12 September 2009

sing out...

One of the great pleasures of conferences and festivals and other similar gatherings, even when light on poetry offerings, is the chance to meet and talk with poets and critics. And with the world of "African poetry" being as relatively small and convivial as it is, meeting working poets is not difficult.

Such was the case earlier this year at the African Literature Association's conference: light on the poetic offerings (much to my documented chagrin) but, regardless, not lacking opportunities for me to expand the world (and the word) known to me.

Obi Nwakanma, currently a professor at Truman State University in Missouri, is one such. My first (and, sadly, last of the conference) encounter with his poetry was at the traditional evening reading. And now his latest book -- The Horsemen and other poems -- sits by my side, waiting to be read (and reviewed). But he was gracious enough to share an (an as yet unpublished?) poem with me in the weeks following.

And it's high time to share it more widely.
Fraternal Greetings
By Obi Nwakanma, St. Louis, 5 July 2008

Sunbirds: I see them in flight:
From the hiccups of these years – the blunt
Welcome that dazzles us in our oblique
Dispersal: the radiance, my friends,
These stars from heaven: the woodcutter’s
Bee has sucked our youth from
the mouth; left the sting of its proboscis,
And not the nectar. The sun whirls –
The wind swells. Our mother wails:
Dereliction has wrecked
The futile walls of the barns –
The homeland roils: Lagos is ablaze –
The irrecoverable spittle shines
The glazed dial a little too glazed; the florin
With Cleopatra’s head; the one I
Recovered from the flea market in Marakech –
Paid for my Arab bride, whose son
Wears my scar. But I am lost –
We are all lost. We are the horizon
Sneering salutes to these frenzied borders:
And I say, damn you all, my friends,
Exiles, communists, flower children:
Damn you all, with fraternal greetings.
After too long a delay I am looking forward to rereading this offering -- which reads to me as part of a long tradition of contemporary Nigerian poetry that looks simultaneously both out and inward (relative to the poet) and laments -- against his earlier collection.

In the meantime, there is an interview with Nwakanma from 2002 available online (launching the Sentinel Poetry Movement). Interestingly, he notes in it that he's completed the manuscript for The Horsemen a full five years before it was published.

"New" voices have often echoed elsewhere for a long, long time...

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