Because he was a radical poet, Jack Mapanje was imprisoned without trial or charge by the dictator Hastings Banda of Malawi for nearly four years. The themes of his poetry range from the search for a sense of dignity and integrity under a repressive regime, incarceration, release from prison, exile and return to Africa, and reconciliation with torturers, to the writer in Africa and the continuing African liberation struggle in a hostile world. While often deadly serious, Mapanje's poems are lifted by the generosity of spirit and irrepressible humour which helped sustain him through his prison ordeal.
"Jack Mapanje's early poems, written under Banda's dictatorship, had to be cryptic. Poems written in prison and published after his release were, necessarily, very angry. His latest work is mellower and more mordant in tone. But the conscience, the wit and the craftsmanship which it displays have characterised his work from the beginning. His wholly original, unsubdued voice is still unlike that of any other poet writing in English, from Africa or anywhere."
"The poems have a raging clarity; the chameleon has become the chattering wagtailÖ Don't read this because Mapanje was detained, another human rights victim. Read it because he made poetry out of the experience ñ sardonic, inventive, lyrical testimonies to a generous and enduring spirit."
Landeg White, Stand
"Given the regime, Mapanje's satire can seem strangely generous, impressively blending the memory of terror with a sense almost of farce when he considers his captors."
Sean O'Brien, Sunday Times
"An African talent whose poetry effectively overthrew the dictator."
David Rubadiri, Vice-Chancellor, University of Malawi