The New Testament | Nike Adesuyi

I walk the coasts of Ibeju Lekki

White sands, a blue sea and a

Happy sun distil putrid visions

*

I run into the winds;

A kite buoyed on the wings of fun

*

I race the wind to an infinity of sands and shells

Until my feet are shocked by the magic of Mammon

Asphalt scarifies the polish of the sands like tribal marks

*

Beyond the billowing wrapper of the sea,

In places secret to the coastal eyes,

Principalities and powers are violating

Our maiden of mercies

*

In Ogoni** the fishes are fevered

From the typhoid of crude

Oil paints the sea black

And all the waters mourn.

**  Ogoniland in Nigeria, where Shell Oil company vastly polluted the Niger Delta river.

NIKE ADESUYI is a Nigerian poet, and a member of WRITA. She is the editorial manager of a thriving publications company in Lagos. Her poems have been published in several anthologies.

On Kwesi Brew | Liyou Mesfin Libeskal

Liyou Mesfin Libeskal is the winner of the Brunnel University African Poetry Prize. She discusses Kwesi Brew, one of Ghana’s greatest poets, in this review. Find more of her work here and on Facebook

Kwesi Brew

Ghanaian poet and diplomat Kwesi Brew, is one of the most celebrated figures in his country’s literary history. Brew’s poetry, centered around struggle and poverty, people and country, always has a distinctly natural quality and flow, no matter how intricate the lines are. One of the first poems I read by the late poet was The Executioner’s Dream, and the lines, “I dreamt I saw an eye, a pretty eye/ In your hands/ Glittering, wet and sickening; Like a dull onyx set in a crown of thorns” entranced me and prompted me to seek out more of Brew’s work.

What is so captivating about his poems is not only the ease with which he creates intensity, but also the fact that throughout his body of work, there is an air of melancholy which never fails to move me. Brew’s poems have an effortless way of immersing the reader into whatever he is depicting, subtly pulling at heartstrings, making us feel what he decides. Brew in a sense, forces us to see with him without being forceful, he just gives us his words and lets us follow. In The Slums of Nima Brew connects the slums to Ghana or even Africa in general by depicting “violent” thieves who step aside to make room for an old man to pass before them. In doing so, he shows us the culture that remains, even in a place which may be different from what we know. By using the universal idea of respect for elders, he connects us with thieves in the slums, and suddenly, we are not so different.

In another one of my favorites, Ghana’s Philosophy of Survival, Brew starts off “we are the punching bag of fate/ on whom the hands of destiny wearies/ and the show of blows gradually lose/ their viciousness on our patience/ until they become the caresses of admiration/ and time heals all wounds/ comes with a balm and without tears,/ soothes the bruises on our spirits.” Here, we see the absolute power of Brew’s words as he encapsulates so eloquently, in one stanza, the reaction to years of strife of a people long oppressed. With this, he not only addresses Ghana’s history of colonization, but also a very real aspect of human nature, allowing the reader to connect to a part of historic reality he/she may not relate to.

In my view, this is the essence of what Brew does with words, he grabs hold of you and brings you in, regardless of whether or not you are Ghanaian or African, whether or not you’ve seen the places or been the people or even felt the emotions his words convey. What his poetry does, is connect.

This, to me, is not simply down to powerful imagery or potent lines, or the weight of sheer sadness and beauty Brew communicates; it is because Brew leads with an undeniable essence of truth and vulnerability. I think this is perhaps why his work captivates us with remarkable ease. Brew is not only a literary treasure for Ghanaians and Africans, but for the world. I would recommend his work to anyone interested in literature who has yet to discover his stunning poetry.

 Liyou Mesfin Libsekal  is an Ethiopian poet born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She spent the majority of her childhood in different parts of East Africa. She earned a BA in Anthropology from the George Washington University in 2012; she now lives in her home country. She’s the winner of the 2014 Brunel University African Poetry Prize. Her poems include “Riding Chinese Machines” and can be found here. 

Read our interview with Liyou here.

To My Mother | Camara Laye

Black woman, African woman, O mother, I think of you …

O Dâman, O mother,
who carried me on your back, who nursed me,
who governed by first steps,
who opened my eyes to the beauties of the world, I think of you …

Woman of the fields, woman of the rivers, woman of the great river, O
mother, I think of you …

O Dâman, O mother, who wiped my tears,
who cheered up my heart,
who patiently dealt with my caprices,
how I would love to still be near you.

Simple woman, woman of resignation, O mother, I think of you.
O Dâman, Dâman of the great family of blacksmiths, my thoughts are
always of you, they accompany me with every step,
O Dâman, my mother, how I would love to still feel your warmth,
to be your child that is close to you …
Black woman, African woman, O mother, thank you; thank you for all
that you have done for me, your son, so far away yet so close to you!


A MA MERE

Femme noire, femme africaine, ô toi ma mère je pense à toi…

Ô Dâman, ô ma mère, toi qui me
portas sur le dos, toi qui m’allaitas,
toi qui gouvernas mes premiers pas,
toi qui la première m’ouvris les yeux
aux prodiges de la terre, je pense à toi…

Femme des champs, femme des rivières, femme du grand fleuve,
ô toi, ma mère, je pense à toi…

Ô toi Dâman, ô ma mère, toi qui
essuyais mes larmes, toi qui me
réjouissais le coeur, toi qui,
patiemment supportais mes caprices,
comme j’aimerais encore être près de toi, être enfant près de toi…

Ô Dâman, Dâman de la grande
famille des forgerons, ma pensée
toujours se tourne vers toi, la tienne
à chaque pas m’accompagne, ô
Dâman, ma mère, comme j’aimerais
encore être dans ta chaleur, être
enfant près de toi…

Femme noire, femme africaine, ô
toi, ma mère, merci ; merci pour tout
ce que tu fis pour moi, ton fils, si
loin, si près de toi !

 

You Laughed And laughed And Laughed | Gabriel Okara

In your ears my song
is motor car misfiring
stopping with a choking cough;
and you laughed and laughed and laughed.

In your eyes my ante-
natal walk was inhuman, passing
your ‘omnivorous understanding’
and you laughed and laughed and laughed

You laughed at my song,
you laughed at my walk.

Then I danced my magic dance
to the rhythm of talking drums pleading, but you shut your eyes
and laughed and laughed and laughed

And then I opened my mystic
inside wide like the sky,
instead you entered your
car and laughed and laughed and laughed

You laughed at my dance,
you laughed at my inside.
You laughed and laughed and laughed.

But your laughter was ice-block
laughter and it froze your inside froze
your voice froze your ears
froze your eyes and froze your tongue.

And now it’s my turn to laugh;
but my laughter is not
ice-block laughter. For I
know not cars, know not ice-blocks.

My laughter is the fire
of the eye of the sky, the fire
of the earth, the fire of the air,
the fie of the seas and the
rivers fishes animals trees
and it thawed your inside,
thawed your voice, thawed your
ears, thawed your eyes and
thawed your tongue.

So a meek wonder held
your shadow and you whispered;
‘Why so?’
And I answered:
‘Because my fathers and I
are owned by the living
warmth of the earth
through our naked feet.’

 

Gabriel jibaba Okara (born 24 April 1921)is a Nigerian poet and novelist who was born in Bomoundi in State, Nigeria. In 1979, he was awarded the Commonwealth Poetry Prize. This well-known poem by Okara is sometimes wrongly attributed to Dennis Brutus.

Algeria: Prison Bestiaries | Jean Senac

I love you that’s true I love you that’s false
crows on my tongue
wage war with swallows
we’ve got blackness inside our backs

But if one day the beloved
or the beauty comes along
we find our spinning tops again
sunlight scars the water

All around the air thins
we throw a shovel
of earth on the thighs
the ivy comes into focus

Migratory pleasures
you bequeath to the heart
decaying nymphs
and we go on living
gropingly under the waves
like crayfish

I love you
for you I write poems
to stop thinking
drunk on images
I invent margins
to prolong you

If I had at least
your name to speak
o my unknown my madwoman of the streets
honored in my veins
like a king by his empire

My needle of gold missing in the hay!

 

 

JEAN SÉNAC (1926-1973) was an Algerian poet who wrote about the fight for Algerian independence in French. This poem was translated from French by Justin Vicari.

 

The African Book Review is posting a poem from each of Africa’s 55 countries over the next few weeks. Poem suggestions can be sent through the comments form below. ‘Like’ us on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr to read all the poems.

Song of Lawino (excerpt) |Okot p’Bitek

Listen Ocol, my old friend,
The ways of your ancestors
Are good,
Their customs are solid
And not hollow
They are not thin, not easily breakable
They cannot be blown away.
By the wind
Because their roots reach deep into the soil.

I do not understand
The way of foreigners
But I do not despise their customs.
Why should you despise yours?
Listen, my husband,
You are the son of the Chief.
The pumpkin in the old homestead
Must not be uprooted!

Okot p’Bitek was a prominent Ugandan poet. Song of Lawino was originally written in Acholi language. It was self-translated to English, and published in 1966.

A Troubadour, I Traverse | Dennis Brutus

A troubadour, I traverse all my land
exploring all her wide flung parts with zest
probing in motion sweeter far than rest
her secret thickets with an amorous hand:
and I have laughed disdaining those who banned
enquiry and movement, delighting in the test
of wills when doomed by Saracened arrest,
choosing, like unarmed thumb, simply to stand.

Thus, quixoting till a cast-off of my land
I sing and fare, person to loved-one pressed
braced for this pressure and the captor’s hand
that snaps off service like a weathered strand:
– no mistress-favor has adorned my breast
only the shadow of an arrow-brand.

 

Dennis Brutus was a South African activist, educator, and poet. 

ELEGY FOR A CHILD | Helon Habila

This is how the world ends:
First, all beauty will die –
All that is green and pure, all
That inspires, elevates; all talent, for beauty,
Like yours, child, is a great talent.
 
Then all courage will die – all hope,
All that keep the fires burning,
All that won’t be bowed, cowed – like
You, child, who smiled and smiled to the end.
 
After beauty, and laughter, and courage,
After the fishes in the sea,
After the leaves are variegated, and
The flowers blighted, when
All songs have ended, then the
World’s roof will cave in, because
When you left, dear child,
The world’s pillar also crumbled.

 

 

Helon Habila is a Nigerian novelist and poet. 

SAPPED by Felix Edjeren

The worms fight greedily for the corn.
Making me muse and muse.
Suddenly, the ground moves.
My hands clutch the door post
Pounding heart tearing the painful head.
`Lord, spare this struggling life
Next pay will be food first
If I’ve not learnt too late’

At the buka, the changeless topics
`SAP has marginalized us all’
Mama Put has learnt
So many new words already
`When will the universities be re-opened?’
`When will Gani be released?’
`Have you heard that… blah blah blah’

The voices reach me from a distance.
I toil through the salty soup.
Gradually, strength returns.
The foul tang of bore-hole water
Stings the senses …
I am my society’s oblation.
Lost, the will to complain.

 

Felix Edjeren is a Nigerian poet

The Meaning of Africa by Abioseh Nicol

Africa, you were once just a name to me
But now you lie before me with sombre green challenge
To that loud faith for freedom (life more abundant)
Which we once professed shouting
Into the silent listening microphone
Or on an alien platform to a sea
Of white perplexed faces troubled
With secret Imperial guilt; shouting
Of you with a vision euphemistic
As you always appear
To your lonely sons on distant shores.

Then the cold sky and continent would disappear
In a grey mental mist.
And in its stead the hibiscus blooms in shameless scarlet
and the bougainvillea in mauve passion
entwines itself around strong branches
the palm trees stand like tall proud moral women
shaking their plaited locks against the
cool suggestive evening breeze;
the short twilight passes;
the white full moon turns its round gladness
towards the swept open space
between the trees; there will be
dancing tonight; and in my brimming heart
plenty of love and laughter.
Oh, I got tired of the cold northern sun
Of white anxious ghost-like faces
Of crouching over heatless fires
In my lonely bedroom.
The only thing I never tired of
was the persistent kindness
Of you too few unafraid
Of my grave dusky strangeness.

So I came back
Sailing down the Guinea Coast.
Loving the sophistication
Of your brave new cities:
Dakar, Accra, Cotonou,
Lagos, Bathurst and Bissau;
Liberia, Freetown, Libreville,
Freedom is really in the mind.

Go up-country, so they said,
To see the real Africa.
For whomsoever you may be,
That is where you come from.
Go for bush, inside the bush,
You will find your hidden heart,
Your mute ancestral spirit.
So I went, dancing on my way.

Now you lie before me passive
With your unanswering green challenge.
Is this all you are?
This long uneven red road, this occasional succession
Of huddled heaps of four mud walls
And thatched, falling grass roofs
Sometimes ennobled by a thin layer
Of white plaster, and covered with thin
Slanting corrugated zinc.
These patient faces on weather-beaten bodies
Bowing under heavy market loads.
The pedalling cyclist wavers by
On the wrong side of the road,
As if uncertain of his new emancipation.
The squawking chickens, the pregnant she-goats
Lumber awkwardly with fear across the road,
Across the windscreen view of my four-cylinder kit car.
An overloaded lorry speeds madly towards me
Full of produce, passengers, with driver leaning
Out into the swirling dust to pilot his
Swinging obsessed vehicle along,
Beside him on the raised seat his first-class
Passenger, clutching and timid; but he drives on
At so, so many miles per hour, peering out with
Bloodshot eyes, unshaved face and dedicated look;
His motto painted on each side: Sunshine Transport,
We get you there quick, quick. The Lord is my Shepherd.

The red dust settles down on the green leaves.

I know you will not make me want, Lord,
Though I have reddened your green pastures
It is only because I have wanted so much
That I have always been found wanting.
From South and East, and from my West
(The sandy desert holds the North)
We look across a vast continent
And blindly call it ours.

You are not a country, Africa,
You are a concept,
Fashioned in our minds, each to each,
To hide our separate fears,
To dream our separate dreams.
Only those within you who know
Their circumscribed plot,
And till it well with steady plough
Can from that harvest then look up
To the vast blue inside
Of the enamelled bowl of sky
Which covers you and say
‘This is my Africa’ meaning
‘I am content and happy.
I am fulfilled, within,
Without and roundabout
I have gained the little longings
Of my hands, my loins, my heart
And the soul that follows in my shadow.’
I know now that is what you are, Africa:
Happiness, contentment, and fulfilment,
And a small bird singing on a mango tree.