African Poets' Sampler
August 19, 2014
Aug 19, 2014
Slapering Hol Press’s Seven New Generation African Poets, a box set of eight chapbooks edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani as part of the Poetry Foundations Poets in the World Series, seeks to extend the readership of contemporary Anglophone African poets working on the continent and abroad. Little international poetry is published in the United States, and much of what does reach an American audience appears in anthologies compiled by established American poets, rather than by editors native to the countries represented. Dawes, who is from Ghana and went to college in Jamaica, and Abani, who is from Nigeria, feel that it is part of their poetic missions to bring African poetry to the English-speaking world. They hope this inaugural collection will add contemporary voices to the canon of African poetry in the tradition of Chinua Achebe’s “African Writers Series,” founded in 1962, as a response to the colonial bias in teaching literature in African universities. In collaboration with different small poetry presses each year, The African Poetry Book Fund will continue to produce new box sets for American and African audiences, donating dozens to libraries and schools throughout the continent. Dawes emphasizes that as difficult as it is to publish international poetry in America, similar opportunities are rare in Africa. The poets represented in this collection are all grass-roots activists who travel internationally giving readings and selling their books. This collection is only a sample of poetry of the African continent and its diaspora, but it serves as an introduction to the rich and textured work of contemporary African poetry by Africans throughout the world.
—Jennifer Franklin, Co-Editor Slapering Hol Press
from Cartographer of Water, Clifton Gachagua
Certain truths, you hold them against the light,
and they change color.
I am a cartographer of water. I
walk on it as long as it is an inch deep.
In a sense, I am either the dog
or the lady with the dog.
from Carnaval, Tsitsi Jaji
Under the bridge there are
smooth with the
slippage of water
smear campaign of silt.
The moon floats
dragging below the bridge.
Is it time
or a limpid ripple
of maize-silk swimming?
And while we look away
she glides under
to the other side.
from The Second Republic, Nick Makoha
When a rebel leader promises you the world seen in commercials,
he will hold a shotgun to the radio announcer’s mouth
and use a quilt of bristling static to muffle the tears.
When the bodies disappear, discarded like the skins of mangos,
he will weep with you in those hours of reckoning and judgment
into the hollow night, when the crowds disperse.
When by paraffin light his whiskey breath tells you
your mother’s wailings in your father’s bed are a song
for our nation, as he sits with you on the veranda to witness the sunrise,
say nothing. Slaughter your herd. Feed the soldiers
who looted your mills and factories. Let them dance
in your garden while an old man watches.
Then when they sleep and your blood turns to kerosene,
find your mother gathering water at the well to stave off
the burning. Shave her head with a razor from the kiosk.
When the fury has gathered, take her hand and run
past the fields and odor of blood and bones. Past the checkpoint,
past the swamp, toward the smoky disk flaring in the horizon.
Run till your knuckles become as white as handkerchiefs.
Run into the night’s fluorescent silence. Run till your lungs
become a furnace of flames. Run past the border.
Run till you no longer see yourself in other men’s eyes.
Run past sleep, past darkness.
Stop when you find a country where they do not know your name.
from Ordinary Heaven, Ladan Osman
I am looking for a man who will let me
make myself small then crawl
into his pocket as he watches TV.
He must know how to love his shadow,
how to say “I love you” to even the periphery
of his body.
Let us be like wrists rubbing against each other.
I will pay you with good intentions.
I will be your friend, in the way mirrors befriend,
then grow water. But my face is a black mug;
you can drink its water and not know its bottom
until a bug bumps your lip.
If you are willing
let me show you how fingers know each other.
Even birds try to build their homes again and again.
What We Own
from Our Men Do Not Belong to Us, Warsan Shire
Our men do not belong to us.
Even my own father left one afternoon, is not mine.
My brother is in prison, is not mine. My uncles, they
go back home and they are shot in the head, are not mine.
My cousins, stabbed in the street for being too or not enough,
are not mine. Then the men we try to love say
we carry too much loss, wear too much black,
are too heavy to be around, much too sad to love.
Then they leave, and we mourn them too.
Is that what we’re here for?
To sit at kitchen tables, counting
on our fingers the ones who died,
those who left, and the others who were taken by the police,
or by drugs
or by illness
or by other women?
It makes no sense.
Look at your skin, her mouth, these lips, those eyes,
my God, listen to that laugh.
The only darkness we should allow into our lives is the night,
for even then, we have the moon.
Help fund the next generation of Black journalists, editors, and publishers.
Boston Review’s Black Voices in the Public Sphere Fellowship is designed to address the profound lack of diversity in the media by providing aspiring Black media professionals with training, mentorship, networking opportunities, and career development workshops. The program is being funded with the generous support of Derek Schrier, chair of Boston Review’s board of advisors, the Ford Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, but we still have $50,000 left to raise to fully fund the fellowship for the next two years. To help reach that goal, if you make a tax-deductible donation to our fellowship fund through August 31 it will be matched 1:1, up to $25,000—so please act now to double your impact. To learn more about the program and our 2021-2022 fellows, click here.
August 19, 2014