06 March 2009

perspectives: publishers of african poetry and poets

In response to my earlier posting -- print and online publishers of poetry; of african poetry? -- Tolu Ogunlesi, one of our readers (and a working poet in his own right) sent a thoughtful response along with some specific suggestions that deserve a wider audience.

Ogunlesi writes:
Just came across this post on your blog, and thought I should share some of my personal experience.

In my opinion, writing in/from Africa is often a case of "All written up... nowhere to go."

Let me try to count the living (print) literary magazines I know of in Nigeria:
  1. Farafina (they do not take unsolicited poetry)
  2. Cavalcade (new journal published by the abuja writers' forum, I haven't even seen a copy yet)
Trying to think of more....

What you often have are poetry anthologies published by various writers' groups, not very well edited or printed. And then of course the newspapers, which often publish very bad poetry written by newspaper staff and the editors' friends.

Elsewhere in africa:
  1. Chimurenga -- irregularly published
  2. Kwani? -- same as Chimurenga
To some extent, poetry worldwide -- and writing in general -- is "All written up... nowhere to go." And much of it deserves to stay there: in notebooks, on scraps bundled in folders, floating around disjointedly in the mind. (Much like most of my own poetic "production".) But Ogunlesi's larger point, on the troubles of publishing in Africa and finding outlets beyond Africa (from a home base on the Continent), are both well taken, and well documented; and as Ogunlesi reaffirms in painful detail, it is very much a matter of access.
Most of my own submissions go to Europe (the UK esp) and America. I have had poems published in Magma (UK), Sable (UK), Stanford's Black Arts Quarterly (US), Pyramid (US), Birmingham Arts Journal (US), and have 3 poems in the current edition of World Literature Today.

It helps that a lot of these journals accept emailed submissions. It'd be too much of a bother to have to snail-mail stuff, what with the unavailability of IRCs in Nigeria, and with the generally inefficient postal services.

These days, one of the most important considerations guiding what American or British mags I submit to is medium of submission - email or nothing.
It certainly seems to me that regardless of the "worth" of any particular scribblings, poets working in Nigeria, Kenya, the United States, New Guinea, Belize... should have access to outlets. Not a mandate. Not a right. But a wish.
To be honest, its tough to break into the literary journal market abroad. It's hard enough for residents of these countries, doubly hard for an "outsider".

But I have chosen to press on. The internet be praised!
Indeed. It's certainly not easy. And it's certainly not fair that by pure accident of birth it's a hell of a lot easier for me to ship off and hear back from publishers than it is for Ogunlesi. But we all press on.

As he continued in a subsequent email:
Truth is every now and then I get emails and questions from young Nigerian writers (I'm one myself!) saying "I'm a poet, I want to publish my work, what should I do?"

First thing I do is sigh... and then I start my footnoted treatise on the phenomenon called the "internet"...
And I am personally thankful that folks like Ogunlesi do press on.

My thanks to Tolu for his thoughts. For those of you following along, here are links to the publications mentioned above.
And you can read more from Tolu Ogunlesi on his blog. Good luck to everyone!
Addendum (14 February 2010): Aernout Zevenbergen has written an interesting piece on The Art of Self-Publishing on the Book SA website. Zevenbergen is reflecting on the publication of his book (rather than seeking publication in journals) but the challenges faced and lessons learned are, I think, worth sharing in the context of this discussion.


Coastcard said...

Strangely, I live in Wales, UK ... where there are all these small mags you mention ... and I have just received a magazine featuring my poems all the way from India. Strange, small world! I think the fact that the UK Post Office started charging more for A4 envelopes has meant that more outlets here are just beginning to accept submissions by email.How do you feel about submitting to ezines and blogzines?

Kobus van Wyl said...

I found self-publishing, and publishing on the web, the best options.