Aside from the modern poets of today that many of us are fond of, scholar and poetess Upile Chisala should be on your radar. Chisala is an alumna of New Mexico State University as well as Oxford University in England. In 2015, using Kindle Direct Publishing, she self-published “soft magic,” a collection inspired by her childhood and experiences in higher education.
Now, four years after the work’s initial publication, Chisala has received the opportunity to republish the collection after Andrews McMeel offered to re-issue the work. As a result, the Malawian poet designed a new cover and began contemplating what she might add or retract from the original chapbook, a series of poems that explore topics like joy, the self, blackness, gender, spirituality and healing.
Chisala, like many modern poets, shares her work on her Instagram page, and her four-line aphorisms have helped cement her status as an elite writer. She fills her page with alternating pictures of herself, dressed in warm, elegant clothing, and with excerpts from her poems. The pastels spread across her social media reflect the softness of her poems and aura, but the words on the screen are themselves not soft.
Instead, Chisala advocates self-worth, and many of her poems underscore the value of their, generally female, readership. She exhorts young women to refuse compromise, to turn away from any proposition — romantic, professional or otherwise — that fails to fully do them justice.
In many of her poems, as well as in the excerpt above, Chisala uses the first-person perspective. In doing so, she makes her work more personal, which is key to her establishing such a strong bond with her readership. Indeed, her work, at times, feels almost confessional, as she seems to mine her personal life for material. Her readers, whether they can empathize with her experiences or not, are made to feel as if they share an intimate bond with the author, which is a partial explanation for her burgeoning fame.
In addition to speaking from a personal position, Chisala also addresses her readers in many of her poems. Doing so underscores the sense of intimacy, but it also gives her work a tone of counsel, as Chisala routinely gives her readership advice on how to conduct their lives. It feels comforting, having sage guidance wrapped in warm language, and the sense that Chisala cares about your own personal well-being adds to the relationship between reader and writer.
1. “Embracing the Beauty of Blackness”
“here you are,
black and woman and in love with yourself.
you are terrifying.
they are terrified
(as they should be).”
In this piece, Chisala tells readers that life is too short to sit around wondering whether the color of your skin, your sex or your body are beautiful enough for the next person who looks your way. Most people will never take the time to get to know you, nor do some people even need to be a part of your journey.
The five-line poem emphasizes, whether you identify as black or as a woman, that you are the fire that lights a room and leaves an indelible mark.
2. “Aim for Joy”
“Fighting sadness is a necessary war.”
In families, dating and friendships, loss plays a role. Through it all, you have to allow happiness to find its way back to you.
Though it can feel as if it’s impossible to shake a sense of gloom, peace can come from anyone or anything, no matter how insignificant, if you allow it.
3. “Affirmations to Self”
In one poem, Chisala created a list of 10 steps to reclaim what is or should be yours. Here are five to reflect on:
“1. Do not accept the love of man who makes you feel small; the universe is so vast.
5. Be alone often, as you are, but don’t let that turn into loneliness.
7. Don’t stay angry at the world too long. Seek out life in little things and move past sadness.
8. Touch somebody, with your hands or with your heart, with your
word or with your silence.
10. Be yourself and never apologize for being someone you love.”
It is important to reflect on who you are and who you want to become. By showcasing the power that comes from accepting that you were created to be beautiful, this collection helps to do just that. Whether you can identify with Chisala’s experience or not, after finishing the collection you will understand that its goal is creating a sense of inclusion. The poems will leave you with a strong sense of satisfaction.