Criticism & Features

Year 2021: 30 Books

The Rinehart Frames by Cheswayo Mphanza: 2021 Poetry Finalist

By Diego Báez

The Rinehart Frames by Cheswayo Mphanza (University of Nebraska)

Winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, this encyclopedic debut collection intertwines two central themes: the doppelganger character of Rinehart from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s final film 24 Frames. Mphanza structures the book around a series of centos, each of which comprises lines from dozens of prominent figures from African political, cultural, and intellectual circles, including Congolese statesman Patrice Lumumba, Zambian artist Henry Tayali, Scottish imperialist David Livingstone, and many others. Mphanza’s international scope remains firmly rooted in the impacts of settler colonialism on the planet’s Black inhabitants, and the polyvocal weaving of so many sources generates a totally idiosyncratic voice the poet claims as his own. Mphanza also creates an ekphrastic series inspired by the paintings of Hungarian-Iranian artist Amrita Sher-Gil, and places experimental jazz virtuoso Sun Ra in conversation with Martinique-born French writer Suzanne Césaire. These unexpected juxtapositions yield inspired formal explorations and vibrant collages, together with biting and timely reminders of the violence enacted on Black bodies throughout history, evinced by the raw viscerality of a poem like, “Open Casket Body Double for Patrice Lumumba’s Funeral.” Called “a brilliant and intrepid voice” by Publishers Weekly, Mphanza has compiled a meticulously curated archive of select lines and lyrics that is immediately personal and deeply engaged with American, African, and global histories. This book’s brilliance has left reviewers “blown away by poetic erudition,” and it brings to life the poet’s literary genealogy, a lineage into which the Zambian-born Mphanza rightly takes a place. 

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