Nectar (2019) – Upile Chisala

Title:Nectar
Author:Upile Chisala
Publisher:Andrews McMeel Publishing
Publication date:2019
Star rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:Jonathan Ball Publishers in South Africa sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

I am

Black

Woman

and African

In a world that undervalues all three

For the first time in many years my physical reaction to the written word was undeniable. I picked up Chisala’s book and from the first sentence I was completely blown away by how effortlessly she found her way into the darkest reaches of my heart. Of course I am sure it was not in anyway effortless. I was hoping that I could start this review without bringing myself into it, but upon reflection I simply cannot do that. If anything Nectar is possibly one of the most personal collections of prose I have ever come across. Chisala speaks to women, to black women, to abused women, to strong women, and sad women. Chisala speaks to the that little part of your soul that you imagined no one else knew about until you saw the words in black ink on white paper and suddenly your pain was every women’s pain.

Broken up into five chapters the first, “House of Honey” is a kind of affirmation for women. Where perhaps the ‘honey’ is not just the gift you give to yourself as a woman, but it could also be you. ‘You’ could be the honey. Chisala alludes to abusive relationships and being able to assert yourself as a woman. As a black woman Chisala takes that identity and places it on the throne of her work, as it should be. In this first ‘chapter’ the reader learns where they should be in terms of relationships and their own sense of self, even though they may not necessarily be there physically. On page 8 Chisala declares:

There are things that I am that I am trying not be

There are things that I was that have no claim on me

In so may words and in so many ways the poet wants us to know that we can change our stars.

In the second chapter entitled “Soil and Roots” which could easily be accepted as the foundation phase if one were to rely on the ‘gardening’ metaphor, pain is the defining factor. The pain inflicted during relationships, the pain of motherhood, the pain of being a black woman. Pain , trauma and the burdens of identity are the key themes here. On page 49 the words read:

Today your heart is heavy, and you’re wondering

If your God is watching the world burn too

It is here where she wants the reader to be strong, to remember the past even if it seems a burden sometimes and too painful, and to never remain silent. To speak, and to have faith.

In chapter three, “All that Grew” is mostly about relationships and Chisala is frighteningly accurate when it comes to the heartbreak and the feeling of being left behind. Her words are achingly raw as she alludes to toxic relationships and memory associated with loss. Chisala does make several references to the healing power of writing, and writing poetry specifically. As though she were writing through her own pain, which one can only imagine she is. Her words are chilling to the point of despair at times, and yet hope always seems to be waiting in the wings:

Lean into it

Get lost in it.

It might break you a bit, but, goodness, it’ll be an

adventure. Love always is.

The fourth chapter “Our Garden” is about acceptance, and not just accepting the status quo but only accepting that which is of the highest good. It is about wanting more for yourself, and not accepting less than what you deserve. Once again Chisala reiterates the importance of our voice, and the act of writing as a rejuvenating tool. Though those words had to have come from somewhere and most often pain is the ultimate inspiration.

Pray for the creative whose vulnerability amuses us,

whose pain reminds us of our own,

who had to feel something again and again for our sakes.

Finally in “Fruit” the words in Nectar remind us to love ourselves. It is the final form of validation that we are here. The final chapter is an affirmation of sorts. A final list of the things to remember that will keep us alive and bearing fruit. The first being:

a. show up for yourself

Cross shit off lists

Live out your beautiful purpose.

No amount of analysing and critiquing will do Upile Chisala’s Nectar quite enough justice. As I turned each page I wept for the words, I wept for the women, and I wept for myself. Truly one of the most intoxicating and beautifully real works I have read in my lifetime. An extraordinary talent who has appeared in this world with such grace. I am stunned in all the right ways.

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