In Letters to a Young Poet (an essential read for every young writer) Rilke opines that love is the “most difficult task entrusted to us”. A century has passed and these words still hold water today. Abigail Arunga’s debut book of poems called Akello contains more than 80 love poems of varying lengths and temperaments but ultimately lends itself to the finality of Rilke’s position.

These poems reveal themselves easily at first reads. They are bare, open, like flowers in the sun; they reveal themselves unabashedly to the reader.

On page 28, a delicious couplet sits. “I can be your poetry/But I’d rather be your rhyme”. This book flirts with different poetic possibilities. Most important is how these words lift themselves elegantly from paper to strike a semblance in the reader’s mind. It is easy, effortless, for these words to be owned by the reader and turned inwards to measure their past experiences.

See cinematic risqué flirtations:  “So I’m standing in your doorway/your hands are up in my shirt/I’m ready to leave, but not/willing”.

Or experience a lover’s anger at betrayal: “Always a fucker/Never a lover/Always a player/Never ace”

See vulnerability, “I don’t want to keep saying no/I want us to lean on this car” that tend towards the erotic, “I imagine/that if he touches me/ in that forbidden way” and finally descends into proper coitus, “Pretty please/touch me like the ocean breeze/put the bees in my knees”.

The nagging question whilst reading this deeply visceral collection of longing and belonging is if love is enough. The poet and poet persona are seemingly united beyond the page and the object of love is mostly of a heterosexual kind, except for a poem for a mother and another for place, Nairobi.

Clearly love is a composite emotion that can range from vulnerability of the libidinous kind to aforethought malice like in Page 47, “I’m the bitch who’ll put/laxatives in/your drink…” And if there is anything Akello as a collection achieves, it is the fluid way it negotiates through them all.

A surfeit of graphic details of the sexual kind, the poet wears American influences like a badge.  Of course, if the poems were stripped of this reviewer’s desire for “rootedness” in indigenous culture, then they must possess a certain kind of cosmopolitanism. Catchy phrases are clearly borrowed from pop culture, western music and mannerisms so that these poems are not only exuberant, they become contemporary too.

The poems vary from cheeky haikus to baffling confessionals to prose poems to declaration poems that may easily grace a Spoken Word stage.  Some poems pack more punches than others; some decay in the middle of their execution perhaps because of the burden of clichés and still some, go ahead to become memorable, garner nods of assent from readers who recognize the truths they vacillate.

Did I mention that Akello is an easy read? It definitely will cure preconceived notions that poetry must be dense, cryptic or self-serving at all times.

Abigail Arunga brings to you Akello, her first fruit. Grace it with a first read. Enjoy!