Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/Files. Who is numbering the dead?

There is partying in the oceans of this world. Long before it became fashionable for Syrians to join up, brothers and friends from all of Africa, fleeing lands that have ceased to be hospitable, drunk too much of the Mediterranean, ending up in eternal stupor from which there is no rousing. The world cared little about their party, as long as they did not end up on the other side. Gaddafi bargained them as fodder for Italian money and Europe did not flinch about helping them. They were the scum of the earth. Flotsam and jetsam of the sea.

The world noticed and Europe was roused after Syrians joined the party. There is a body that can be mourned and another which is unmournable. I have written poetry in the past for African refugees who died as they tried to reach Lampedusa. The situation has only worsened.

This poem is for anyone who will cross an ocean on this tiny ball of dirt called earth, in search of a better life. Live long!

Of Earth and the Sea, We Have Already Sung
We are people of the land
Our fathers did not swim
And neither do we.
Our only knowledge of water was rain
Our land was too dry
To court a river
Our eyes too dry
To shed a tear.

But we have been intimate with the sea
Our land has turned upon us.
What could hold no water
Has learnt to drink blood
Our land frightens us.

So we shall make new friends with the sea
We who have known no water
Shall be remembered as the men of the sea
We who only sung of the earth
Shall make new hymns for the water
And if there shall be any more singing yonder,
We who died in this crossing
Shall plead:
Of earth and the sea, we have already sung.

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Mogadishu

Mogadishu

When I posted my first poem of this same title on Mogadishu more than a year and a half ago, I wrote in the introduction that I was writing three poems of the same title and had finished two. Today, while researching Ethiopian poets, I was carried into that dreaminess that East African poetry persuades. So I went back to Mogadishu, my capital of East African wanderlust.

This is a poem of some longing for a never-visited place. Though Mogadishu be far, one day we shall “pursue her across museums of the brokenhearted” and when we arrive, “show her our cuffs where her love burns a golden brown into our wrists”. Read that first poem and then read this.

I Think About You, Mogadishu
I want to be a part of you
To extend my hands where yours end
Sit at fireplaces with you,
And stare. Stare as we whisper stories of nothing.
I want to be that part of you.

If you would let me, I would hold you
Let you sob softly on my shoulder
Wipe your tears off my neck
If it will make anything easier
I just want to be with you.

I want to call you home
To belong to you. Be a part of you.
Run on your shore to stretched shore,
Show you off to the world.
This is my lover. This is you
This is Mogadishu.

But you say I cannot call you home
That you are no bed for me to stay
That you do not sleep when night has come
Your days are full of sudden flight
From yourself but also from me.
Why can’t I belong to you, Mogadishu?

I can drown in no ocean
But give me a saucer of your love
And I will drown.
Your love is red
too red for me
I love your love blue
Red with memories you want to forget.
Why can’t your love be blue?

I ask little, I expect less
I can sleep on the floor, I have nothing
Huddle in the corner
For the joy that in the morning,
You will be here.
Why can’t you love me like I love?

We have no need to think of food,
Our love is more than we can eat
Your name, our dish, my name dessert
We call our sweet names and we are full
Sugar pumpkin banana
Why can’t I belong to you?

We can forget all others who have been.
The strangeness of past loves haunts you
Shot, migrated, arrested, left you
And your tears from one heart many times broken
Makes a thousandth acquaintance with your face.

But let me love you and we will stay here.
If I can wake in the glint of every morning sun,
Careless of the night that may have brought death,
Careless of flight, careless of the gun
And just look upon your beauty
As you lie beside me, my lover and my home
Let the world burn around us
The only fire for which I care
Is the one that burns within us
Burns within me for you,
If only it would burn for me in you.
I think about you, Mogadishu.

When the decision was made to split up Africa into countries demarcated by capitalist greed, whole families, communities and clans were left on opposite sides of the industrialist’s artificial curtain. My family is from the eastern part of Ghana – the old British Togoland – which voted in a plebiscite to join the then-forming new state of Ghana that was wresting independence from the British. This happened in 1956. My dad who was born in 1949, along with all current Ewes who were born before 1956, were born in occupied country. The Germans, after their defeat in World War 2, lost greater Togoland in two halves to the French and the British. My dad’s family, then in the British half, was united with the new state of Ghana under its charismatic leader Kwame Nkrumah after the 1957 independence declaration. The French allowed their other half of Togoland to stand alone, today’s Republic of Togo.

What this demarcation of Togo did was to take a people, the Ewe, and spread them thinner, across a third capitalist construct of state after Benin and Togo. The very fibre of what the new nations of Africa were to be built on, and what they have actually ended up being built on, has meant that the split Ewe communities of these three countries will grow up to be strangers a generation later. In the giddy years post-independence, there were calls to have Africans unite in the way they were before colonialist boundaries were enforced, only this time, under a political structure. This has not happened. The ensuing years of ebb and tide of this grand dream have lasted so undecidedly long as to have French shoots sprout over Beninois and Togolese Ewe, much the same way Ewe children of today’s Ghana will be caught speaking English with their parents at home.

I had a spiritual moment in 2013, on the first of my subsequently many transits through Togo while journeying across the continent. On my hour’s wait to catch an Accra flight, I strolled through a duty-free shop to get chocolates and such-like for home. It did not take long and I was soon at the counter to pay off and go on to check in. I speak rudimentary French, and at the counter, I made my initial conversations in French. The lady turned after taking my orders and to my fascination, spoke Ewe to other helps in the shop.

I had been away in Congo for 5 months. I had heard no Ghanaian language while I was away. I entered Togo with the awareness that this country was more spiritually close to my origins than the Ghana in which I was born. But I had not the faintest idea I will hear people in the airport speaking the language I speak at home. That, standing before, selling me confectionery, were probably a half of my family that stayed behind the industrialist curtain, borne out of capitalist greed and a mad scramble for this our Africa; and a plebiscite that chose the Gold Coast.

We concluded our transaction in Ewe, the sense of otherness more complete, that I could bring this language back across the border into the country from which we were first culled.

Since then, on my travels across Africa, I have stayed alert to the remnant spirits of our collective oneness, long before the colonialists separated us. I felt two of these again today in Congo.

This morning, another three weeks since I’ve been back in Congo, I spoke to an Ivorian. In the middle of our conversation, I asked randomly if he was Akan. After saying yes, he started speaking Twi. For a minute, I was baffled. There was absolutely no difference between his word choices, diction and inflections from those of any Akan on the streets of Accra. I indulged him. We went on and on. All along in my head and my heart, I fist-pumped at another spiritual reunion, a travesty on Ghana’s Western neighbour and us, that the Akan family had been split by these same boundaries. Every minute, I felt closer to this Ivorian when we spoke Akan than when he spoke English to me or when I tried to speak French with him. This is who we are!

On our way to lunch, my Congolese driver asked if I was from Ghana. He knew for sure because I’m quite popular as the only Ghanaian among a host of Nigerians and Congolese, but he had to start his conversation from somewhere. He struggled through his basic English, halfway a cliff where I met him with my basic French. At the point where our communication met, he made it clear he was descended from Ghanaians; that his maternal side, a family of Addos, had traveled to and settled in Congo where they married and never again left. He didn’t know the tree well, but he was related to famous showbiz personality now turned pastor Azigiza Jnr back in Ghana. When he asked if I knew Azigiza, I was more than excited to say of course!! But that response was, inside me, in answer to a burning question, ‘Did I just walk into a spiritual moment?’

Yes and yes. YES!! YEEEEEESSSS!!!! Yes!

I could have screamed.

Are we one across Africa? The blog address up here is afrilingual, connoting that I try here to be fluent in the language of our Africa. Welcome with me to 2015. Welcome to many more spiritual experiences of our oneness.

c

Dreamy shot of my driver and I. Connected over vast spaces, like all of us.

Spoken word activist Loyce Gayo

Spoken word activist Loyce Gayo

This is the most spiritual poem I have ever attempted to review for this blog.

This year, America has dealt with race issues so profound that the black and pro-equity community has given itself no rest in protesting a system that has been crooked from the very beginning of the existence of the United States. The country was built on injustice, and today, many years after it has become the world’s most advanced, there is heartache for why it is not the most equal.

That this poem needs be written at all by Loyce Gayo, a spoken word artist I met in March on the campus of University of Texas at Austin a week after it won her the CUPSI 2014, is a testimony that stands against everything America holds true today. The land of the free is not exactly. When we got introduced by my very good friend and guest blogger on my Ghana blog, @notasinglestory, Loyce may have still been recovering from the emotional roller coaster of this poem’s performance. She later told me “Writing and reciting this piece has been the most spiritual experience I have ever had. It was and still remains a difficult reflection.”

That Loyce, a young poet, not American but Tanzanian, has to find herself in the place where, like a messenger accredited and sent by the motherland, she needs to scream these words to the hesitant listening ears of a systemically near-deaf America, is both heartbreaking and sorrowfully necessary in 2014.
This is the most spiritual poem I have ever reviewed.

Loyce cries when she performs this poem and if you listen well enough, not only will you be moved to perhaps understand a little of the passion she recites with, but a bit of your heart will cry too. This performance was the winning finalist of the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) 2014.

This year, Eric Garner, a black father of five minding his own business, was choked to death by a white policeman during an arrest in Staten Island, NY. The legal system found a trial for the offending officer Daniel Panteleo unnecessary. This year, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager was shot at least six times, including twice in the head and four times in his right arm, to death by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri. The legal system found Darren Wilson, the white police officer who committed the crime, not guilty enough for a trial.

I have included a video of Loyce’s winning performance and a text of the poem, hoping you can follow through as you listen. Afterwards, the review follows and even though it is the longest review I have ever asked you to read, this is important for posterity and one of my most engaging pieces of critical work. Read along as you watch. *I have added numbering to aid review.

HOW WE FORGET

We forgot we were worshipping beings,
We forgot you black Jesus
We forgot the king of kings
We forgot crowns do nothing for kings but put weight on their heads and a target on their backs
5         We forgot they tax our heads and put weight on our back
We forgot Sodom and Gomorrah were leveled by brimstone and divine judgment,
But Mississippi is still standing,
We forgot burning cities,
We forgot cities are still burning
10         We forgot colors are seasonal,
And that this skin will fade too
I forgot my skin,
Or perhaps I just ran out of fucks to give!
We forgot that some kid’s utopias,
15         Is a roof that won’t whisper the night to the sleeping bodies below,
We forgot bodies sleep below,
We forgot bodies float, bodies hang,
We forgot Barbecue Postcards, Strange Fruit and hooded men.
I forgot my rage.
20         And the pulse it leaves underneath my tongue
I forgot my tongue
And how it used to fit so perfectly in my purse next to my womanly duties.
I forgot my purse,
And my high heel stilts,
25         I forgot balancing is no longer an act,
When you’re hiding behind imported hair,
A downloaded smile,
A voice trained to jump through hoops of flames for your snaps and applause,
You don’t get it.
30         Shoot, you already forgot you woke up this morning,
You forgot to close the faucet when you were scrubbing that pot, that
plate, that spoon or your left butt cheek or whatever,
But you remember how that song goes right?
You remember how it went.
35         You remember you wanted your Grande Chai tea Latte with 3 Pumps, Skim Milk
Lite Water, No Foam,
And served at a hundred and twenty degrees.
You remember how spiritual of an experience that was?
I forgot where I wrote this,
40         I forgot if I was just ranting,
Or if I had forgotten to close the faucet when I was scrubbing that pot that plate that spoon
or my tongue, or  whatever
But I remember how this goes
I remember how spiritual of an experience this is
45         I forgot my heart was a burning city
Shoot, you already forgot, I forgot my tongue, remember?
We forgot that some kids walk past their utopias every morning,
Suburban bricks standing tall in proclamation of what statistics say they will never truly attain.
We forgot that some kids try so hard to forget tomorrow is even coming,
50         We forgot that there were kids smiling in barbecue postcards
Next to strange fruit and hooded men
Or perhaps we never had any fucks to give, you know
Sometimes I forget how hard it is to remember.

REVIEW
This poem is to the ear what a deliberately-mistaken sensory perception like an optical illusion is to the eye. All through, the poet tell us a series of things we forgot, in a way, reminding us of them as though we should remember them now, and then a few lines later, hits us with the reality that we just forgot again! The resonance of this style with the reality of America’s amnesia of race issues is deeply and tragically concise.

The poem begins by reminding us ‘we were worshipping beings’, and I find this a necessary line in introducing lines 2 – 4, which come to us with multiple layers of imagery. In line 2, we are reminded of ‘black Jesus’, a good time to bring our minds to the fact that this poem is going to be about race and black. In line 3, ‘We forgot the king of kings’; in the bible, Jesus from line 2 is known as the Kings of kings; but look across the landscape of American civil rights and you see a king, a King, Martin Luther Jr.; and then immediately you get a sense that this poem addresses an issue as grave to the poet as the story of the Bible.

In line 4, we forgot that with being a leader (denoted by the use of ‘crown’) for the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. bore the mark of a target. He was assassinated in the course of doing his ‘biblical’ assignment of leading black America to equality: isn’t it rather, leading white America to sense? Jesus, 2000 odd years before Luther, had borne a crown of thorns and had been himself a target in his mission to lead a lost humanity back to oneness with God. This line packs so many layers of meaning. Martin Luther and the leaders of the civil rights movements were some sorts of Jesus.

In line 5, ‘we forgot they tax our heads and put weights on our back’, evoking the burden of being black in America. The imagery of ‘weights on our back’ conjures the biblical episode of Christ having to carry his own heavy cross on his back on the way to being crucified. We are kings to bear this burden like the king of kings, like Martin Luther King, like Jesus, because this is what crowns do for kings.

Sodom and Gomorrah, a city so wicked that it gave English language the word ‘sodomy’, was leveled by fire and brimstone. It baffles our poet that Mississippi, not any less guilty, is still standing (line 7). What is the sin of Mississippi? The Ku Klux Klan’s most militant and violent chapter, The White Knights, was from Mississippi. Atrocities too evil to fathom were meted to black people in Mississippi. Black people’s hell in the days of the civil rights movement was Mississippi.

But we forgot! We forgot cities that burned (line 8) and that cities are still burning (line 9). More light is thrown on this line further down when the poet calls her own heart a burning city (line 45); the hearts of all black people still suffering violence and discrimination are burning cities; cities burning with rage. We forgot colours are seasonal (line 10) and eventually all skin will fade (line 11). Even then, before we were done talking about it, the poet had already forgotten her skin (line 12). We probably had too. Or maybe it wasn’t forgetfulness but just a defiant loss of steam for fighting for something so important; perhaps she had truly just run out of fucks to give (line 13). Why keep worrying when nobody listens and nothing changes?

The poet goes on to tell us about the fact that all some kids want to attain (their unattainable) is a proper roof over their heads, which is not the open sky that will ‘whisper the night to [their] sleeping bodies below’ (line 15). A fallen body with the sky whispering down on you night like you will whisper night to a child going to sleep right before you turn off the lights; only this time, night is a reference to death and sleeping bodies is a steely attempt not to scare you, because those bodies are asleep forever, dead. ‘We forget bodies sleep below’ (line 16), a subtle reminder that some have died for a skin that fades. In lines 17 and 18, brazen cruelty is euphemistically shared with us in a way that will shock you when you understand it. You have no idea what it is until you refer again to Mississippi and the KKK. This is where Loyce, in her performance, probably recalling her own personal experiences of hate and racism, lets tears tumble. “We forgot bodies float, bodies hang/ We forgot Barbecue Postcards, Strange Fruit and Hooded Men”. Bodies float, like birds on a current, because the KKK (hooded men), hanged black people by their necks, like Strange fruit dangling from trees. There is an original poem titled Strange Fruit (published 1937) that was written by Abel Meeropol and set to song by many different artists. The most famous version of that song was sung by Billie Holiday. The lyrics are contained in an International Journal linked here.

She forgets her rage (line 19). The rage that makes her heart a burning city and which she now tells us leaves a pulse underneath her tongue because she is a black woman (making it all the more of consequence), who the system expects to keep her mouth shut! She creates this effect by saying her tongue fits so perfectly in her purse beside her womanly duties (line 22). And guess what: she even forgets the purse that holds her tongue. Beautiful use of words for a tragic cause.

The entire poem is an attempt to draw America’s mind to the greater race issues of its life which it has conveniently thrown away just so it can live out its fake life more bearably. In which case she forgets her high heels stilts (line 24), a deceptive façade that makes her look as tall as she is not, while she hides behind imported hair (line 26) that makes her look as hairy as she is not, a downloaded smile (line 27), because face it, many times when you send those Laugh Out Loud emoticons, you’re not even smiling. Balancing is no longer an act (line 25) when we wear our fakeness. Balancing becomes our reality. The crookedness becomes our straight.
But we remember songs. And our long order for a cup of tea to the very detail of its flimsy temperature; trivialities. But Loyce dares us, as if we were not going to admit it, that this triviality was for us so spiritual an experience (line 38). Is this what we call spiritual? An order for a cup of tea? We’re left embarrassed, but the poem isn’t done.

She forgot where she wrote the poem and whether it was just a rant, or whether she had closed the faucet while scrubbing everything and her tongue but she remembers this poem even as she recites it, and that this poem is for her that most profound spiritual experience (line 44) which we seem to have misplaced and replaced with an order for a cup of tea. By properly forgetting the wrong things and rightfully remembering this poem, she sets our foolishness straight. She is on an unmistakable mission to thrust our forgotten dire race issues back in our faces and on our lips, as this poem has thoroughly and masterfully done.

When Loyce says she forgets her heart is a burning city (line 45), it feels definitely like she hasn’t really. Because after all, she has spent the entire poem till now showing us that burning heart. There is an epiphany when we’re smacked in the face next with the fact that we ‘already forgot [she] forget her tongue’ (line 46). This line is the hard-hitter that makes us see that even right now, we’re guilty of all she has been accusing us of since the poem began. We’re guilty of the poem. We couldn’t even remember she forgot her tongue a minute ago. How could we remember black men who died yesterday? Or last month? Or last year? Or last decade? This has been the driving message of the poem – Loyce uses examples loaded into her own poem to catch us forgetting. That America forgets so much that, it has let black people die without anything close to a national memory working for their protective honour and preservation.

The remaining lines are a call-back to lines 14 to 18 about kid’s utopias and hooded men and barbecue postcards with a background of strange fruit. The only addition, very poignant, is the fact that in this call-back, she tells us there were ‘kids smiling in barbecue postcards/next to strange fruit and hooded men’ (lines 50 -51). There were no smiling kids in lines 14-18. I will show you the picture of the premise of these words from a Ku Klux Klan postcard. Step this way to a page of KKK lynchings and hangings and find for yourself that one picture that shows smiling, young white kids posing in front of the camera, while KKK stood behind them and black men hanged. Did America ever have any care for this? Where is the proof? The caucus against says there has never been any care. Because there has been Tamir Rice. Then, Eric Garner! Then Trayvon Martin! And this whole list of blacks killed by cops since 1999, while the (in)justice system supervised!

Another addition which Loyce herself stresses is important to add to this review, are lines 47 to 48, in which “We forgot that some kids walk past their utopias every morning/Suburban bricks standing tall in proclamation of what statistics say they will never truly attain”; effectively a lie about the economic perspective of privilege. She says, “Minorities are at socio-economic disadvantage. And yet the American dream, so loudly professed, still doesn’t spare a second to ALSO remind black bodies, this was and never will be for them”.

Her closing line is an attempt to sympathize with our forgetfulness. It is the poet who has remembered all the important things while we forgot. But she turns the spotlight back on herself, in a certain self-indictment that gives an excuse for our forgetfulness: “sometimes I forget how hard it is to remember” (line 53)! Unspoken, but attempting to say, ‘I’m sorry, it’s ok if you forget. I’m being hard on you by demanding you remember so much. Asking you to remember that our skin colour made us different before you and the law, asking for equality, asking for space because #WeCantBreathe, asking you to probably finally find a couple of fucks to give!’

This is the most spiritual poem I have ever reviewed.

Golden Baobab Prize Logo

Accra, Thursday, 11th September – The Golden Baobab Prizes for African children’s literature have revealed the 14 stories that made it onto their longlist for 2014.

Selected from a total of 210 stories received from 13 countries across the continent, this longlist showcases some of the finest African writers and African children’s stories today. With four writers each, Ghana and South Africa are the four most represented nationalities on the longlist. Other countries that had writers on the list were Egypt, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria. The longlist represents stories submitted to the Golden Baobab Prize for Picture Books and the Golden Baobab Prize for Early Chapter Books. No story from the Golden Baobab Prize for Rising Writers made it onto the 2014 longlist.

Speaking on the prizes’ evaluation and selection processes, the Prize Coordinator, Delali Kumapley commented, “Stories submitted to the Golden Baobab Prizes go through an incredibly exhaustive evaluation process. We have a team of about thirty people from all over Africa and around the world that read and score each story. A winning story for the Golden Baobab Prizes gets evaluated at most six times by different readers. This year’s longlist represents a very strong crop of African writers.”

Now in its sixth year, the Golden Baobab Prizes inspire the creation of enthralling African children’s stories by African writers. To date, the prizes have received nearly 2000 stories from all over Africa. In 2013, to increase its support of the African children’s literature industry, the organization, Golden Baobab, introduced the brand new the Golden Baobab Prizes for African Illustrators. This prize will complement Golden Baobab’s efforts in literature by discovering and celebrating Africa’s most exciting artists and illustrators who are creating images to tell stories to children.

According to the Executive Director for Golden Baobab, Deborah Ahenkorah, “Golden Baobab is dedicated to the mission of championing the finest African stories for children and celebrating the people who create these stories. In 2014, we dedicated $20,000 to our prizes alone. We hope to do even more. We are wildly encouraged by the promise we see in the 2014 longlist.”

The shortlist for the Golden Baobab Prizes for African literature will be announced on 30th October, 2014. The winners for the Golden Baobab Prizes for Literature as well as the winners of Golden Baobab Prizes for Illustrators will be announced on 13th November, 2014.
Below are the titles and writers on the 2014 longlist:

Early Chapter Book Prize
Ricky Dankwa Ansong (Ghana) – Kweku Ananse: The Tale of the Wolf and the Moon
Jayne Bauling (South Africa) – The Saturday Dress
Mamle Wolo (Ghana) – Flying through Water
Mary Okon Ononokpono (Nigeria) – Talulah the Time Traveller
Bontle Senne (South Africa) – The Monster at Midnight
Hillary Molenje Namunyu (Kenya) – Teddy Mapesa and the Missing Cash
Dina Mousa (Egypt) – The Sunbird and Fatuma
Picture Book Prize
Katherine Graham (South Africa) – The Lemon Tree
Aleya Kassam (Kenya) – The Jacaranda Tree
Kwame Aidoo (Ghana) – The Tale of Busy Body Bee
Mandy Collins (South Africa) – There is a Hyena in my Kitchen
Mike Mware (Zimbabwe) – The Big Ball
Shaleen Keshavjee-Gulam (Kenya) – Malaika’s Magical Kiosk
Portia Dery (Ghana) – Grandma’s List
About the Golden Baobab Prizes
The Golden Baobab Prizes for literature were established in July 2008 to inspire the creation of enthralling African children’s stories by African writers. The Prizes invite entries of unpublished stories written by African citizens irrespective of age, race, or country of origin. The prizes have expanded to include The Golden Baobab Prizes for Illustrations to discover, nurture and celebrate African illustrators of children’s stories. The Prizes are organized by Golden Baobab, a Ghana-based pan African social enterprise dedicated to supporting African writers and illustrators to create winning African children’s books. The organization’s Advisory Board includes renowned authors Ama Ata Aidoo and Maya Ajmera. Golden Baobab is proudly supported by The African Library Project.
For further information, please contact Delali Kumapley on info@goldenbaobab.org
Telephone number: +233 505-298-941

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.

Warsan Shire - Pic cred: The Guardian UK

Warsan Shire – Pic cred: The Guardian UK

Undoubtedly among the best, published poets of the young African generation, Warsan Shire (@warsan_shire) has lent her voice to a campaign by The Guardian to push for education on Female Genital Mutilation in UK schools. The campaign is championed by 17-year old Fahma Mohamed and supported by anti-FGM campaigners. I’m sharing the text and a link to the video here because I believe that FGM must be stopped everywhere it occurs and as an ardent proponent of African poetry, these are the ways the campaign ring with me: through the art.

Warsan Shire won the inaugral Brunel Poetry Prize last year and one of her winning poems, Things We Had Lost in the Summer, is drawn from her experience of growing up in a community of people who have undergone the procedure. This latest poem, Girls, recorded for The Guardian, touches FGM in ways that you may probably never had heard: makes it soft but ragingly powerful and real, brings it to a home setting, puts it on a TV reality show, puts it beside you on your bed, talks to your mother, alludes to the devil’s tongue! I have been a great admirer of Warsan’s work and this adds to the increasing body of powerful poetry she’s challenging the world with. All the world needs to act to ensure FGM doesn’t continue into another generation. The last woman to have suffered it should be the last. We are all responsible and accountable. Copyright for the text belongs to Warsan, credit to Spread The Word for the text. Watch the video performance by Warsan Shire here on the Guardian site.

Girls

1

Sometimes it’s tucked into itself, sewn up like the lips of a prisoner.

After the procedure, the girls learn how to walk again, mermaids with new legs, soft knees buckling under their new stainless, sinless bodies.

2

Daughter is synonymous with traitor, the father says. If your mother survived it, you can survive it, the father says. Cut, cut, cut.

3

On a reality TV show about beauty, one girl exposes another girls’ secret. They huddle around her asking questions, touching her arm in liberal concern for her pleasure. Can you even feel anything down there? The camera zooms into a Georgia O’Keefe painting in the background.

4

But mother did you even truly survive it? The carving, the cutting, the warm blade against the inner thigh. Scalping. Deforestation. Leveling the ground. Silencing the devils tongue between your legs, maybe you did? I’m asking you sincerely mother, did you truly survive it?

5

Two girls lay in bed beside one another holding mirrors under the mouths of their skirts, comparing wounds.

I am one girl and you are the other.