12 February 2010

from the archives: syl cheney-coker on the cbc (2003)

Way back on December 7, 2003, the Sierra Leonean poet and novelist Syl Cheney-Coker appeared on CBC Radio One's Writers & Company with Eleanor Wachtel.

I managed to download and save the audio a few years ago; good thing too, as it's no longer available on the CBC website. You can stream it by clicking on the play button below.

Cheney-Coker is, to my thinking, one of the great poets of the second generation of African poets; and one whose work hasn't really been appreciated and recognized to the extent it deserves, within the academy at least.

Includes a reading of "Our Lady of Diamonds" -- which appears in Stone Child (a collection that was already "forthcoming" in 2003 but didn't appear in print until 2008). You can watch Cheney-Coker read the same poem at the 2007 Festival Internacional de Poesía in Medellín, Colombia.

Bits and pieces?
Sierra Leone did not face a civil war; it was, instead, "a naked case of lawlessness, banditry, thievery".

A marvelous, touching (and always melodious) evocation of his youth -- so much that I've read nowhere else -- yet clear-eyed: "all the affectations of a pseudo-English life".

He also reads, "Childhood" & "Bread" -- both from The Blood in the Desert's Eyes.

"...we all carry the tremendous weight of history on our head, and it crawls on our backs when we least expect it."

"I could read and understand Soyinka very well... but the deep symbolism of the masquerades and things like that was completely lost to me."

Cites the Congolese Felix Tchicaya U Tam’si and Peruvian César Vallejo as two central poetic influences on his work (though but two of hundreds he's read, and a certainty that his own voice has emerged).

"My life wasn't really threatened when I went to the Philippines or to Nigeria, it was just that the situation was just untenable in Sierra Leone."

"I miss being able to sit on my veranda and see the river flowing in front of my house. Yes, that is what I miss the most."

Closes with a reading of "On Being a Poet in Sierra Leone" -- from The Graveyard Also Has Teeth.
And much, much more, of course. Every time I hear that voice -- smooth, controlled, strong -- listen... Just listen. And read his poetry. It's not always easy, but it's always worth it.

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