Poems From East Africa is an anthology of the most flowery poems that I have ever experienced. African Writers Series saw a conglomerate of East African poets come together and blend art and lyrical genius. In it contains a variety of great African poets ranging from Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Sudan capturing history through a range of flamboyant styles.
Edited expertly by David Cook and David Rubadiri, the anthology of poems is covered in slightly over 200 pages. Jared Angira, a Kenyan, kicks off vigorously at the very start with Hunger where he encapsulates political oppression and the shattering of dreams of the people of the land. Quite interesting that the poem can still be applied to present-day Kenya’s political system damn near 40 years later;
The maize will grow once when long rains have come
And army worms have gone
But that day shall find many in the invalid home
With collar’d fathers at bedside mass
And others in graves
Jared’s contribution goes further in Dialogue, the very sarcastic No Coffin, No Grave, Primus Priory, The Siege of Ramogi and The Street.
The present governor, Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, father to the Hollywood diva Lupita Nyong’o, also made a contribution with his Daughter of the Low Land, where he is very protective of his testicles.
From Uganda, we had the late Christopher Henry Barlow, who blessed us with Building The Nation, a poem that has been so significant to African Literature as we know it today. He explores the lavish lifestyles of the African politicians who come into power after colonialism and, ideally, simply replace the coloniser. The theme of disillusionment is heavy throughout the piece;
Today I did my share in building the nation.
I drove a Permanent Secretary to an important, urgent function
In fact, to a luncheon at the Vic.
The menu reflected its importance
Cold bell beer with small talk,
Then fried chicken with niceties
Wine to fill the hollowness of the laughs
Ice-cream to cover the stereotype jokes
Coffee to keep the PS awake on the return journey.
I drove the Permanent Secretary back.
He yawned many times in back of the car
Then to keep awake, he suddenly asked,
Did you have any lunch friend?
I replied looking straight ahead
And secretly smiling at his belated concern
That I had not, but was slimming!
Upon which he said with a seriousness
That amused more than annoyed me,
Mwananchi, I too had none!
I attended to matters of state.
Highly delicate diplomatic duties you know,
And friend, it goes against my grain,
Barlow clearly depicts two distinct classes in this piece, the haves and the have-nots. They both suffer in one way or another because of their own roles. For instance, the driver becomes sick because of lack of food while the PS becomes sick because of eating too much. His poetic contribution continues with I Refuse to take your brotherly hand, and The Village Well.
Ralph Bitamazire’s I Love You, My Gentle One was another formidable poem in the collection. The extravagant use of metaphors even as he appealed to his partner showcased a special relationship;
I love you, my gentle one;
My love is the fresh milk in the rubindi
Which you drank on the wedding day;
My love is the butter we were smeared with
To seal fidelity into our hearts.
You are the cattle-bird’s egg,For those who saw you are wealthy;
You are the papyrus reed of the lake,
Which they pull out with both hands.
And I sing for you with tears
Because you possess my heart:
These are just some of the poems that were momentous for me. Additionally, Laban Erapu’s I Beg you, Joseph Kariuki’s Sleepless In Angola, Marjorie’s Freedom Song and Okot P’Bitek’s They Sowed And Watered and Return The Bridewealth remain heavy hitters that I still enjoy every time.
Conclusively, these are visual poems, poems with a sense of place and time, poems that can change how a bird, a beggar, a taxi driver, a city scene, a coastal trip, are seen, and remembered.
Old really is golden with this collection. If you are a poetic head, delve into this goldmine. You’re welcome!