New Year’s Eve Midnight | Gabriel Okara

Now the bells are tolling–

A year is dead.

And my heart is slowly beating

the Nunc Dimittis

to all my hopes and mute

yearnings of a year

and ghosts hover round

dream beyond dream

 

Dream beyond dream

mingling with the dying

bell-sounds fading

into memories

like rain drops

falling into a river.

 

And now the bells are chiming–

A year is born.

And my heart-bell is ringing

in a dawn.

But it’s shrouded things I see

dimly stride

on heart-canopied paths

to a riverside.

Gabriel Okara was born in 1921 in Nembe in Rivers State, Nigeria. He is one of the most significant early Nigerian poets. Often concerned with the identity of his people, throughout his poetry, there is evidence of the influence of the traditional folk literature of his people. (Culled from A Selection of African Poetry, annotated by K.E. Senanu and T. Vincent)

The Cathedral | Kofi Awoonor

On this dirty patch
a tree once stood
shedding incense on the infant corn:
its boughs stretched across a heaven
brightened by the last fires of a tribe.
They sent surveyors and builders
who cut that tree
planting in its place
A huge senseless cathedral of doom.


Kofi Awoonor (13 March 1935 – 21 September 2013) was a Ghanaian poet and author whose work combined the poetic traditions of his native Ewe people and contemporary and religious symbolism to depict Africa during decolonization. He started writing under the name George Awoonor-Williams, and was also published as Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor. He taught African literature at the University of Ghana.

Awoonor1
The firewood of this world/ Is only for those who can take heart/ That is why not all can gather it…[Professor Dr. Kofi Awoonor – A Tribute] (Songs of Sorrow I)

From A Place by Titilope Sonuga

From A Place by Titilope Sonuga

I come from a place

where mothers go to battle each day
with a baby strapped across their backs
another still clinging from their breasts
childcare at its finest

A place of street businessmen
who don’t need a white collar to make deals
they sign contracts with handshakes
shirtless sometimes shoeless
they will show you how to make money
make money

You will find anything in these streets
from hubcaps to toilet seats

It has been said
if you leave home naked
find yourself caught in the gridlock traffic
of Lagos roads
they will have you dressed
boardroom sharp
briefcase in hand
between the mainland and the island

I come from a place
of jaw dropping mansions and

face-me-I-face-you-rooms
where a child hawks goods in the blazing sun
next to an air conditioned Mercedes Benz

There are dichotomies here
abject poverty chewing at the seems that bind us
but we are the same people who built a city on fire
who bent fire and metal to give you art
built empires before the world’s first breath

Check your textbooks
better yet check your encyclopedias
read between the lines
you will find us there
you will find us everywhere
every continent, climate, country
speaking Portuguese, French, Italian
and they call us uncivilized

We can show you how to perfect pair
your caviar and wine
and still get down fingers deep
in a plate of pounded yam

I come from a place
where the world’s best storytellers first spoke
who taught you
You Must Set Forth At Dawn
be No Longer At Ease with that
Thing Around your Neck before

Things Fall Apart

So when you ask me where I come from
there are things I want to tell you
that are louder than my bright green passport
things that are heavier than the failed explosive
cradled in Mutalab’s underpants
things that are more colorful than a well crafted
419 email

You will never understand who I am until you know
exactly where I come from

Poem taken from the Spoken Word album ‘Mother Tongue’. Reproduced from https://literature.britishcouncil.org/blog/2015/writing-a-new-nigeria/

Titilope Sonuga released her first spoken word album Mother Tongue in 2013. Her second poetry collection Abscess was released in 2014 by Geko Publishing. Titilope is the winner of the 2013 EMCN RISE (Recognizing Immigrant Success in Edmonton) award for Art and Culture and the 2014 National Black Coalition of Canada Fil Fraser Award for outstanding work in literary performance and/or visual arts. Visit her at http://titilope.ca/

History’s Shadow Will Often Hover over the Future

The African Book Review’s Chioma Nkemdilim met with some of the finalists of The Brunel University African Poetry Prize to discuss their poems, inspirations, and hopes for the future of African Poetry. Here’s our interview with Bernard Matambo, a Zimbabwean poet whose poem “The City,” provides an in-depth look at the relationship between spaces and people.

 

ABR: How did you develop an interest in writing poetry and where does your inspiration to write poems come from?

MATAMBO: I started writing poetry in a serious way when I was 14. Before this I had always read everything near, and written short pieces for school or for myself. A lot of things were happening in my life at this age, sudden changes that led me to question a lot of what I had understood to be true and factual. Inevitably my understanding and reading of the world seemed to lack placement in the world around me. Poetry became a way of looking, a way of reading and synthesizing what was occurring within and around me at that age.

ABR: Your poem The City which is a finalist for the Brunel University African Poetry Prize seems to touch on issues of history, oppression, reclaiming spaces, and possibly how spaces can be a record/ keep the memories of peoples who have ever dwelt there. Can you share your inspiration for this poem and what you wanted it to be representative of?

MATAMBO: “The City” is part of a circle of poems I started working on in 2008. Part of my objective was to have the poems communicate with each other, thus creating a potential narrative arc when read together. Yet I also wanted each of the poems to standalone and exist without the others.

In this poem I was thinking of reclamation of internal and external spaces.

While the anguish of political oppression can be humbling, it can often too engage us with unsavory aspects of ourselves.

It often becomes effortless to dehumanize each other, for instance. I was thus interested in how a society would go about not only forgiving itself after the harder parts of a prolonged season of anguish, but also reconcile, reclaim and establish new selves. The physical scape in the poem then, is by and large symbolic of what has occurred internally within such a society during this prolonged season that has not quite ended. While it is not always palatable, history’s shadow will often hover over the future.

Continue reading “History’s Shadow Will Often Hover over the Future”

Manifesto on Ars Poetica | Frank Chipasula

 

My poetry is exacting a confession

from me: I will not keep the truth from my song.

I will not bar the voice undressed by the bees

from entering the gourd of my bow-harp.

I will not wash the blood off the image

I will let it flow from the gullet

slit by the assassin’s dagger through

the run-on line until it rages in the verbs of terror;

And I will distil life into the horrible adjectives;

I will not clean the poem to impress the tyrant

I will not bend my verses into the bow of a praise song.

I will put the symbols of murder hidden in high offices

in the center of my crude lines of accusations.

I will undress our raped land and expose her wounds.

I will pierce the silence around our land with sharp metaphors

And I will point the light of my poems into the dark

nooks where our people are pounded to pulp.

I will not coat my words in lumps of sugar

I will serve them to our people with the bitter quinine:

I will not keep the truth from my heartstringed guitar;

I will thread the voice from the broken lips

through my volatile verbs that burn the lies.

I will ask only that the poem watch the world closely;

I will ask only that the image put a lamp on the dark

ceiling in the dark sky of my land and light the dirt.

Today, my poetry has exacted a confession from me.

 

Zimbabwe: Letter to my unborn child (excerpt) | Batsirai Chigama

Child
I want you to be proud in your skin
So comfortable no one can convince you otherwise
Be weary of brain-pickers i would say
Those who will pick on your brains with shamboks
Like they did on the backs of grandma
In the cotton plantations
Just like your daddy
You will be gifted with brawn
But child that does not mean you are to be a slave
And when you are old like these locks
Tying my world together, at 8
I want your world to be open
To  limitless possibility
I want you to be brave
Just like me when I brought you into this world
To labour for your own happiness
To strive to cut the fences, prejudices
Around the skin you will unashamedly be proud of
Child I seek you to find
All-weather wings
A heart as warm
I want you to find love
Give love
And above all, I want you to be you…

Batsirai E. Chigama is a spoken word poet from Zimbabwe. Her work has been featured in nine poetry anthologies in USA, England, New Zealand and Zimbabwe. Batsirai has participated in a number of festivals and her work is featured on Badilisha Poetry X-Change (Cape Town) and Indiefeed (USA). A published short-story writer, Batsirai also writes on the arts and culture in Zimbabwe, Zimbo Jam. Her website is http://www.batsiraichigama.maumbile.com/ 

Read the Full Poem Here

Reading Africa | Etinosa Agbonlahor

We don’t whisper here
We sigh, we gasp, we moan
We cry, we shout, we groan
No, we don’t whisper here.
-Segun Akinlolu, Can’t You See?

As the child of academics growing up in Nigeria, I was introduced to books at a young age. My first book was a paper-thin story about a corn princess and ants. As I grew older I read more books, mostly European and American; Judy Blume’s novels, The Babysitters Club, Enid Blyton’s mysteries, stories in which curly-haired little girls yelped ‘Golly!’ and sucked on lollies in the summer (in Nigeria, we had Fan-Ice. I testify it was just as good).

However, the stories I remember most were those set in other parts of Africa. Books such as The Boy Slave by Kola OnadipeAn African Night’s Entertainment by Cyprain Ekwensi,Without a Silver Spoon by Eddie Iroh, and many other books within the African Readers Series. They taught me about other aspects of different Nigerian ethnicities and the African world at my doorstep, stories from Kenya, Cotonou, Sierra Leone, etc., full of house boys who retained their integrity in the face of poverty, slaves who became kings, queens who defended their kingdoms in lieu of kings, greedy waziris’ whose greed led to their downfall, cryptic stories about the crafty tortoise, and so on. These were the stories in which I encountered my first notions of Africa.

Literature is how we document our lives, fictionalized stories often reveal truths and subjective experiences that other sources cannot. Learning about the Rwandan genocide in school was so much different than reading Murambi, The Book of Bones by Boubacar Boris Diop, which gave me an inside look at the genocide, the forces at work that caused it, the fears and that characterized that period. At the start of Europe’s ‘civilizing’ mission in Africa (read: colonization, slavery, mass violence, and theft of culture), great steps were taken to erase any ideas of Africans as a people with history or methods of conveying that history (see: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad). Today, the world knows more about Africa, we know about her peoples, we know her history before colonization and slavery. At the same time, Africa is still constantly presented as a victim; the lovable yet inevitably doomed junior brother of the world. A classmate once suggested that while she knew South Africa was a well developed country, the other African tribes were still struggling, (Nigerians riding Bugattis in Abuja beg to differ). The thread of discourse that has coded Africa in a specific light of backwardness and victimization still exists today.

African writers therefore have an important job to do. They bear the burden (as do all Africans) of reintroducing Africa to the world, through our literature and arts. We need to tell our own stories, to show the world our experiences of what it means to be African, and overcome tales of victimization and backwardness the world consistently hands us.

More importantly, Africans need to start discovering other Africans through our literature. The average Nigerian knows less about Ghana than he does about London, and we are only two countries apart! Imagine the discourse that could come out of Africans actively engaging with Africans. Discovering what it means to be a certain kind of African, what it means to be an Egyptian, an Edo girl from Nigeria, a Tunisian elder, realizing our shared struggles and goals which too often are the same soul masked in different clothes. Imagine having great African literature that is notable, not because it has been deemed appropriate or illustrious by European editors or American critics, but because other Africans have engaged with it, argued about it, and ultimately decided that it in some way captures an experience that resonates with them all.

To Africans and everyone else reading, this is the takeaway: it’s important to present Africa, not as the slighted and reduced victim of the world, but as the complex, impossibly diverse, confusing, exciting and altogether human world we grew up in. But it’s more important to discover life outside of our respective countries within our shared continent, to truly be Africans in discourse with other Africans through their literature.

We can’t all pen masterful novels, we probably will not write the next Things Fall Apart, but we can all read. There is a dearth of African literature on bookshelves both in Africa and elsewhere, but that cannot stop us from engaging with what is available. Read Africa. Find anthologies on African literature, read those excerpts then find full novels from the excerpts that caught your interest. Read them, read more by the same authors, then read others. One story often will lead to another. Find and read Chimamanda Adichie’s stories,Maps by Nuruddin FarahChris Abani’s Grace Land, Ben Okri’s work, Nardine Gradner’s novels, The Persistence of Memory by Tony Eprile, Frank Chipasula’s poems, etc. Read and read and read. Dive into the experiences of other Africans, then add your voice to that discourse, talk about the books you’ve read with other people, ask questions about the countries you’re reading. Engage with Africa in a way different from those dictated by BBC and CNN. Make Africa, the whole continent, your Africa.

We are the beginning
Of our own tears
And the end
Of all our joys.
Segun Akinlolu, The Real Story of Our Lives

Originally published on Africa is Done Suffering. 

Tunisia: The Beauty of Tunisian Women | Ali Znaidi

The beauty of Tunisian women
comes w/ the scents of spring,
the roses of spring,
& the almonds of spring.
Though anchored in history & myths,
the beauty of Tunisian women
is always in bloom.
It always opens onto expansive skies.
The beauty of Tunisian women
is always free, & it won’t be ever
your fuel to burn aesthetics & free will.
& it won’t be ever
your flour to bake new bread of fear.

 

Ali Znaidi lives in Redeyef, Tunisia where he teaches English. His work has appeared in Mad SwirlStride MagazineRed FezBlazeVox,Otolithsstreetcake, and elsewhere. His debut poetry chapbook Experimental Ruminations was published in September 2012 by Fowlpox Press (Canada). He reviews Tunisian literature at http://tunisianlit.wordpress.com and blogs at aliznaidi.blogspot.com.

Togo: Thank You for Being a Woman | Jémima Fiadjoe-Prince Agbodjan

Thank you for being a woman
For having been born
To know the pain of childbirth;
For having nursed my mother’s breast
To know the joy and happiness of offering my milk;
For having been carried on her back
To learn how to strengthen my back
For having known the tenderness of this maternal heart
To learn how to have a child’s heart.

Thank you for being a woman
For being at the school of prudence
Of endurance and of patience
In order to be guardian of the hearth
To insure its protection and fulfilment;
For being a nest of clear and creative thoughts
For being the welcoming earth where grow
              The seeds of the future

Thank you for being a woman
For being beauty and softness
For being light and warmth
For being discretion and lobe
And finally, more than anything,
For being born to give,
To give my Peace for the Peace
OF HUMANITY.

Jémima Fiadjoe-Prince Agbodjan studied medicine at the University of Dakar and then in France at the University of Lille. She works as a pediatrician in Lomé, Togo

 

Culled from Scottish Poetry Library

Tanzania: The Well|Euphrase Kezilahabi

In the birthplace of civilisation
the spring of health is open to all.
The croaking frogs draw us closer,
their chorus leading the giant
who approaches with long, loping strides.
A copper dagger pierces his navel.
With a bow and arrow clasped in his hands
he kneels down by the spring,
ready to attack anyone who approaches:
a hero never dies surrounded by thieves,
a hero dies like alone, like a wounded lion.

We cannot draw water from the well any longer
and the ink in our pens has run dry.
He who presses on with the pen
will be called a hero of deceit.
He who is fearful yet stands firm,
even unsupported,
will open the opposite door:
that between wisdom and understanding –
the first generation we behold.

KISIMA

Kisima cha maji ya uzima ki wazi
Na vyura katika bonde la taaluma watuita
Tujongee kwa mahadhi yao
Yaongozayo pandikizi la mtu
Kwa hatua ndefu litembealo
Na sindano ya shaba kitovuni
Upinde na mishale mkononi
Kisha likapiga goti kisimani
Tayari kumfuma akaribiaye
Maana shujaa hafi miongoni mwa wezi
Bali kama simba mawindoni.

Hatuwezi tena kuteka maji
Na kalamu zetu zimekauka wino.
Nani atamsukuma kwa kalamu
Aitwe shujaa wa uwongo!
Aliyeitia kitovuni kwa hofu
Ingawa tegemeo hakulipata
Alifungua mlango uelekeao
Katikati ya ujuzi na urazini mpya
Mwanzo wa kizazi tukionacho.

Euphrase Kezilahabi is a Tanzanian poet, novelist, and scholar, and is the most widely acknowledged contemporary Swahili author. He was one of the first African writers to publish a collection of free verse poetry in Swahili, his first collection, Kichomi (Twinge) was published in 1974 and led the movement for free verse Swahili poetry. Other collections include Karibu ndani (Welcome Inside, 1988) and Dhifa (Feast, 2008).

 

Translated by Katriina Ranne
Culled From: The Poetry Translation Workshop