Rethabile Masilo’s poetry wanders across continents from Lesotho in southern Africa to America to Europe to elsewhere. It is restless, seeking the meaning of his ties to kin and homeland, seeking his place as a son, a father, a lover and then husband. This is the poetry of a man who has seen much and kept his ear open, curious for the texture and weight of words. –David Barnes, poet and founder-curator of Spoken Word Paris
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Letter to Country blends together life experiences from a childhood in Lesotho and South Africa during a time of apartheid with adulthood in the Appalachian mountains of East Tennessee and beyond. In his third published poetry collection, Masilo demonstrates why he continues to receive international praise for his superb craftsmanship and profound sensitivities.
This vibrant, original collection opens with a poem about a baobab tree that refuses to die. The reader must remember this tree and its vitality, for Letter to Country is a heart-rending account of private and public stories of the poet’s native Lesotho, from the Senqu river that carries away ‘the black soil of our hills and the blood/of our mountains’, like its people lost to the mines of South Africa, to the streets of Paris, where a father walks his children nervously to school yet refuses to take a different route, ‘For this is our road.’ The poet is often on a road which leads to country, the country he writes to so beautifully: ‘They say in Maseru trees/refuse to line streets, they have taken/a keen liking to revolution, and bring it/alive in through the dark bark of their skin’. Masilo is caught between two loves, wanting to walk ‘where footpaths know feet’ but also in exile. This lyrical collection too is on a road it cannot leave, which carries us to the tragic night when killers ‘rat-tatted the body of a boy away’ (the poet’s three-year-old nephew); a boy anointed by his mother at birth with palm oil, honey and whisky, put out in the rain till he toughened enough to take the name ‘the tribe would place in him’. There is myth here, and metaphor; and the writer uses both and plainer words in the service of truth.
–Jo Hemmant, author of The Light Knows Tricks and founder of Pindrop Press
Masilo’s strength is his ability to make the landscape vibrate with the tension between the personal and the political. Letter to Country is a celebration of the importance of the deceptive ordinariness of daily life in Lesotho.
–Peter Midgley, author of Counting Teeth and Unquiet Bones
It is an honor to partake of the vibrant and deeply moving poetry of Rethabile Masilo. As you enter the space of Letter to Country, his third collection, you are drawn to his appreciation for the beauty he finds around him and you are in awe of his unwavering faith in human dignity and integrity over experiences of horror and injustice. This is strong writing in a voice that is clear and warm; it will flow directly into your ear and it will do more than just linger there.
–Pansy Maurer-Alvarez, author of Oranges in January and In a Form of Suspension.
What makes Letter to Country a graceful triumph is Masilo’s tender imagination. As vividly as he paints memorials of the fearful and the dead, his comforts—the listening moon, a gold-threaded sunhat, the powerful doorway—offer readers small and remarkable salvations, full of pain and beauty, the individual and the cultural, the violent and the empathic.
–Christina Seymour, author of Flowers Around Your Soft Throat (Structo), instructor of writing at Maryville College
Rethabile Masilo blogs at Poéfrika and co-edits Canopic Jar. He was born in 1961 in Lesotho and left his country with his parents and siblings to go into exile in 1980. He moved through The Republic of South Africa (very short stay, on account of the weight of Apartheid), Kenya and the United States of America, before settling in France in 1987. His work has been published in various magazines and online. He is the author of two previous poetry collections: Things That Are Silent (Pindrop Press, 2012) and Waslap (The Onslaught Press, 2015).