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.

São Tomé and Príncipe: Travellers | Conceição Lima

They bore sunsets and roads
Thirst for the horizon called them

– Who do you belong to?
Who are your people?

That’s how our grandmother held out
A mug of water to the traveller



Traziam poentes e estradas
A sede do horizonte os chamava.

– A quem pertences tu?
Quem são os da tua casa?

Assim estendia nossa avó
A caneca de água ao viajante.


Translated by Stefan Tobler. Culled from Poetry Translation Center.


Conceição Lima is a Santomean poet from the town of Santana in São Tomé, one of two islands in the small nation of São Tomé and Príncipe situated in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western coast of Africa. She studied journalism in Portugal and worked in radio, television and in the print press in her native country. O Útero da Casa (2004) was her first book of poetry and Her second collection A Dolorosa Raiz do Micondó, was released in 2006. Her third, O País de Akendenguê, was published in 2011.



Mauritania: Message from a Martyr | Mbarka Mint al-Barra’

Fire your bullets — our hearts are already ablaze
       In this land, grief wells up from my distress
Fire your bullets — you villain — for I
       Won’t play at murder or run away
My blood fertilises and refreshes this land
       And plants a promising generation that is fully conscious
Limbs grow from seeds of shrapnel
       Hands are formed and crowns spring
That bet this land will always be their home —
       In every corner they stand their ground
Wherever I am, this land is my passion
       Nostalgia is fused with this timeless love
I don’t care if there are explosions
       I don’t mind the annihilating thunder


Translated by Joel Mitchell. Culled from The Poetry Translation Workshop.

Mbarka Mint al-Barra’ is a Mauritanian poet and teacher who writes primarily in Arabic. A prominent figure in the cultural and literary life of her country, she has achieved some renown elsewhere in the Arab world, frequently attending literary festivals in other Arab countries.

Ghana: For Bessie Head | Ama Ata Aidoo

To begin with

there’s the small problem of address:

calling you
by the only name some of us
knew you by,

hailing you by titles
you could not possibly
have cared for,

referring you to
strange and clouded
origins that eat into
our past our pain
like prize-winning cassava tubers in
abandoned harvest fields…

Some of us never ever met you.

And who would believe
that but those who know
the tragedies of our land
visions unopening and other such
abortions are
every day reality?

To continue a
confession of sorts,

‘Miss Head’ will just not do
‘Bessie’ too familiar
Bessie Head,

your face swims into focus
through soft clouds of
cigarette smoke and from behind the
much much harder barriers erected by some
quite unbelievable
20th. century philosophy,

saying more of
your strength
than all the tales
would have us think.

For the moment,

we fear and
dare not accept that
given how things

poetry almost becomes
dirges and
not much more.

we hold on to knowing
ourselves as daughters of
darklight women
who are so used to Life
– giving it
feeding it –

was always
quite unwelcome;
– taking them by surprise –
an evil peevish brat
to be flattered,
over-dressed and perfumed…

We fear to remember:
fatigued as we are by so much
death and dying and
the need to bury and
to mourn.

Bessie Head:
such a fresh ancestress!

If you chance
on a rainy night
to visit,

if you chance
on a sunny day
to pass by,

look in to see
– how well we do
– how hard we fight
– how loud we scream

against the plots
– to kill our souls our bodies too
– to take our land, and
– feed us shit.

Dear Fresh Spirit,

that rejoining
The Others,
you can tell them
now more than ever,

do we need
the support
the energy

to create
recreate and

nothing more
nothing less.


Ama Ata Aidoo (originally Christina Ama Aidoo) was born in Abeadzi Kyiakor, in south central Ghana. She grew up in the Fanti royal household, and attended the Wesley Girl’s High School in Cape Coast from 1961 to 1964. In 1964, she enrolled at the University of Ghana in Legon, where she received a bachelor’s degree in English. Many of her works explore the tension between Western and African world views, and the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed. She has also authored several children’s books.

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 FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr to read all the poems.

Amy Lukau: An Interview

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?

Amy Lukau

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.


Gabon: Sabia the Arabian Mystic | Aida Touré

From the Black Light,
you blew particles
to the souls of the first soul,
gracefully holding the pen
of existence itself,
you dictated these secrets
to the euphoric beings
who embodied your cosmic,
whirling obscurity,
the very sign of Luminosity
Look, your ancient Scrolls
scurry across space still,
and moved, we shed tears!
O Eastern Wind,
you who selflessly taught
the Way of the pure Heart,
we rejoice for you have come
anew to mirror the glory
of Allahu’s Love!


Aida Touré was born in Gabon. She has multiple poetry collections including Unmanifest Poems (2000), The Sublime Sphere (2001), and Nocturnal Light (2003). In 2005 she took up painting as a way to convert the spirituality in her poems into a visual landscape of beauty. She has referred to this art work as Visual Sufi Poetry. She blogs at


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 FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr to read all the poems.

Eritrea: Virginity | Ribka Sibhatu

To a bride, her virginity can be more important than her eyes. In
our tradition, if a bride isn’t a virgin, the day after her wedding, we
return her to her parents’ house, dress her in a wonciò, and set her on a donkey. This is considered a disgrace by the whole family. During the war, people fled the city for the countryside. To adapt, you had to make sacrifices, like carrying twenty litres of water on your shoulders, even if the well was three or four kilometres away. In 1981, I was a refugee in Adi Hamuscté, some twenty kilometres from Asmara. One afternoon, a handsome youth and four old men came to the house where I was staying, and explained that the young man, whom I’d never seen before, wanted to marry me, because a day earlier, he’d had the misfortune to discovered that his bride had been violated! If my father had agreed, and I’d refused their proposal, I’d have risked either being married off or being cursed by my father. The curse of a parent is a child’s worst fear. So I had an idea: to declare that I too had suffered an irreparable incident…! I leave you to imagine my father’s reaction who, in the eyes of our community, was also disgraced. This young man of ours left without a word in search of his virgin.

Original Poem (Translated by Andre Naffis-Sahely)

La verginità è importante come gli occhi, se non di più, per una sposa.
Nella nostra tradizione se una sposa non è vergine l’indomani del suo
matrimonio la si riporta a casa dei suoi le si mette addosso lo wonciò (*) e la si carica su un asino. Questo fatto è considerato una disgrazia per tutta la famiglia. Durante la guerra la gente di città si era rifugiata nelle campagne. Per integrarsi ci volevano tanti sacrifici, per esempio si doveva portare una ventina di litri d’acqua sulle spalle anche se la sorgente si trovava a tre o quattro chilometri di distanza. Nel 1981 ero rifugiata ad Adi Hamuscté, una ventina di chilometri di Asmara. Un pomeriggio arrivarono, nella casa dove ero rifugiata,un bel giovanotto e quattro anziani e mi spiegarono che il giovanotto, che non avevo mai visto prima di allora, voleva sposarmi perché il giorno precedente aveva avuto la disgrazia di trovare una sposa violata! Se avessi rifiutato la proposta e se mio padre fosse stato d’accordo con lo sposo avrei rischiato o di essere sposata con la forza o di essere maledetta da mio padre. La maledizione dei genitori è molto temuta dai figli! A questo punto mi venne un’idea, quella di dichiarare d’aver avuto anch’io un incidente irreparabile…! Vi lascio immaginare la reazione di mio padre che nella nostra comunità venne anche lui considerato disgraziato. Il nostro giovanotto senza aprir bocca andò alla ricerca della vergine!

(*) una specie di coperta di lana ruvida, di colore nero, normalmente usata per la sauna tradizionale solo dalle donne.

Ribka Sibhatu is a poet from Eritrea who writes in Tigrinya and Italian. Her first published work was Aulò! Canto Poesia dall’Eritrea (1993), a collection of lyrics and prose poems. It was followed by Il Cittadino che non c’è. L’immigrazione nei media Italiani (1999 ), a sociological look at the Italian media’s coverage of immigrant communities. She speaks five languages and currently works as a social mediator, focusing on improving inter-cultural relations in state schools.

Culled from

Cote d’Ivoire: If You Could | Assamala Amoi

If you could leave when work was done

Like the sun at the end of its day;

If you could arrive like the day and the night

At an hour chosen by the seasons;

If you could hear the farewells like the tree

Listens to the song of the migrating bird

– who would dread departures, returns and death?

.     .     .

“Si on pouvait”

Si on pouvait s’en aller à la fin de son ouvrage

Comme le soleil au terme de sa course;

Si on pouvait arriver comme le jour et la nuit

A l’heure choisie par les saisons;

Si on pouvait entendre les adieux comme l’arbre

Ecoute le chant de l’oiseau qui le quitte

Qui craindrait les départs, les retours et la mort?


Assamala Amoi was born in Paris in 1960, and lived in France with her parents until 1966. Upon her return to the Southern part of the Ivory Coast, she attended the University of Abidjan, where she graduated with a Masters in English Literature, and a Translator Certificate (French-English). From December 2000, she has worked for the World Health Organisation.

Poem culled from Zocalo Poets.

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 FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr to read all the poems.

Burkina Faso: Black soul | Monique Ilboudo

Black and woman
God knows
if I have a soul

man or woman
Who knows
if I have culture

with or without a soul
I know
That I exist

with or without culture
I know
Who I am


Monique Ilboudo was born in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. She completed a Doctorate in Law and taught at the University of Ouagadougou until 2000. She is currently the Minister for Promotion of Human Rights in Burkina Faso.  This poem is a translation from the original French language version. 



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 FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr to read all the poems.