Poems Of Black Africa

…So I came back
Sailing down the Guinea Coast.
Loving the sophistication
Of your brave new cities:
Dakar, Accra, Cotonou,
Lagos, Bathurst and Bissau;
Liberia, Freetown, Libreville,
Freedom is really in the mind.

Go up-country, so they said,
To see the real Africa.
For whomsoever you may be,
That is where you come from.
Go for bush, inside the bush,
You will find your hidden heart,
Your mute ancestral spirit.
So I went, dancing on my way.

Now you lie before me passive
With your unanswering green challenge.
Is this all you are?
This long uneven red road, this occasional succession
Of huddled heaps of four mud walls…

This poem, albeit long, is a testament to Nicol’s understanding of Africa. And when he explains it, he speaks for all his brothers, Africa’s lonely sons on distant shores.’ As a reader myself, I kind of got the feeling that there is almost supposed to be an attained sophistication that automatically comes with the long lost sons of Africa that come back to claim their roots. Anyway the poem is open to multiple interpretations, such is the beauty of poetry. His contribution continued with African Easter.

Ellis Ayitey Komey, a Ghanaian, paints a very vivid picture of the richness of the land with Oblivion. Methinks it literally captures the millennials’ phrasing; take a picture it will last longer. The wealth of the land will be a lifeline even when they are dead;

I want to remember the fallen palm
With whitening fluid of wine
Dripping from its hardened belly
In this forest of life.
I want to remember it from the road
With mud on my feet,
And thorn-scraped flesh
From the branches by the water.
I want to remember them well
The sight of the green-eyed forest
The jubilant voices of the frogs
And the pleading crises of the owls.
I want to walk among the palms
With their razor-edged leaves
Shadowing the yam and cassava shrubs
Under which the crab builds its castle
And the cocoa pods drooping like mother’s
Breasts feeding a hungry child.
I want to remember them all
Before they die and turn to mud
When I have gone.

The Ghanaians contribution in the collection was massive especially with the impact of Kwesi Brew. In his A Plea For Mercy, he takes our emotions hostage, rides them through a series of gloomy pictures of nothingness and brings them begging at the door of a Master. Truly a masterpiece;

We have come to your shrine to worship
We the sons of the land
The naked cowherd has brought
The cows safely home,
And stands silent with his bamboo flute
Wiping the rain from his brow;
As the birds brood in their nests
Awaiting the dawn with unsung melodies
The shadows crowd on the shore
Pressing their lips against the bosom of the sea;
The peasants home from their labours
Sit by their log-fires
Telling tales of long-ago.
Why should we the sons of the land
Plead unheeded before your shrine?
When our hearts are full of song
And our lips tremble with sadness?
The little firefly vies with the star,
The log-fire with the sun
The water in the calabash
With the mighty Volta,
But we have come in tattered penury
Begging at the door of a Master.

His additional poems in the book are The search, The Lonely Traveller and Ancestral faces.

Last but definitely not in the least mentionable is Gabriel Okara with Piano and Drums whose themes are heavy with conflict of culture, colonization, moreso the effects in post colonial Africa;

When at break of day at a riverside
I hear the jungle drums telegraphing
the mystic rhythm, urgent, raw
like bleeding flesh, speaking of
primal youth and the beginning
I see the panther ready to pounce
the leopard snarling about to leap
and the hunters crouch with spears poised;

And my blood ripples, turns torrent,
topples the years and at once I’m
in my mother’s laps a suckling;
at once I’m walking simple
paths with no innovations,
rugged, fashioned with the naked
warmth of hurrying feet and groping hearts
in green leaves and wild flowers pulsing.

Then I hear a wailing piano
solo speaking of complex ways in
tear-furrowed concerto;
of far away lands
and new horizons with
coaxing diminuendo, counterpoint,
crescendo. But lost in the labyrinth
of its complexities, it ends in the middle
of a phrase at a daggerpoint.

And I lost in the morning mist
of an age at a riverside keep
wandering in the mystic rhythm
of jungle drums and the concerto.

The imagery employed in this piece is shatteringly beautiful. The use of simple and befitting metaphors showcase his reaction to each instrument; the drums represent traditional African life, while the piano represents the Western world.

Overally, the poignancy and significance of all the contributors is something to be said and reverred. To read and know them is to absolutely love them.

A collection as beautiful as it is painful to read, this should be a must-read on every poetry-lover’s list.

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