Posts Tagged ‘African poetry’

Warsan Shire

Warsan Shire

If you have been following new, exciting African poets, you have surely heard of Warsan Shire. My introduction to her poetry came in 2013 when she became the inaugural winner of the Brunel University African poetry prize. I had applied to that prize so I followed it keenly. Also, the fact that it was an African poetry prize initiated by Bernadine Evaristo “to draw attention” to poetry from Africa, gave me more than a little joy. Warsan has moved on in leaps and bounds since winning that award.

Warsan Shire was born in Somalia in 1988. She became popular in 2011 when her poem “For Women Who Are ‘Difficult’ to Love” (video with voiceover by Warsan) went viral. She moved to London with her family when she was still young and has traveled extensively for her poetry.

Warsan’s poetry is very simple yet very deep. Many of them, if not all, portray a woman who is fundamentally feminist. I have tried on countless occasions to review a poem of hers but much of her poetry’s depth makes it difficult to do full justice. She is the first poet I will review, whose poetry came to me as so beautifully difficult and this work is one of the easier ways to introduce her to anyone who has not read her work. It has taken a couple of days to decide on which of her works I can comfortably review. Not to be taken wrong, her poetry is very simple to read on the face but when you try to review, to interpret or to translate, you find that you are dealing with layers, layers and layers of meaning and thought. She became the first young poet-laureate of the city of London in 2013. In my previous post about the depth of Somali poetry, I have reviewed her in the same lights as Hadraawi, Gaarriye and K’naan; the first two, classical, the latter two contemporary poets in a glittering Somali poetry culture. Read here my review of The Kitchen published in 2011 by Flipped Eye in her chapbook with the title Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth.

The Kitchen

REVIEW

The title and setting of this poem by Warsan are a sort of deflection from a deeper story that is woven throughout the poem. How many great poems have been written about kitchens and cook books? I have seen few. But as the poem opens, your mind is cast unto delicacies of the palate, what with ‘Half a papaya and a palmful of sesame oil’ (line 1). In the second line, the poet sharply turns to address a woman whose ‘husband’s mind has been elsewhere’.

The third line, like a forgetfulness of the second and a reminder of the first, tells of ‘Honeyed dates, goat’s milk’, before it continues to address our woman in line 4 about her wanting to ‘quiet the bloating of salt’.
Our addressed woman’s husband has come to or has always been in the kitchen because in line 6, he kisses the back of her neck at the stove and in line 8, she offers him the hollow of her throat. There is some romance going in the kitchen interspersed with the preparation of what sounds like a coming romantic dinner with coconut and ghee butter (line 5) and cayenne and roasted pine nuts (line 7).

In line 10, Warsan gives us a hint of our woman’s suspicions; she has decided that her husband is seeing another woman but she doesn’t ‘ask him her name’. She lets him lift her by the waist (line 12) and lay her down on the kitchen counter (line 14). The melody of food continues interwoven with this woman’s story like a story sandwich with a hint of saffron and rosemary (line 9), vine leaves and olives (line 11), cinnamon and tamarind (line 13).

The poem winds down and the woman is told her husband is hungry (line 16). He had forgotten the way she tastes (line 18) but upon all his infidelity and wanderings, his other mistress could not and ‘cannot make him eat, like you’ (line 20) his wife. There’s some intertwining in these last lines that makes the poem endlessly complete. The man is in the kitchen because he is hungry. In the kitchen, he does not taste the woman’s food but seeks out pleasures of her body. He has forgotten how the woman tastes, not her food. The other woman could not cook him a better intimacy than his wife does and that is why he is back to his wife, whose ‘food’ is better. The fact that this poem takes place in a kitchen is just a subtle cover for something deeper that brewed underneath – underneath every line of this poem that reads food, every line staggered away from the edge of the page like an afterthought.

Do one thing for me before you’re through reading this review. Go back up and read every even-numbered line of this poem only. Forget the first lines and read the second line of each couplet. That is the story Warsan has been trying to tell us. Beautiful poem, isn’t it?

Edit: This post is quoted here on The Guardian UK.

Thank you all who keep reading this blog. To reward you, as much as I can, I will continue to inform of African Poetry Prize announcements as I receive news so we can all stay winning. The Glenna Luschei African Poetry Prize is another product of the African Poetry Book Fund and Prairie Schooner. If you’ve read this blog long enough, you will know APBF and Prairie Schooner from my brief post on my first meeting with Prof. Kwame Dawes, the Brunel University African Poetry Prize Announcements and the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poetry. Get with your publisher and apply for this one. The deadline has been extended from July to October. Get more info on this announcement page. All the best :)

Glenna Luschei African Poetry Prize Guidelines

The Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry, under the auspices of the African Poetry Book Fund and in partnership with the literary journal, Prairie Schooner, is an annual award of USD $5,000. Named for the literary philanthropist Glenna Luschei, this Pan African Poetry Prize is the only one of its kind in the world and was established to promote African poetry written in English or in translation and to recognize a significant book published each year by an African poet.

Each year, the prize is judged by an internationally renowned poet. This judge for the inaugural prize is Nigerian poet and novelist Chris Abani.

• Books must be submitted in the year after their publication, which means that books published in 2013 must be submitted for consideration between May 1 and October 1, 2014.
• The 2014 contest is open to any book of original poetry, in English, published during 2013 in a standard edition by a full-length collection of poetry written by any African national, African resident, or poet of African parentage with roots from any country, living anywhere in the world. A standard edition is 48 pages or more in length.
• Books of translation are welcome and eligible for consideration for the prize.
• Self-published books are not eligible.
• Publishers may submit as many titles as they wish. The publisher should send four copies of each book to the Academy, postmarked between May 1 and October 1, 2014.
• There is no entry fee but an entry form is required for each title submitted. The winner will be announced in December.
• The African Poetry Book Fund will award the winning poet $5,000.
• Books published by the African Poetry Book Fund will not be eligible for consideration.
• Uncorrected galleys and PDF galleys of books will be considered as long as the publication date falls within the period of eligibility.

Please send four copies of each entry to the following address, postmarked between May 1 and October 1, 2014:

The Glenna Luschei Poetry Prize
The African Poetry Book Fund
Prairie Schooner
123 Andrews Hall
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Lincoln, NE 68588-0334

Books will not be returned.

For more information, please contact:
Ashley Strosnider
Managing Editor
African Poetry Book Fund
africanpoetrybf@unl.edu
402-472-0911

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.

 

Mogadishu - Pic cred: wiki

Mogadishu – Pic cred: wiki

 Following from my previous post on the admiration I have developed for Somalia and Somali literature, I have spent a couple of days reading and writing about the country. It is some sort of romance tempered by distance and the fact that we have never met. So I stay thinking about my new literary love and the product is poem after poem after poem. I have written three poems (finished two) about this country I long to visit and experience, all the poems bearing the same title, ‘I think about you, Mogadishu‘. I share here with you the second and will be grateful if you read that first article of longing for a country that tugs at the heart of an artist. It has had a difficult history  but one day we shall sit on the shores of Mogadishu, forget all that has been, and talk about poetry under moonlight accompanied by a little happy dance. We shall talk about love.

I think about you, Mogadishu

You star in my nightmares
You seduce in my temple
You challenge my sleep.

You keep me up till 11:30
Then you wake me at midnight
You should leave in the morning
You should leave in the afternoon
But by evening you’re still here
Strange damsel of my dreams
I think about you.

You hide many secrets in your hijab
I cannot unravel nor understand
Your smile is brighter, embarrasses the sun
You frown darker than night.
When you turn and walk away, I know you want me to follow
You tell me nothing; only in your eyes I see everything
Strange damsel of my dreams
I think about you.

You have been intimate with sorrow
Worn heartbreaks like a thousand wristbands
Each one for each day
Your arms are short or you will wear
One for each hour.
And even now there is no space for more.
Maybe underneath, you hide the scars of many lives
One life lived many times.
Because you have died. And resurrected.
And died again. And you’re here
timeless.
Tattooed with eternity
Going in and out of my dreams, strange damsel
I think about you.

You have shores but they have no sands
Sand is flimsy; you have rocks.
Rocks for engraving the names of past loves
Love rocks.
You love rocks.
Your love rocks.
But the rocks are bare.
Your loves have left you, craving you, reaching
But unable.
How does it feel to be loved and left alone?

Strange damsel of my dreams
I have not seen you before
But not a day passes that I don’t think about you
One day
I shall look for you
Carrying my album of dreams and fantasies,
my only pictures of you.
Pursue you across museums of the brokenhearted
Are you black like I am?
There is no colour in a dream.

I think about you
Fair lady on the rim of the rising sun
Your love has taken me prisoner
And you don’t even know me.
I will show you the cuffs when I arrive
Where it burns a golden brown into my wrist
Night comes and my sleep is threatened
For you will stand again at the gate of my sleep,
Commanding new nightmares.
I think about you, Mogadishu.

Noemia de Sousa

Welcome to 2014. It’s a pleasure to start off the year sharing some splendid African poetry with you. I look forward to a memorable ride in the year.

I begin this year with poetry from Mozambique, written by one of the most popular Lusophone African poets you will read yet. Noémia de Sousa was born on 20th September 1926, in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo).  Even though she did not publish an anthology, her writing fame spread far and wide with her publication in newspapers, journals and literary papers. For the few poems of hers I’ve read, de Sousa was a protest poet, writing in defense of Africa against colonialism and general oppression. Her poem “Magaíça” (Migrant Laborer) is a good example that ends with the lines

“Youth and health,

the lost illusions

which will shine like stars

on some Lady’s neck in some City’s night.”

Her first poem I read was “Poema de João” (The Poem of João) and it also ends with the lines “who can take the multitude and lock it in a cage?” Due to the protestations of her writing, the colonial secret police monitored her to the extent that she fled Mozambique and took residence in Portugal. She later moved to France and continued to write under the name Vera Micaia. She died in 2002 in Portugal. I review below her poem titled:

If you want to know me

This is what I am

empty sockets despairing of possessing of life

a mouth torn open in an anguished wound…

a body tattooed with wounds seen and unseen

from the harsh whip-strokes of slavery

tortured and magnificent

proud and mysterious

Africa from head to foot

This is what I am

 

REVIEW

Just look at the beauty of that! Noemia de Sousa’s poem is short and is titled as though the poet doesn’t care if you know them or not. Or rather, she is apologizing for what you might discover when you get to know her. Therein lies the power of the poem. The ‘her’ is not even her.

The poem starts by giving respite from your wondering too long on the title. It seems to sit you down, look straight into your eyes and tell you ‘This is what I am’ (line 1). The images that follow give a picture of a bewildered listener, mouth agape, disbelieving. It looks like the poet is talking to someone who had different ideas who this speaker is. Let’s discover.

Noemia tells us of ‘empty sockets’ which have lost hope for life (line 2). The one prominent socket on the human body that can best contain this expression is the eye socket.  Keep this in mind that the body being described is blind; metaphorically blind and unable to see past her issues, her problems, her present life for which she now despairs. ‘A mouth torn open in an anguished wound…’(line 3); that is to say, a battered mouth with a wound extension where lips will not reach; ‘a body tattooed with wounds seen and unseen’ (line 4) – each tattoo a landmark of ownership by suffering, the seen and the hidden. Noemia is describing to us a tortured soul but she goes on, enlightening us that this body got all these scars from ‘harsh whip-strokes of slavery’ (line 5) which, sounding terrible, have awoken in her a magnificence (line 6). How does a tortured body become magnificent? Why not, it adorns itself in blisters and brokenness like a painting. It is broken but it is ‘proud’ for which reason we can only look on and marvel, mysteriously (line 7). But who is this her? Noemia tells us, this is Africa in completeness. If anybody is ready to know Africa, love Africa, this is Africa’s person. At the time when countries were still reeling under colonialism, this was a powerful way of opening the eyes of the world to an Africa that wanted liberation. Making this Africa a person dressed in scars. Beautifully marred. This was enough to merit Noemia getting tracked by the colonial Portuguese secret police.

This writing is so powerful, it brings to mind that post I wrote on why I am doing poetry reviews, which closed with the lines ‘If the government cared, they would have arrested me’. No oppressive government would want its people to rally around a poem like this. Noemia de Sousa has provided this contribution to an Africa that is ever-defining itself and also as a worthy start to 2014 on this blog for a bit of reflection on a common African past from which we can forge a common African future.

Expectations for 2014

Posted: January 1, 2014 in ANNOUNCEMENTs
Tags: , , ,

Pic Cred: parnassusreview.com

Happy New Year to you all. This year, I have only one agendum for this blog and that is to read and review a poet from a different African country every next time. Hopefully by so doing, I will review much of Africa. I say this in the hope that I can find some very good translations of Lusophone, French and African Arabic poetry. It should be worth the journey.

In this regard, I will be pleased if anyone has read any African poem from especially North Africa and would recommend it. I have been seeking out a couple of people doing translations of Arabic poetry and hopefully, they will give their permissions for me to use their translations.

Final thing, I promised myself I should go on a hunt for African anthologies. I haven’t updated my stock of African poetry in a while and this year, I hope to address the error. Also, I have been playing with the idea to include Caribbean poets in my definition of African poetry. I will decide soon.

So ride with me through 2014 and let’s explore this vast, fierce, unconquerable spirit of Africa.

To the language of the African soul.

Calling all African poets desirous of publishing a first book! This is an announcement you may not spare me for keeping away from you. Read:

The African Poetry Series has been made possible through seed funding from philanthropists, Laura and Robert F. X. Sillerman, whose generous contributions have facilitated the establishment of the African Poetry Book Fund.  Mr. and Mrs. Sillerman have also welcomed the use of their name for the First Book Prize for African Poets.

Prizes

The winner receives USD $1000 and publication through with the University of Nebraska Press and Amalion Press in Senegal.

Eligibility

The Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets will only accept “first book” submissions from African writers who have not published a book-length poetry collection. This includes self-published books if they were sold online, in stores, or at readings. Writers who have edited and published an anthology or a similar collection of other writers’ work remain eligible.

An “African writer” is taken to mean someone who was born in Africa, who is a national or resident of an African country, or whose parents are African.

Only poetry written in English is eligible. Translated poetry is accepted but a percentage of the prize will be awarded to the translator.

No past or present paid employees of the University of Nebraska Press or Amalion Press, or current faculty, students, or employees at the University of Nebraska, are eligible for the prizes.

When to Send

Manuscripts are accepted annually between September 15 and December 1st.

Manuscript

Poetry manuscripts should be at least 50 pages long.

The author’s name should not appear on the manuscript. All entries will be read anonymously. Please include a cover page listing only the title of the manuscript (not the author’s name, address, telephone number, or email address). An acknowledgements page listing the publication history of individual poems may be included, if desired. No application forms are necessary. You may submit more than one manuscript.

The Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets accepts electronic submissions ONLY. Click here to submit via Submittable.

Entry Fee

Free

Notification

The winner is announced early January on the African Poetry Book Fund website. Results will be emailed shortly thereafter.

2013 Winner

The winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets for 2013 is Clifton Gachagua for his manuscript Madman at Kilifi. He will receive a USD $1,000 prize and publication by the University of Nebraska Press and Amalion Press in Senegal. (Details)

Please send any questions to psbookprize@unl.edu

All the best to you all who take part.