Mbuh Tennu Mbuh is a social analyst fed by a new humanism; a poet who displays a profound understanding of the human predicament, and who is creatively concerned with the various ways in which the crucial dimensions of people’s lives and destinies are affected by the social structures. His collection of poems, The Oracle of Tears, is a symbolic, enriching and illuminating meditation on the destiny of man. It is carefully thought out and beautifully written. Readers will be impressed by the linguistic energy of the poet.
Kashim Ibrahim TALA, Professor of Literature,University of Buea, Cameroon
From the poet’s own preface, “Jazz may be the closest approximation to this. . .” lack of structure in collections of Cameroonian poetry. Mbuh Tennu Mbuh compares his collection to the development and de-development of the country, where “power lines, water lines, and roads are functionally non-contiguous.” I do not often read the author’s preface first; however, for The Oracle of Tears, this is crucial for comprehension and Mbuh’s only help for his readers.
Though the poems are not obviously linked, they flow directly from one into the other throughout the book, leaving only a few spaces between last lines and titles that may start in the middle of the page, near the bottom, or very rarely, at the top. Mbuh seems to intend to keep the reader off-kilter and never quite comfortable; the spacing (or non) of the pieces can leave the reader confused and tired. His references and analogies range from Dow Jones and Milton Keynes to Biafra, Tienanmen Square, Timbuktu, and even amoebae. He expects a highly educated reader with a wealth of cultural knowledge or one that will look up his plethora of references. One wonders, then, who his intended audience is; the Cameroonian Diaspora or those who have stayed?
To those who have left, he comments that he writes “Because not every Exile/ I know, seeks the road.”
For Mbuh, he is the only, or one of the only, Cameroonians who writes to criticize the current and past state of affairs. He states he is “Preaching new deals/to an exhausted people,” in opposition to whom, he states “Nobody smells, like I do, the raw flesh.” It is difficult to convey politics in a poem without sounding polemical or dictatorial in voice, let alone an entire book; Mbuh achieves this in several poems, but his aim is, at times, over-powering and he is telling his audience what and how to think. He takes the position of a martyr throughout many of the poems. “For I, not aware of my exile,/ Have lobbied for redemption.”
In the midst of the political and the historical, Mbuh does, however, include some love poems to people and not to country. I believe that his short poems are the strongest ones; these tend to be more focused and clearer, particularly Phoenix”, “Songs of a Man”, “Ally”, “Our Exiles”, “Epitaph”, and the eponymous “Oracle of Tears.” In the many longer poems, clear statements may become obscured by overly detailed images and the dizzying range of allusions.
Mbuh’s images are harsh and unforgiving; but, quoting Marjane Satrapi, he states in the preface “I love my country so much, that’s why I criticize it.” Near the end, he does make homage to the beauty of his country; “There is peace./ Away from the crowd/and god’s face shines/ in the dark, ever.” Mbuh is unapologetic about challenging the reader, but this is a book to read over many days and perhaps weeks.
The Oracle of Tears is a book to pick up, put down, and pick up again.
Peace Corps Volunteer, Cameroon &
University of California, San Francisco