The African Book Review met with finalists for The Brunel University African Poetry Prize to discuss their poems, inspirations, and hopes for the future of African Poetry. Here’s our interview with Amy Lukau, a poet of Angolan descent whose poem touched on love, loss, and resolving the tensions that come with both.
ABR: What inspires you to write poetry and what inspires your poems?
LUKAU: What inspires me to write poetry is the injustice prevalent in our world. Similarly, the beautiful moments found in life.
To be present in the world is a reactionary endeavor
This fact alone is the sole impetus of my inspiration for poetry. Everything inspires my work, from cooking, global news, civil unrest, a conversation between strangers on the bus when I’m on my way to work or school, you name it. Taking a seemingly banal subject such as cooking or cleaning (although to some it may be enjoyable) and giving it new meaning- a nuanced purpose- are some of the things I live for in my creative work. I always attempt to push my writing beyond the boundaries of what most people would think possible via form and content.
ABR: Your poem “Thoughts of Isaac,” which is a finalist for the Brunel University African Poetry prize, uses religious overtones to discuss the separation of two lovers. Can you talk a bit about the inspiration for this poem and the process of writing it?
LUKAU: “Thoughts of Isaac” is a deeply personal poem. The inspiration for the piece was the passing of a friend who was a potential ‘lover,’ for lack of a better term. He was killed in an auto accident four years ago. This poem was homage to him and what could have been if he were still alive. The religious overtones are my way of coping—I believe there is power of allusion.
Being able to speak of oneself and close encounters without giving too much away. This is one of the many reasons why I write: I can used codified language to articulate personal experiences. A novel take on confessional poetry? Maybe…
ABR: As a poet of Angolan descent, how has Angola influenced your works, and what do you think the future of poetry in Angola is? What ideally would you like it to be?
LUKAU: Being a poet of Angolan descent has had a definite impact on my work. My father immigrated to the United States to escape the communist government in Angola. Similarly, my mother’s family immigrated to the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire and before that the Belgian Congo). I consider myself in a lot of respects a bi-product of the transnational border scene.
Identity becomes complicated to those not intimately familiar of where I am coming from. I grew up in Arizona, a state in Southwestern United States where Spanish is spoken as much as English is. Saying this I do not know what the future of Angolan poetry is, I do know it has been one of resistance. Resisting colonial rule from the Portuguese to declaring independence in the 70s to espousing communism.
I would like all poetry in Angola and elsewhere to be a space where people can express themselves freely without fear of prosecution from governments. I believe poets play a salient role in society, to steal a quote from Salman Rushidie, “A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.”
ABR: Do you have any favorite African books? Any that have particularly influenced you or that you love for some reason?
LUKAU: I do! I love the book “So Long A Letter” by Mariama Ba. It’s relatively short but so powerful and beautifully written. Ba addresses a lot of societal issues in the book while remaining witty— it’s a wonderful read. This book influenced me because I read it about six years ago for a course I was taking on women in Islamic Africa. It shows and explicates how sometimes religion and culture become indefinable.
Books that I have also read lately include “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and “We Need New Names” by Noviolet Bulawayo. I also love the poem “Immigration RSVP” by Lemn Sissay. I loved his anthology which I read about seven months ago “The Fire People: Collection of Contemporary Black British Poets.” This is not an exhaustive list but some of the work I’ve been reading by African authors as of late.
ABR: Can you talk about your future projects and things you are currently working on?
LUKAU: Some things that I am working on involve a lot of translational elements. An attempt to blur the ‘lines’ between collective memory and reality. It’s a concept that continually appears in my work and I am attempting to put together cohesive work on the topic. Other than that, poet plays which have been a lot of fun.
Amy Lukau was born in Tucson, Arizona to Angolan parents. She graduated from Arizona State University with a BS in Molecular Biosciences and Biotechnology & a BA in Religious Studies with certificates in Islamic Studies and Religion & Conflict. She is the Executive Director of Girls Education International, a non-profit organization based in Colorado that supports educational opportunities for underserved females in remote and underdeveloped regions of the world. Amy is currently an MFA candidate in the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.