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The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry

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This anthology of African poetry has been expanded to include 99 poets from 27 countries. The content of the poetry is wide-ranging, including war songs, political protests and poems about human love, African nature and the surprises that life offers.


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This anthology of African poetry has been expanded to include 99 poets from 27 countries. The content of the poetry is wide-ranging, including war songs, political protests and poems about human love, African nature and the surprises that life offers.

30 review for The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    I remember finding Noémia de Sousa online and then in a looseleaf literary piece while in Portugal. I had nothing but time in Portugal, so I sat at a cafe and slowly tried to translate her verse, using a portable Portuguese translator. Canção fraterna Irmão negro de voz quente o olhar magoado, diz‑me: Que séculos de escravidão geraram tua voz dolente? Quem pôs o mistério e a dor em cada palavra tua? E a humilde resignação na tua triste canção? The more I read, the more I realized her poetry spoke to me at I remember finding Noémia de Sousa online and then in a looseleaf literary piece while in Portugal. I had nothing but time in Portugal, so I sat at a cafe and slowly tried to translate her verse, using a portable Portuguese translator. Canção fraterna Irmão negro de voz quente o olhar magoado, diz‑me: Que séculos de escravidão geraram tua voz dolente? Quem pôs o mistério e a dor em cada palavra tua? E a humilde resignação na tua triste canção? The more I read, the more I realized her poetry spoke to me at a soul level. So when I bought this collection, the first country I turned to was Mozambique. And there she was: (Noémia de Sousa, by Club of Mozambique) From: If You Want to Know Me If you want to know who I am, examine with careful eyes that piece of black wood which an unknown Maconde brother with inspired hands carved and worked in distant lands to the North. de Sousa was born in Mozambique and educated in Brazil. She was a writer and newspaper editor who later had to live in exile after she was jailed briefly in Mozambique for her writing during the liberation movement. She then lived in France and Portugal; which, by the way, is something you see often: writers, or refugees and asylum seekers from the African diaspora living in exile from the countries of their birth (for many different reasons). And so I get to why this collection is such a treasure. It is pieced together by countries within the African continent, an eclectic and enthralling mix of poetic forms and an introduction to renowned poets you may have never heard about. I next turned to a familiar name, Ellis Ayitey Komey, a Ghanian poet and contributor to West African Review. His poem has sensory images that evoke nostalgia: From: Oblivion 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 Mukula Kadima-Nzuji, a poet from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has published three collections of poetry, yet it is possible you may not have come across any. "Love in the Plural" is one of my favorites because of its nuance and texture: neither this sobbing ocean in the moon of your swelling voice nor the milky vapour on the window of my waking nor this flood of men in the margin of my shadow which yearns for a safe shelter nor the slipstreams on camelback in the desert of my solitude nor the spindrift nor the seaweeds pillows for my storm-filled head are able to decipher where I inspect myself in vain the reverse side of mirrors. Some of the poems are heavy in historical context, some reflections of the evolution of the continent. Some are songs of war, songs for freedom. Some are landscape poems, some love poems, some reflections. Some have traditional line breaks while others are enjambment. Some drip with meaning and emotion, some are abstract and one would have to understand the context to understand the poet. For instance, you would have to know the tragic history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (Congo-Kinshasa) to understand why there is a section for the DRC and a separate one for the Congo Republic (Congo - Brazzaville). You will have to understand what led to violence in Sierra Leone in order to appreciate how Syl Cheney-Coker, a Sierra Leoneon poet who studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and taught in Nevada, wrote about those precursors to violence and had to live exiled in America: but already the walls are closing around me the rain has stopped and once again I am alone waiting for them, the politicians of our country to come for me to silence my right to shouting poetry loud in the parks but who can shut up the rage the melodrama of being Sierra Leone the farce of seeing their pictures daily in the papers While leafing through Nigeria, I enjoyed the lyric and sound of John Pepper Clark's "Olokum" or "Goddess of the Sea:" I love to pass my fingers As tide through weeds of the sea And wind the tall fern-fronds Through the strands of your hair Dark as night that screens the naked moon For personal reasons, I was saddened that there was one country missing (Liberia). But one would have to understand the history of the literary arts in Liberia (or lack thereof), particularly of poetry, to know that although she hasn't been included in the past by older generations, Liberia is still being written (will be written) into literature by her offsprings that form this generation. Until then, I leave you with a poem that is a reminder. It is from Tchicaya U Tam'si who was born in the Congo Republic and lived in France (with his father, a diplomat from Congo), where his work for UNESCO enabled him to travel frequently to Africa: You must be from my country I see it by the tick of your soul around the eyelashes and besides you dance when you are sad you must be from my country

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kyriakos Sorokkou

    Κριτική και στα Ελληνικά στις βιβλιοαλχημείες In summer 2016 I ordered nine books, all from the continent of Africa, apart from one (The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse) a region of the Americas closely related with Africa. Part of this book-haul was the book I'll talk today. I started parallel reading it between 05/08/16 and 05/09/16 along with the 7 African novels I bought: 1] Under the Frangipani Country: Mozambique, Language: Portuguese 2] Disgrace, Country: South Africa, Language: English 3] In th Κριτική και στα Ελληνικά στις βιβλιοαλχημείες In summer 2016 I ordered nine books, all from the continent of Africa, apart from one (The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse) a region of the Americas closely related with Africa. Part of this book-haul was the book I'll talk today. I started parallel reading it between 05/08/16 and 05/09/16 along with the 7 African novels I bought: 1] Under the Frangipani Country: Mozambique, Language: Portuguese 2] Disgrace, Country: South Africa, Language: English 3] In the Country of Men Country: Libya, Language: English 4] A Grain of Wheat Country: Kenya, Language: English 5] Lyrics Alley Country: Sudan, Language: English 6] My Father's Wives Country: Angola, Language: Portuguese 7] Half of a Yellow Sun Country: Nigeria, Language: English So at the beginning of September when I finished the seventh and last book, and since I was beginning an entirely different book from an entirely different continent and era (Leave It to Psmith) I felt that it was time to leave the African Poetry aside and read it with my next African novel so to the shelf it went. I returned five more times to this book before finishing it: (24/09/17… 16/04/18… 31/07/19… 11/08/19… 14-15/08/19) Africa is a continent usually neglected when it comes to literature. Especially if the country is a non-English-speaking one, then there are two barriers, one of them the translation into English. A lot of the African books I have in my wish-list are out of print but whenever they arrive in my hands I'm joyful. But August 2016 was the month where I brought African literature from the margin to the foreground. It was the year when I decided it was time to make my reading much more diverse. Much more colourful, and therefore much more interesting. So as I said I was parallel reading this poetry anthology in August 16, along with seven African novels. So last August I said to myself. -You've just finished with Shakespeare's mammoth volume of poetry. Why not finish the African Poetry one, after four years? And that's what I did. And I felt a relief and a joy. Of course I can't write a typical review for a book that contains poetry from 27 different countries, 99 different poets, 315 different poems, and from at least four different countries. A mosaic of cultures, voices, myths, traditions, songs. A tapestry of History, pain, exile, love, conflict, civilisation. This book is like a portal to Africa. You learn about the country through the poem, and you want to learn even more, so you start looking for more books from this country, and you end up expanding your horizons every year.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Samir Rawas Sarayji

    I love this anthology. Anyone interested in African literature or postcolonial poetry is bound to find a dozen handful of poems that resonate. The collection covers the entre continent shedding a voice from tiny Mauritius to giant Algeria, and from the most populous Nigeria to the sparsely populated Sao Tome. Beauty, injustice, slavery, corruption, dictatorship, rivalry, segregation, inequality, poverty, disease, nature... it is a collection to read and reread.

  4. 4 out of 5

    James F

    This review is of the fourth (1998) edition. The book contains a selection of short poems (most half a page to two pages each) by 99 poets from 27 countries in Africa, written in the last sixty years of the twentieth century. Some were written originally in English and some were translated from other European or African languages. The poems are arranged alphabetically by country, from Angola to Zimbabwe; the largest section is from Nigeria. There were three poets I had read something by previous This review is of the fourth (1998) edition. The book contains a selection of short poems (most half a page to two pages each) by 99 poets from 27 countries in Africa, written in the last sixty years of the twentieth century. Some were written originally in English and some were translated from other European or African languages. The poems are arranged alphabetically by country, from Angola to Zimbabwe; the largest section is from Nigeria. There were three poets I had read something by previously (Senghor, Soyinka, Mapanje) and a few others I had heard of, but most were new to me; in an anthology this varied there is bound to be a certain unevenness, but I was surprised by how many of these authors I enjoyed. The style ranged from traditional to very modern, from straightforward to obscure; the influence of Senghor was obvious in much of the poetry translated from French. There is a later edition (2008).

  5. 5 out of 5

    Aloysiusi Lionel

    The fastidiousness of the poets in this collection, as well as the urgency of their lyrical voices, has surely resonated in the African nations' unending quest for spiritual depth and tranquility. Included in this book were the interesting, intriguing and uncompromising verses by poets who have always deserved intercontinental readership. Christopher Okigbo (Nigeria), David Diop (Senegal), Kofi Awoonor (Ghana) and Jack Mapanje (Malawi) are some of the African poets whom I adored for their works The fastidiousness of the poets in this collection, as well as the urgency of their lyrical voices, has surely resonated in the African nations' unending quest for spiritual depth and tranquility. Included in this book were the interesting, intriguing and uncompromising verses by poets who have always deserved intercontinental readership. Christopher Okigbo (Nigeria), David Diop (Senegal), Kofi Awoonor (Ghana) and Jack Mapanje (Malawi) are some of the African poets whom I adored for their works which spoke of transcendence and of man's perpetual discourse with nature and with the painful past, the prejudicial present and the puzzling future. How they have always loved light to remedy the daunting darkness of history and politics, and how they have always lingered to listen for sounds of hope and celebration whenever dryness and silence penetrate their identity --- these are the operative themes of the poems in this collection, poems that captured the essence of antiquity, with the rhythm of the contemporary. Here is an excerpt from "The Seed in Me" by José Craveiriñha (Mozambique) : And one day will come all the Marias of the distant nations penitent or no weeping laughing or loving to the rhythm of a song To say to my bones forgive us, brother.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Aidan

    This collection is indescribable. Particularly because the poems are so well written and are so diverse in the range of topics that within this collection we aren’t just reading poems. We are hearing the many voices of the many countries of Africa speak through words in a fluid, honey-like language. Within these words, we hear the emotions of humanity expressed and executed with grace, technicality, but above all, passion. Perhaps it was the beauty of the language or the emotions it represented This collection is indescribable. Particularly because the poems are so well written and are so diverse in the range of topics that within this collection we aren’t just reading poems. We are hearing the many voices of the many countries of Africa speak through words in a fluid, honey-like language. Within these words, we hear the emotions of humanity expressed and executed with grace, technicality, but above all, passion. Perhaps it was the beauty of the language or the emotions it represented that made me dart through the pages and finish it right on Christmas Day when I received it. The Africans truly don’t get enough credit for their talent. While the world may focus on the bad news surrounding the continent (Rwandan genocide, HIV/AIDS epidemic, Ebola outbreak, poverty, etc.), they need to look deeper and discover the immense talents that are possessed by the African people and what they’ve done for our world.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Anca

    It's a big responsibility to say about certain books that they are life changing, but all the rage, love and pain collected in these African verses have to leave a mark on you, regardless of how cold-hearted you might be.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Hind

    A really precious collection of poems.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bethany

    Overall an excellent volume, though I wish more African nations were represented.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Louis

    This really was a powerful book. There are many beautiful and wonderful poems, but what really adds to it is the way that the book introduces Africa. I have never been to Africa, though I have long wanted to go. Although I have studied some about Africa, learning about it through poetry gives a very different sense. This volume really seems to hold much of the tragedy and trauma of Africa in a very personal way. I felt closer to Africa after reading this. Although the book is a book of poems, it This really was a powerful book. There are many beautiful and wonderful poems, but what really adds to it is the way that the book introduces Africa. I have never been to Africa, though I have long wanted to go. Although I have studied some about Africa, learning about it through poetry gives a very different sense. This volume really seems to hold much of the tragedy and trauma of Africa in a very personal way. I felt closer to Africa after reading this. Although the book is a book of poems, it is also more than that. The poems serve as a beautiful introduction to aspects of Africa that could be missed through more narrative and historical overviews.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Grazyna Nawrocka

    My expectations of vivid colors, lively content and rhytmic verses were not met. Instead I found most of this poetry to be grim. Overwhelming existence of loss, exile, torture, death and injust imprisonment causes this anthology to be hard to read, but reflects reality of living in Africa. There were some funny verses, but not very many. Strangely, most of the poems gave impression as if they were native to the European cultures. Africa has not found its voice yet. I liked the most poems from Ni My expectations of vivid colors, lively content and rhytmic verses were not met. Instead I found most of this poetry to be grim. Overwhelming existence of loss, exile, torture, death and injust imprisonment causes this anthology to be hard to read, but reflects reality of living in Africa. There were some funny verses, but not very many. Strangely, most of the poems gave impression as if they were native to the European cultures. Africa has not found its voice yet. I liked the most poems from Nigeria.

  12. 4 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    This collection strikes a nice balance between traditional, culture-heavy poetry which wouldn't turn any heads and some pretty outlandish and outstanding surreal and vanguardy selections. Thematically, it tends towards the grim, which can't be surprising since Africa has been a wealth of post-colonial fuckups and shenanigans since the 1960s, thus a lot of the poems reflect rape, genocide, murder, killing, war, and so on. Now, don't get me wrong, there are plenty that aren't, so, don't be deterre This collection strikes a nice balance between traditional, culture-heavy poetry which wouldn't turn any heads and some pretty outlandish and outstanding surreal and vanguardy selections. Thematically, it tends towards the grim, which can't be surprising since Africa has been a wealth of post-colonial fuckups and shenanigans since the 1960s, thus a lot of the poems reflect rape, genocide, murder, killing, war, and so on. Now, don't get me wrong, there are plenty that aren't, so, don't be deterred. Excellent editing with some brief bios in the back.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    It's a great collection, but it would be nice if the years for each of the poems were included on the page with the poems. The biography of Ben Okri is also missing from the authors' biographies at the end.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mikael

    second hand copy too icky

  15. 5 out of 5

    Gokul Alex

    A list of poems, stemming from a collective dialectic of imagination, both politically conscious and unconscious!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    A birthday gift from my son, who spent part of this summer in Africa.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Helena Corder

    I wish Merwin would translate more African poets.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Farah

    Beautiful verses.. And nicely edited.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jacara Brown

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jack Kruse

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dean Ramser

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lara Meintjes

  23. 5 out of 5

    QS

  24. 5 out of 5

    Urth Eagle

  25. 5 out of 5

    Harley

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jolene

  27. 4 out of 5

    Akon

  28. 4 out of 5

    Erinkate

  29. 5 out of 5

    olivia

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dana

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