One doesn’t often see esoteric work and literature mixed. Life is integrated, true, but bookshop shelves certainly aren’t. And a good number of readers have been indoctrinated to look for and align with pigeon-holes. So, it’s great to see Wild Has Roots published, a book in which tarot and poetry fruitfully coexist.
The esotericAs used here, “esoteric” denotes a combination of spiritual exploration and self-help; seeking wholeness through going after truths that lie beyond the rational intellect. is very relevant at this time. The Covid era has forced human beings to reconsider what really matters, to revisit priorities and to fundamentally readjust, so that a better balance can be found between the inner and outer worlds. In this sense, the pandemic has demanded that we do a “reset” and, in so doing, has knocked down walls and opened up new spaces. We have, for example, seen the likes of Brené Brown, Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra – articulators of the idea that inner transformation is key to attaining a better world – become more prominent and growing their audiences. On another level, there’s been a new appreciation of and receptiveness towards feminism’s “the personal is political” – a new openness to the thinking of activist-visionaries such as bell hooks and Audre Lorde. Cue the latter’s statement that
“caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”.
A key characteristic of those involved in esoteric practices is their sense of community. This is also a golden thread in Wild Has Roots; it is written and presented with a clear sense of a collective, the ‘family’, a club of kindred souls. This comes through in the blurb, the introduction and several text references. On page 38 – in a section that deals with Naidoo’s homegrown tarot cards – the names of about 50 women are mentioned. It’s like a roll call of fellow explorers: “Adriana, Aneshree, Bérénice…. Yolanda and Yoraya”. Says the author: “Their energies have been significant to this collection”.
Community entails shared practices, but also mutual supportiveness. Thus, these words by Bérénice de La Croix are woven into the text: “Pralini’s readings have shone a light into the nooks and crannies of my life, they have been like a hand held out inviting me to take the next steps in my journey. Her poems call me into deep places”.
The challenge – and opportunity – for such groups is to open things up, to maintain a communicability with wider audiences. The challenge/potential is to find and foreground the connection between esoteric questions and the day-to-day survival issues of ordinary folk as well as the conundrums faced by those steeped in materialist and structural approaches to positive social change – to overcome the pigeonholing that invariably happens to books with an esoteric feel.
Wild Has Roots operates as a collage. The poems, stories and several short memoir-style reflections co-exist to create a whole, but which simultaneously leave fragments, spaces that leaven the work and offer tantalizing loose ends. The prose pieces, skillfully crafted, are vignettes rather than fully-fledged short stories. As a result, there isn’t room for character development; there is also no scope for a story arc. Nevertheless there is something deep and engrossing about them. Naidoo’s characters are yearning for something – some dignity, a sense of “holding” in uncertain times, identity and fragments of freedom. The stories in the “Roots” section pick up on the milieu of the marginalised, those living where “houses sit snugly next to each other” in under-resourced communities, those held within the colour and gender-conservatism of religious norms.
The last section, entitled “Wild”, is given over fully to poetry. This is the strongest part of the book, reflecting skillful writing that pierces through the mundane and the banal. The imagery is fresh and distinct, devoid of clichés. In haiku mangetsu, (where mangetsu is Japanese for “full moon”), Naidoo writes:
Even when you hide
the ocean in my body
The settings are familiar: the sea, the promenade, the fisherman with their rods, a shopping aisle, a mountain’s contours. However, Naidoo gets the reader to see old things in new ways. Witness the titular, wild has roots:
I wondered about my roots
travelling into dna
into ships’ lists and
torn yellow pages
The strength of the “Wild” poems prodded this reviewer to track back to two strong poems in the previous section, ones that foreground grit and resilience. In flight interrupted, Naidoo adopts the collective view and talks about the ones who seduce with their nectar and “lure us/ (with) bouquets of promises”. The marauders have their way, breaking wings, but, according to Naidoo, flight is interrupted only “for a moment”. In breeze, it’s as if resilience is strengthened through the writing itself: “I felt around for the void/ that the habit of you might leave/ but found instead a breeze.”
As she does with the stories, the author leaves it to the reader to figure out whether a poem is biographical or delving into the experiences of others. Either way, the reader is invited to enter the reflective spaces and to grapple with the dilemmas, searching and growing pains being processed in the piece. This openness (open to interpretation-ness) gives Wild Has Roots an edge and dynamism.
In discussing the work in one of the piecesIt is the intro to the section entitled Tarot. It is on page 36 and follows a blue page (p35) indicating the Tarot section. It has no heading. , Naidoo counterposes different ways of knowing. With references to academia, she rails against cerebral processes that are sometimes “violently disconnected from other ways of knowing”. She states that, as an alternative, the kind of poetry in Wild Has Roots has “allowed me a sanctuary and a language which spoke directly to my inner and outer world”. In the introduction, Wanelisa Xaba confirms the book’s use of the non-linear and the boldly intuitive as possible ways of opening up understanding. She states that she experienced the book’s content as “a strange weaving of spirituality and metaphor” and as “explosive witchcraft and cashmere poetry”.
The book has come at a time of change, a moment when – thanks to the destabilisation of old certainties – there is greater acceptance of epistemic diversity and receptiveness towards out-of-the-box thinking about what it means to be human.
Wild Has Roots is a modest intervention; it’s a thin volume with a print run in the hundreds rather than thousands. But it’s an important contribution that adds value, inspires and engages us in profound ways.
|1.||As used here, “esoteric” denotes a combination of spiritual exploration and self-help; seeking wholeness through going after truths that lie beyond the rational intellect.|
|2.||It is the intro to the section entitled Tarot. It is on page 36 and follows a blue page (p35) indicating the Tarot section. It has no heading.|