Archive for March, 2014

It’s always a joy to hear from a reader of this blog either by comment, by tweet, by email or by a guest post. This is the first guest post I am hosting and I commend A. Gonzaga fom Finland for sending this very well-written review of a Nigerian-originated book of poems he has read. Here goes:

Edoheart III              jesusofallniggerscover-thumb

Pic: Edoheart and the cover of Jesus of All Niggers

I respect art by the artist who does not try to conform—the fear of being seen as different being the number one danger facing the young artist of today. Eseohe Arhebamen, known perhaps more popularly as Edoheart, is not a young artist, though. She’s a young woman whose mature music and poetry I have fallen in love with—something I rarely let happen to me, being a happy perfectionist. Poetry is for me the art of depth and beauty and nothing more, really—and so I view it like I view maidens, and choose a book of poems like I choose a maiden with whom to try to carry out something serious or meaningful, depending. A good poem should therefore be self-renewable, so that its keeper can cuddle it tirelessly and, instead of become eventually bored with it, continue to discover its richness at every meeting. So far, only three modern poets have delivered the goodies the way I like it: the brilliant Paul Hostovsky, the great William Hathaway, and the fearless Eseohe Arhebamen with her audaciously titled ‘Jesus of All Niggers’—upon which this concise review is centred as it must.

“…Winter is a cruel time.

Even when sleeping,

the faces don’t smile

and their dreams are frozen

stuck. Sometimes heads pop off

when I pull.

There is science to this…”

—page 38

“…I am eight.

this is what I live:

we double-dutch and fuck young

shake ass like zing zing zing

I ain’t nevah owned a washing machine &

the only way out is up.”

—page 10

“…America will you be mine too?

I will disclose first that I’m black

before we crawl into bed

and even worse, I’m African

I promise I don’t use drugs

and I don’t have AIDS

so you can use my blood…”

—page 42

Attempting to define ‘a great book’, a certain wise article I happened upon had noted that, although it is difficult to get everyone to agree on what ‘the best book’ among equals is, there is usually an easy agreement between judges of awards that certain books are not in the running. I tend to pit literary creations against each other to see which ones rise to the occasion, but that’s after first shaking them, I must say, to see if anything shakes. Then I marry the best achievements, and let them eternally inspire me. And that’s exactly what I have done apropos the poetry of Eseohe Arhebamen—marry them—for, at a time when artists admire their mentors so much they forget that the most vital lesson to draw from their mentor’s success is the priceless importance of being oneself, as nobody ever became truly great without putting their uniquely personal attributes at the forefront of their work, there come the original poems of ‘Jesus of All Niggers’—all striking and mature and powerful and exceptionally beautiful.

“If not but I loved food

how I’d stop eating

sculpt my belly concave,

many meals wheeled by but I’d

shake my head, No thanks…”

—page 32

“…how will the organism survive

if it continues to conquer and divide

itself?

you are not black.

you are not white.

you are not left wing.

you are not right.

eliminate racial separations

gender specifications

democratic manipulations

because such conceptions

keep you in a cell…”

—page 17

“Nothing beautiful

comes out

anymore the pen

farts feeling

incites laughter

really, or a shun

How to be pissed

or display a prick

and say it bled

for days- but nicely-

don’t you wish you

had loved me…”

—page 36

But I can’t go for that cup of honeyed camomile without mentioning, of course, that the language of this book is lucid and therefore accessible to the literary and lay mind alike. On top of the good surprise of the book design being top-notch, the good lover of exceptional poetry and art will additionally find that ‘Jesus of All Niggers’—still available, I hope, from Laughing Mouse Press—is also stylishly ornamented with a few image poems, for Edoheart is similarly an accomplished painter. I have never seen a book quite as attractive. A collector will find it an irresistible masterwork.

  

Shoes

combing thoughts with my therapist
i find i cannot distinguish
my anger from ambition
the bitter from bite-
size. when was it i became
jesus of all niggers
dedicated to reclaiming the clown?
thorny headed child am i
that cannot run for kicking the road
blaming it that so
many white people have got
shoes

—page 27

 

 Publisher’s link: http://laughingmouse.net/books/jesus-of-all-niggers/

                                   A. Gonzaga is a Finland-based wordsmith—writing poetry, prose, and lyrics.

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Kofi Awoonor

Kofi Awoonor

The smart professionals in three piece
Sweating away their humanity in dribblets
And wiping the blood from their brow

I was among the very first people who heard the news of his passing, I should suppose, because when I did, nobody on my twitter timeline had tweeted it. I waited for confirmation and watched a few government and official feeds but found nothing. Finally I read it again from one very trusted source and that was it. Kofi Awoonor was dead.

We have found a new land
This side of eternity
Where our blackness does not matter
And our songs are dying on our lips

Today, he would have been 79. I will be celebrating him in a series of tweets and posts along with Kinna of Kinnareads. The hashtag to use is #Awoonor79.

Standing at hell-gate you watch those who seek admission
Still the familiar faces that watched and gave you up
As the one who had let the side down,
“Come on, old boy, you cannot dress like that”
And tears well in my eyes for them
Those who want to be seen in the best company
Have abjured the magic of being themselves
And in the new land we have found
The water is drying from the towel
Our songs are dead and we sell them dead to the other side

He was a fighter who took on life in the most activist of ways. In this poem, Kofi Awoonor tells of a period when the African identity was gradually stolen. Those ‘smart professionals’ (line 1), the elite, gave up their tie and dye for ‘three piece’(line 1) suits, while wiping the blood of their essence from their brows (line 3). They copied the whiteness of their colonizers, in a usurped ploy ‘Where our blackness does not matter’ (line 6). He calls them candidates at ‘hell-gate’ (line 8) seeking passage to this death, while ridiculing the ‘magic of being themselves’ (line14). He cries for them (line 12).

But from line 15, Awoonor sympathizes with the guilty and now says, ‘the new land we have found’ (line 15). He makes himself a part of the redemption because he concludes:

Reaching for the Stars we stop at the house of the Moon
And pause to relearn the wisdom of our fathers.

In those two lines, Awoonor talks about Rediscovery of a true self that he joins his brothers to pursue, “relearn[ing] the wisdom” (line 19) of the generations that went before.

His death has been a great loss and we shall tell of his legacy till we ourselves are gone. Happy Birthday, Kofi.

Human Souls on Fire

Human Souls on Fire

I am political to the extent of Ghana and Africa coming to a point where we ourselves have defined and owned our destinies. Our continent has been a harlot on the international scene, sold by politicians to the highest bidder without consulting the men and women who work daily to put food on the table for their families: the people to whom this continent belongs. Sold for cheap, for a night fling, raped of gold, oil and its people. Why are we so rich and yet so poor?

I was not allowed to read this poem on radio because it is too political. Nobody wants to be the one who used his platform to broadcast the dissatisfaction of the generation that is snapping at the heels of the older generation, chasing out their corrupt, visionless behinds before they ruin Africa further. All over the continent, there is an angry generation that is demanding better, willing to do better, just finding a way to kick the wasteful generation out and drive a rich continent to destiny – in Ghana, in Nigeria, in Kenya, in Senegal, in South Africa, in Zimbabwe, in Uganda, in Malawi, in Namibia, in Sudan, in Somalia, in Cameroon, in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Libya, from the Sahara to the Cape, from the Horn to the source of the Niger. I submitted this as one of my poems for the Brunel University African Poetry Prize which shortlist was released this week. This is for every African child with revolution in their heart.

Mr. President

You are not a genius for speaking five languages
For knowing the difference between bueno and buono
When we voted for you, it was not for how wide your mouth twists
As you speak your many languages
That job is for linguists
And even the little boy who serves at the village school
Speaks six.

We only required you to speak one language
To know the difference between hunger and a full belly.
To learn very well the spelling of corruption
And teach it to your men with you
Spelling it every morning,
Like we sing the national anthem.

We only required you to speak
the language of our collective wellbeing
And as we listen now, your accent sucks
And your tenses and grammar
Are better not immortalized in our poetry.

This is the second year of The Brunel University African Poetry Prize, a major new poetry prize of £3000 aimed at the development, celebration and promotion of poetry from Africa. The prize is sponsored by Brunel University and Commonwealth Writers. Last year the prize was won by Somali poet, Warsan Shire, who has since been awarded an American publisher for her poetry, travelled to six countries as a writer and become the first Young Poet Laureate for London.

The winner will be announced on 12th May 2014. and it’s great we’ll be having a new poet to hoist aroud for a year after Warsan’s brilliant entry last year.

The judges this year are poets, critics and academics: Kwame Dawes, Kadija George, Daljit Nagra, Mpalive Msiska and Chair, Bernardine Evaristo. Out of 579 entries, the judges produced a shortlist of six poets, none of whom has yet published a full length poetry book.

The shortlisted poets are: Viola Allo from Cameroon; Inua Ellams from Nigeria;
 Amy Lukau from Angola; Nick Makoha from Uganda, Vuyelwa Maluleke from South Africa and Liyou Mesfin Libsekal from Ethiopia.

Bernardine Evaristo, founder of the prize and Chair of judges, has this to say about this year’s competition, ‘The overall quality of entries this year was higher than our first year and the six shortlisted poets demonstrate a lovely range of voices and styles. We’re also really pleased that the poets represent three of Africa’s regions and that yet again that we have an equal gender balance. Last year the prize generated a lot of interest and I feel we are moving towards our goal of putting African poetry on the map.’

The poets are available for interview, and live in Africa, the UK and the USA. They can be contacted via Bernardine Evaristo at Bernardine.Evaristo@brunel.ac.uk

For more information about the prize and the shortlisted poets, please visit our website: http://www.africanpoetryprize.org/

Viola Allo is a Cameroonian-born poet based in the United States. Raised in Cameroon by her Cameroonian father and American mother, she migrated to America at 19. She holds a BA and MA in psychology and anthropology respectively from the universities of California (Davis) and Michigan (Ann Arbor). Her poems and essays have been published in the American River Review. In 2010, she received an Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation Fellowship to attend the UC Davis Tomales Bay Workshops. Her poem Nigerian Girl With Calabash was published in 2010 in the Library of Congress anthology, Poetry for the Mind’s Joy, and in 2011, it was was selected as “Best in the Nation” by the Community College Humanities Association. Viola is a certified yoga instructor and Ayurvedic wellness counselor. She currently resides in Sacramento, California. She writes on her blog here.

Born in Nigeria in 1984, Inua Ellams is an internationally-touring poet, playwright and performer. He has published two poetry pamphlets, Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All Stars and Thirteen Fairy Negro Tales. His first play The 14th Tale (a one-man, self-performed show) was awarded a Fringe First at the Edinburgh International Theatre Festival, and his third play Black T-Shirt Collection was staged at the Royal National Theatre (UK). He is currently working on a new play called Barber Shop Chronicles, a poetry a pamphlet called #Afterhours, and his first full collection Of All The Boys of Plateau Private School.

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 spent two years in the non-profit sector, served on the American Board of Directors for the organization Zion’s Children of Haiti, assisted in the promotion & development of the Young Professionals Amnesty International group in Phoenix, & worked as a policy researcher & analyst for other organizations implementing novel ways to prevent and deal with mass atrocities internationally.  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.

Vuyelwa Maluleke is a Joburg-born writer and poet who grew up in a township. She describes herself as a storyteller: “It is when I am most honest. It is also the hardest thing to do for me, to hand my work over so publicly to audiences. But the sharing between the audience and myself generates an immediacy that is like church. There is so much magic there.” Vuyelwa began competitive poetry in 2012 winning the TEWOP Poetry Slam and the DFL Lover and Another 2012 Johannesburg Regionals. She has performed on  various stages in Johannesburg. She graduated in 2013 with a BADA at the University of Witwatersrand, and was awarded the Leon Gluckman Prize 2013, for the student with the most creative piece of work.

 

 

 

Born in Uganda, Nick Makoha fled the country with his mother as a result of the political dictatorship of Idi Amin. In 2005 the award-winning publisher Flippedeye launched its pamphlet series with his debut The Lost Collection of an Invisible Man and he is currently working on his first full poetry collection The Second Republic, from which his poem Resurrection Man was shortlisted for the Flamingofeather Poetry Competition in 2013. Nick represented Uganda in the Cultural Olympiad Poetry Parnassus at London’s Royal Festival Hall. His one-man show My Father & Other Superheroes debuted to sold-out performances at both the 2013 London Literature Festival and the Unicorn Theatre. A national tour begins at the end of 2014. He has been a panelist at both the inaugural Being A Man Festival (Fatherhood: Past, Present & Future) and Women Of The World Festival (Bringing Up Boys).

Liyou Mesfin Libsekal is from Ethiopia. We are still trying to contact her to notify her that she has made this shortlist.

For more updates and additional information stay tuned to this website or contact Bernardine Evaristo at Bernardine.Evaristo@brunel.ac.uk. 

Source: BUAPP