Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, but
it was our god
he desecrated with his small leap
–Our Moon God
It is often thought that poetry is enhanced when it converses with history and grapples with the socio-political reality of the poet’s world, where the latter is investigated through the lens of the personal. In Mmhonlumo Kikon’s third collection of poems, thoughtfully titled “Slingstones”, he embroiders the historical and the political in the personal as he navigates through the Naga world – pointing and addressing the uneasy assimilation of traditional Naga culture with western modalities of “modernity” and the opposing and corrosive relationship with colonial and colonialist history as felt in everyday life. He does this by invoking and adapting spare metaphors and similes in the poetic chronicling of his vision. The book is home to 71 new and previously unpublished poems that attempt to provide a commentary that is raw, impressionistic and audacious. It begins with “Stars”, a short poem that mulls over life’s exigencies such as crass “exhibitionist tendencies” that glorify and make stars of reality show personalities.
“Seeing a star,
in lieu of a reality show,
a real vain affair”.
One significant characteristic of the organization of the book is the refusal to employ a thematic division. This may have been a deliberate and conscious strategy to breakaway from the expected narrative trope that usually groups poems for the reader to easily sift through the thought processes of a writer. Instead, Kikon deploys free verse and freestyle that accords to it a semblance of a running stream of consciousness. For instance, the poems that hinge on colonial encounters such as “Ethnographer” is preceded by “Grudge” and “The Middleman”, both of which are ruminations on life, loss and betrayal, and succeeded by “Off to Church”, a poem that details an ailing grandmother’s church-going experience. In comparison to his earlier works, the voice of Slingstones is wounded, angry, much more resolute and determined, unravelling much more of his raw poetic conscious that expertly interrogates the accepted notions and perceptions of history, and cultural norms through the performance of self-reflexivity and self-questioning.
In the poem “Runaway Slaves of the Great Wall”, the speaker of the poem assumes a chiding voice as he addresses the runaway slaves of the great wall as “lazy, rebellious, unambiguous, animists”. This poem is important because it takes an oral tradition of a few Naga tribes as its point of departure. The narrative holds the belief that the Nagas were descendants of a group of slaves who reached present-day Nagaland by fleeing from the demanding task of constructing the Great Wall of China.
In this poem, Kikon speaks directly to his ancestors assuming the voice of an outsider as he terms them “animists”. Although Naga religion is often understood as animistic, there is no native word that designates the phenomena of animism as defined by anthropological standards and hence, the poet’s use of the term implies that it is speaking from the standpoint of an outsider. Here, as in a few other poems like “A Disturbing Dream” and “Give us your worst”, Kikon fuses nostalgia, melancholia, anger, and regret even as he blurs the line between the voice of the poet and the voice of the character that he is assuming.
A first-time reader of Kikon’s work may take time to acclimatize themselves to his distinct narrative technique that pauses, shoots and runs off mid-sentence, immersing the reader into a multiplicity of perspectives in a single poem.
Finally, Kikon uses the book as a metaphorical slingstone to hit at the target of his vision – that is to spur the reader into interrogating and revisiting their own history.
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