Review: ‘When No One is Watching’ by Linathi Makanda

When No One Is Watching is a compilation of poems about love and the loss thereof, trauma and the dark reflections that come with it. It is a depiction of sides that people don’t readily show, sides of vulnerability, insecurity and tiny amounts of hope. One could say it is the result of shedding light into a world of secrecy, escapism, an alternate reality belonging to an alternate version of an individual. When No One Is Watching is the truth in its purest form.



Publisher: Odyssey Books

ISBN: 9781922311092

Date read: 21 June 2020


Thank you to Henry Roi of Odyssey Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In her first collection of poetry and prose, Linathi Makanda embarks on a mission to redefine and occupy a creative space where the personal, the public, and the political intertwine for the purposes of hope and healing. Each vivid fragment of her art is an attestation to her natural talent for storytelling, her uncanny ability for exquisite expression of even the most mundane moments.

Despite its tonal resonances with the likes of Sappho (and even Rupi Kaur), Makanda’s collection is strikingly unique. Her voice adopts the lyrical yet conversational style of scribbled journal entries, of late-night murmurings, of half-forgotten childhood stories. Some of her poems seem almost fragile, as though she has shaped them with trembling fingers; others feel like explosions of heat and noise. At times her words so are alight with anger and passion that they seem to burn through the pages, while at others they settle light as a catching breath on the reader’s lips. Makanda’s range of emotion – and her ability to convey subtle shifts in a single word – is one of the most compelling elements of her writing.

Themes of love, childhood, survival, memory, despair, heartbreak, and gender cascade over each other and build to a rising climax through the four parts of the compilation. Makanda dares her readers to search themselves for the potential to recover from personal trauma, right from the dedication – Stay. Heal – to the final rousing affirmation – The sun has finally come out. The journey she pulls us through is one of yearning, discovery, agency. She implores us to reclaim our voices and speak our own healing into being. We are miracle workers, she whispers. Writing ourselves back to life / Loving ourselves back to life.

Perhaps the most potent theme in Makanda’s collection is that of poetry itself. Poetry is a space of awakening: Brought back to life by him / constantly loving me in poetry, in silence. It is a space to retreat from rejection: I woke up and all I had was poetry and prose while he gave all he had to someone else. It is a space of desperate suffering: I’d make a home for you between my lines and you would still forget me. It is a space of acceptance and hope: I hope she writes you back to life. Better than I ever will, I hope. But above all, it is a space of self-redemption. Love and healing become synonymous with the writing process as the speaker learns to embrace herself irrevocably:

You have taken your own two hands
Mended and moulded what was once broken
You are the god in your story
Weaving your own redemption
Weaving your own healing
Weaving your own healing

This is the churning tide that pulls together the poems in When No One Is Watching: a defiance of the pain that is deepened by silence and invisibility. Hope comes not only in Weaving your own healing, but also in feed[ing] them the story of how you loved yourself back to life. As the collection draws to a close, Makanda invites the reader to join her in this radical act of self-love. She welcomes invisible women to occupy her space, to indulge in the affirmation of being seen: I am writing for you all. / I see you. / I see you.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Recommended to: Anyone feeling as though no-one is watching.

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