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Being Richard Schuster

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Poetry comes in many forms and tongues, but one thing brings the genre’s diverse audiences together, namely the communion of feeling.

It must be this feeling, I think, that gives, say, foreign poets the courage to fly— or drive, whatever is cheap and easy— to a foreign land and recite before a new [read, strange] audience.

It can, therefore, be surprising for a foreign, say, poet to be shouted down, especially in Malawi, the so-called Warm Heart of Africa.

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But this is what happened to Germany-born poet Richard Schuster, who stood still, tactfully escaping the violence unleashed by slashing tongues by staring, long and hard, at the white piece of paper tightly held in his stable hands.

His was a case of four-long minutes during the 2016 edition of Land of Poets Festival held in Blantyre. Surprisingly, never, during those four embarrassing minutes when some isolated audience members shouted poetry down, did Schuster look at the crowd.

The piece of paper passionately held in his hands was, surely, more patient than the unreasonable— in the context of poetry—audience members who preferred the familiar to the unfamiliar.

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Now, one of the people that shouted Schuster down was, ironically, a football fanatic. A man with a loud mouth!

The man with a loud mouth and, to borrow Times Group Sports Editor Peter Kanjere’s words, pregnancy-size tummy did not understand two things: That Schuster is a hardened poet, and, two, that he is a written-word poet.

In fact, one could have hoped that the alien aspect of shouting a visiting poet down would be tempered with a little bit of the warm-heartedness that Malawians are known for. Not this day as— instead of at least enduring the lashes of a foreign language [Schuster was reciting in German] — they, with their slashing tongues, howled on top of their voices.

The audience was outright rude; that ‘thick’, dark temperament that clings to the ceiling of good-will and gives humanity a bad name.

Okay, to cut a long story short, I thought Schuster would be angry immediately after his performance. He did not.

When I approached him at the end of his performance at Blantyre Cultural Centre, he said: “The one who was shouting me down was behaving like a baby! Maybe he does not understand poetry. If he wanted a bottle on masheshe (meaning, masese; opaque beer), he should have just said it!

Immediately, Schuster burst into laughter. “That man! He is a very strange man indeed. But can he recite?”

Schuster was in stitches again.

Well, this time I will not laugh like Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

I will not even say each ha! is for each tribe of Israel. Malawians embarrassed me!

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