Knowing and Discovering Africa (ANTHOLOGY OF AFRICAN POETRY) a Review
By Yvonne Maria Phillip
When asked what comes to mind when one thinks of Africa, the answers are as varied as the
Continent itself. Africa is: History, Beauty, Richness, Majesty Sadness, Hunger,
Troubled/Struggle, The Beginning
In this ANTHOLOGY OF AFRICAN POETRY, published by Xlibris Corporation United States in 2012, edited by Stephen Abara, eight poets from Africa or of African descent, contribute poems about their beloved continent touching on some of the economic, cultural, and social issues facing Africa today. Stephen Abara is the Founder and President of Glendon Africa Network (GAN). The organization focuses a combination of diplomatic and highly rational methodologies, in order to curb and actually provide solutions for the social, economic and political problems of Africa today. At another level, GAN, in association with York University here in Toronto, aims to put in place strategies that would, in effect, inspire students to appreciate the expressive cultures of Africa and promote bilingualism and inter-cultural understanding among themselves.
These noble and timely objectives resonate among and within the poems in the anthology. The following describes the aesthetics of the books itself, and briefly highlights the intrinsic value brought to the anthology by contributing poets and poems:
René –Middet Gabiro : Mon Rwanda,
Melanie Lindayen: Nigeria,
Nadia Singiroh: Africa! Things will get better in the morning, To the Sister I wish to have had, Peace –Africa, Tender Love, Everlasting Love
Stephen Abara: The Huge Elephant: The Essence, Flames are high, Rational Trumpet
Africa Dreams in Shamble
Marfo Bonsu M.K: She Cries
Junior Mandoko: Eloko ya makassi,
Aggrey Chepkwony: Anthem from the Hermit, The Slum, Night Runners, Sold Off
Robert René : Pinasse Du Temps, Pourquoi le Singe Ressemble 'A L'Homme
The works by these selected poets and their peers showcase the real purpose of this book, which is to “improve understanding of African lifestyle and identity, foster knowledge about Africa through Afro-centric expressive cultural arts and spread the African culture and identity through the educational sponsorship of African Children.”
The pages of the first part of book, is a blend of creamy beige and traditional white. The creamy beige starts out at the top and slowly moves down fading into a more traditional white, only to meet again with the solid lines of a double border: of which the top line is traditional brown in appearance, whereas the bottom line appears a lighter shade. Then again, the borders spread out in both directions to the edges of the page to curl around the numbers. The photos and artworks, of each poet, placed atop and centre of the pages are tasteful and aesthetically pleasing; that is, these highlight rather than clash with the overall color décor. Finally, the second half of the book completes and adds esthetic power to the book's appearance, where the pages are a darker brown and the photos and scenes from the Glendon Africa Network are sharp and clear against the chosen backdrop.
Through the poems in ANTHOLOGY OF AFRICAN POETRY, the cultural, social, and economic concerns facing Africa are dramatized and the readers' understanding of African lifestyle and identify between cultures is improved. Here are many examples of the complexity of forces and circumstances that saturate the African landscape and culture: the plight of children in whom the history of tradition is expected to be fulfilled even at the expense of their well-being, the social crisis of the homeless, despaired, and those trapped by the tragedy of war, and the economic poverty of many (where people live in perilous, poor conditions) existing alongside both extracted and untapped rich resources and commodities such as gold and diamonds and other minerals. Several selections provide a clear window into this unique experience.
Huge Elephant, by Steven Abara addresses Africa's environmental concerns; referred to as the great elephant tusk–trapped, and urges Africa to shout out and embrace modernization to better showcase its potential strength. Then again, though other poetic gems add to the lustre of understanding and insight, there is a shift in framing the experience beginning with the poems by René-Mideet Gabiro and Melanie Lindayven. Definitely more sociological in scope, these address and reveal the plethora of cultural and social situations that shape the African people.
René-Mideet Gabiro's poem Mon Rwanda written in French sings of Rwanda, her beauty, blessed by God, her sad history, her struggle for freedom and peace, and of National Heroes fighting for her good and her future. In mournful sequence, the rhythms speak to us about a Rwanda savaged by the hell of war, and where the land—the very thing Rwanda is known for—namely her mountains—could be a double-edged sword in troubled times. It's also a poem of remembrances that lament the loss of lives and simultaneously highlights and confirms that the land, ever celebrated in song and rhyme for her rich beauty shaped in undulating mountains, could be the very thing that traps and destroys both life and landscape.
On the other hand, Melanie Lindayven's poem entitled Nigeria is a lighter look at Africa's social aspect. Set in a village-the very essence of social life, bound by a tight network, where one person is dependent closely upon the other-Nigeria, the poem, exemplifies images of power. Who can resist the strength of this stormy refrain when she speaks about the “…downpour deadening the mercantile cacophony of the crowd.” But there is also an ominous feature of power, she warns. Are these the wings of angels or demons “clapping blackly in the sky with pious force”? In the end though, she soothes the sinews of the poem by invoking images of discovery, of what it feels like to experience the dual mix of rain and sun… After all, she seems to be telling us, life is about contrasts, where the wonders of being lies in a taste of the everyday, looking at the human person indulging in the not so secret desires of many to walk in the rain, umbrella-less, uncovered, and snatch a brief moment of freedom and the rare chance to share a oneness with the power and wonder of nature.
She Cries by Marfo Bonsu, brings a universal resonance to the work. It rather sends out a 'call' as it entreats, on behalf 'Mother Africa', that Africans around the world come together in remembrance, defence and understanding of home. Make no mistake. This is a call of love of self and neighbours and a deliberate attempt to foster pride in African nations. The message is threefold, consisting of a rallying cry for Africans to embrace unity, not strife; as well as a confident note that, though Africa's children flee in the face war, they do not surrender; lastly, there is a kind of love that binds them to Africa that is entrenched deep within their hearts and that of their descendants, so whether they flee or stay, she is a their only source of hope when they despair.
Finally, Aggrey Chepkwony's contributions: Anthem from the Hermit, Slum, Sold Off, and Night Runner compile an unapologetic look at some of the darker social and cultural situations that define Africa. Social issues like homelessness punctuated in Anthem from the Hermit, where many live the day-to-day fight for the basics of shelter, food, and clothing, add to those fears governed by war and despair and life in even more desperate living conditions and the impoverished take a double whammy impact in Slum. Not only are the two poems a comment on the social and cultural experience of Africa, they also integrate their disposition with the state of another major area of life, which is the economy, and seems to reinforce the orthodox correlate: that better economies naturally lead to better life situations.
Night Runner tries to show how cultural appeasement takes place in the face of pressures from both old traditions and modern ways of thinking and doing things, and how government officials today participate within, and indeed negotiate, these realms. We learn about traditions and apparently unbending policies that permit the 'selling off' of young girls into marriage to adult men. This is poignantly captured in the poem Sold Off, which is written from the point of view of one who had first-hand experience of being sold and unable to prevent the same from happening to a sibling. Their despair highlights the plight of our littlest human beings who are seen as commodities rather than as beloved children.
These poets sing the same songs, of love and loss, loss of a continent, loss of a country and of community when families must flee the place of home to foreign lands. But even when they learn new cultures and mix the old with the new they still try to preserve what was there before. Their window of hope comes out in songs that caress the heart of the only home they knew, mother Africa. This treasure trove of poems makes us believe that we can speak about Africa only when we have sat in her bosom. Africa is a mystic, mythic continent, truly speaking the whole world of feelings, hopes and dreams. Now when one is asked what comes to mind when one thinks of Africa, the answers may still be varied and confirm some original views, but new ones more down to earth and comprehensive may come to mind as well. Africa is:
Love-Desired, Undeterred, Time Worthy, Beauty, Magical, Rich UNITY
Contact Author and Poet S. Abara @Glomac Services Canada, and Glomac LTD UK to order copies of an African Inspired Poetry titled: Anthology of African Poetry, Edited by Stephen Abara. Also, Copies can be ordered from Xlibris.com, Amazon.com, Barne and Nobles, York University Book Stores, Glendon African Network, Accent Book stores Toronto, and you're local Bookstores.
Nwaorgu Faustinus, Media Representative to Stephen Obinna Abara can be reached on:
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."
Reproduction is authorised provided the author's permission is granted.