(re-)view: feeling and ugly by danai mupotsa

The other day, a friend posted a picture of her copy of feeling and ugly on Instagram, with the caption “Companion”. I thought it was uncanny that hours earlier, I had thought about posting a picture of my copy with the exact same caption.


feeling and ugly is the first poetry book I have ever owned. I keep it by my bed, just in case. I don’t know what the emergency will be but I want to be prepared.


Whilst I think about what this collection means to me, there’s an image in my head of a white blonde child clutching a teddy bear. The invisible parent in the scene lets the child take the teddy bear everywhere. Without it, the child feels destabilized; cries violently. It feels like an image I’ve seen in a movie or something.

I do not think of or see myself as this child. I don’t remember having such a relation to any of my toys when I was young. But I can relate to the image, because finally, I have something that I can hold (onto) when being in the world makes me want to cry. A soft anchor. A companion.

It’s disappointingly easy for me to conjure up an image of a vulnerable white child.  I’ve consumed so much media where white people of every age get to be emotionally complex. I grew up without getting to see myself reflected like this, despite the ocean of feelings within me. It was as if we couldn’t be spared this luxury, despite the fact that what black girls feel and think and know could flood a small universe.

In this light, feeling and ugly reveals a depth of emotion that is not usually afforded to us. It gently pushes me towards me but also helps me articulate a “we”. Reading it, I can recognize what is shared without needing it to look the same in each of us.


Danai writes about love in its different forms: sees it through its difficulty. Like her,

I want to dream of love that is tempestuous

– (p. 61)


Danai also writes about sex. About pleasure and shamelessness. About wanting to climb people. This is very important political work.


There are poems in this collection which are difficult to read, uncomfortable in that they know too much. They are not judging you, but they’ve seen what you have spent your life hiding (from). Not only have they seen it, but they have seen just how much of it there is. To be so exposed in your shame feels like each of your pores is a blister.

Maybe if you just sit with the poems and with the shame – focus less on concealing – you can catch your breath.



together like this

fills me to pieces

– (p. 56)




feeling and ugly is published by impepho press and available at African Flavour Books.


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