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/

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.

 

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.

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. 

Uganda: Falling | Betty Kituyi

The rain is gently
clapping at the rocks
outside my kitchen.

Its music
waters
my desert.

A new song forms,
the sound of raindrops
washing my face.

The rain is steadily
Taking me home
By twilight.

I am learning
from the weeping clouds
that falling isn’t dying.

Betty Kituyi is a writer and scientist from Uganda. She is the coordinator of Café Scientifique-Uganda, a robotics program for youth, and the third winner of the fourth BN Poetry Award, 2012, Uganda. She is also a high school educator with decades of experience in the Ugandan education sector.

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

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 !

 

Sudan: A Body |Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi

The body of a bird in your mouth
breathing songs.
Raw light spills from your eyes,
utterly naked.

You must breach the horizon, once,
in order to wake up.
You must open window after window.
You must support the walls.

I let alphabets cling to me
as I climb the thread of language
between myself and the world.
I muster crowds in my mouth:
suspended between language and the world,
between the world and the alphabets.

I let my head
listen to the myth,
to all sides praising each other.
And I shout at the winds from the top of a mountain.

Why does my tongue tell me to climb this far?
What is the distance between my voice and my longing?
What is there?

A body transcending my body.
A body exiled by desire.
A body sheltered by the wind.

 

Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi was born in Sudan in 1969 and grew up in Omdurman-Khartoum. His first two books, Ghina’ al-‘Uzlah (Songs of Solitude), and Matahat al-Sultan(The Sultan’s Labyrinth), were published simultaneously in 1996, immediately establishing him as a poet of great significance. His third collection, Aqasi Shashat al-Isgha’ (The Limits of the Screen of Listening), appeared in 2000 and a volume of his collected poems was published in 2009. Saddiq is alive to the complexities of his position as an African poet writing in Arabic. His desire to articulate those contradictions leads him to write poems that fuse complex imagery with Sudanese history.

Translated by: Atef Alshaer
Culled From: Poetry Translation and Poetry International