At the 2014 AWP conference in Seattle, I went to a reading sponsored by Slapering Hol Press, the African Poetry Book Fund, and Prairie Schooner, presenting poets from a new collection. Instead of putting seven poets in one anthology, the editors Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani gave each poet a chapbook, then put the seven chapbooks into a beautifully designed box called Seven New Generation African Poets. The poets are TJ Dema, Clifton Gachagua, Tsitsi Jaji, Nick Makoha, and Len Verwey, Warsan Shire, and Ladan Osman.
What a brilliant way to introduce young African poets to the American public. “We are finding in these poets,” writes Kwame in his introduction, “a cadre of writers who remain committed to the rich and enduring challenge of finding a voice and idiom that manages to reflect a quality of modernity operating in African cultures.”
Ladan’s poetry is unaffected and simple, unabashedly alive in spirit, and full of interrogation—desperate questions that are flung our way with care and craft:
If this poet is white in third world countries,
what am I here? It’s possible I’m just like the wind in the curtains.
Why do rocks enslave
water? What is the slave’s poem? Does the sea favor its roar or murmur?
Warsan Shire’s poems knocked the breath out of me. Her voice is unbounded, original, and honest. In Conversations about Home, she writes:
No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a
shark. I’ve been carrying the old anthem in my mouth
for so long that there’s no space for another son,
another tongue, or another language. I know a shame
that shrouds, totally engulfs. I tore up and ate my own
passport in an airport hotel. I’m bloated with language I
can’t afford to forget.
I am thankful to Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani for selflessly and diligentlysupporting such bright new voices from Africa. Literature can serve as a bridge between cultures and people, and in these dark times what better way to serve humankind than to build that bridge, poem by poem.