:
between the two
In my father’s rockery, the Anacampserosarachnoides is flowering. Each flower opens only once ever – for less than two hours at dusk. Beyond patience, one needs devotion to trust this grace, to recognise:
yellowing flowering weeds
the face of divinity
In the sparseness of the haiku speckled with wondering, Abhay has found his vocabulary to invite us all to glimpse Madagascar’s bountiful offerings – and their precarity, from the elephant birds’ eggs that are all that is left of them, to the critically endangered sifaka known as the dancing lemur.
I have learned to love England in my time here, although it is a complex love affair as most are. What has invited me to stay, for however long I do, is the earth itself –which does not know nor care it’s been named a country. Similarly, it feels hopeful that he is posted there as a representative of his nation when crude forms of nationalism are one of our greatest obstacles to a globally just and coordinated response to the climactic challenges we face as a species:
barriers and walls
Vasa parrots’ song
In Braiding Sweetgrass, Professor Robin Wall Kimmerer asks, “How can we begin to move towards ecological and cultural sustainability if we cannot even imagine what the path feels like?” This collection of haikus guides us in this – as shown by the emotional ecological landscape it summoned in this reader, who has never been to Madagascar – as it shines a quietly radical light on living in reciprocity with our world:
keep all your wealth
happy watching hoopoes
(The reviewer Nica Cornell is a South African writer with her Masters in African Studies and Honours in Political and International Studies.)
About the Book
The Magic of Madagascar
Éditions L’Harmattan, Paris,
Pages: 144 ;$17
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