The African continent, being home to thousands of languages and hundreds of varying cultural identities, has richly diverse forms of poetic tradition. The world’s growing focus on the varied African cultures has created new platforms and new avenues open to African artists, writers, poets, musicians and filmmakers, etc. These platforms – largely made possible through the internet – are introducing the complexities, diversity and beauty of African expression not only to the rest of the world, but to other Africans as well. Whether it be through song, proverb or folktales – through oral tradition or literature – one thing that unifies this diversity is that the utmost significance of poetry is evident and embedded in cultures across the continent.
When I was approached by Kent MacCarter to put together a small collection of contemporary African poetry, I knew the task would not be a simple one. Whatever the end result might be, it certainly could not encompass or represent the countless powerful voices emerging from not just the continent but from it’s Diaspora population as well. Much of Africa’s cultural wealth, especially in forms of poetry is still not largely experienced by the world outside the continent. Though names like Kofi Awoonor and Chinua Achebe are recognisable to those familiar with African poetry and literature, contemporary works of young Africans making an impact may not be. What was possible with this collection, and what was important about this endeavour, was the opportunity to give a possibly unfamiliar audience a taste of Africa’s burgeoning voices.
Nick Makoha: Smoke
Safia Elhillo: Others
Safia Elhillo: Self-portrait in Case of Disappearance
Inua Ellams: Short Shorted / Odogbolu 1995
Inua Ellams: The Staunch Slouch
Tjawangwa Dema: A Benediction for Climbing Boys
Caroline Anande Uliwa: Moods Aligned
Caroline Anande Uliwa: The Whisper
Liyou Libsekal: “Revival”
Liyou Libsekal: Composer
Ladan Osman: Introduction through Parables: Marwa
Tjawangwa Dema: White Noise
This collection features poets from Botswana, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. In the following works, you will find writers exploring the past, the future, identity and the present. Yes, some these poems also address war, and injustice but not in the same narrative usually offered about Africa. These topics are frequently presented in a way that unjustly paints this vast place as a place in perpetual turmoil. In these poems, we get the voices of people who have borne witness to history and change. We see the poets’ powerful connections and love for their respective places of origin, we see a process of coming to terms with the past, and we see criticism and hope both from those who live on the continent, and those whose lives have taken them away from it.
Some of these poems attempt to reconcile history and consequence, identity and environment. Some are indicative of a changing Africa, one that struggles with democracy, and the changes that come with growth. These depictions offer a glimpse into a varied yet connected experience. These stories are personal, in the voice of those who have experienced and inherited them.