Nne 2017

New Generation of African Poets:NNE2017 New Generation African Poets

with cover art by Ficre Ghebreyesus

The box set contains ten individual chapbooks:

The fourth in the series, NNE, produced in continuing collaboration with Akashic Books, is a stunning eleven-piece boxed set, featuring ten more individual chapbooks of new work from emerging African poets, each with a preface from another working poet. Again, Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani, provide an introduction. The cover art comes from award-winning Eritrean artist Ficre Ghebreyesus.

“There is a startling intelligence running through each of these collections, but beyond it all, I have left this process of working closely with manuscript after manuscript with a sense that the singular thing that connects these books is the way in which these poets root the emotional and intellectual explorations in the body—the body as an alien and dangerous entity that is negotiating its presence in a world that is sometimes hostile, sometimes welcoming, but always forcing the poet to resist erasure and invisibility –Kwame Dawes, in the introduction

New Generation African Poets, NNE: An Introduction in Two Movements by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani
Blood For The Blood God by Mary-Alice Daniel
Bone Light by Yasmin Belkhyr
The Book Of God by Ejifr Ugwu
Everything here by Lena Bezawork Grönlund
Girl B by Victoria Adukwei Bulley
The Habitual Be by Chimwemwe Undi
i know how to fix myself by Ashley Makue
Sabbatical by Famia Nkansa
sugah. lump. prayer by Momtaza Mehri
Take Me Back by Chekwube O. Danladi




<h3> New-Generation African Poets (NNE): An Introduction in Two Movements | Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani</h3>

New-Generation African Poets (NNE): An Introduction in Two Movements | Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani

“The poem is a body and the body a poem. This is not something I can prove, nor even something that is necessarily true, but it does have the ring of truth about it. This is a more intuitive relationship but one I think we are all fairly conversant with and one with which most poetry lovers will agree. The one true topography of self we can chart, navigate, and map is the body. The visible self leads to the more ethereal and ineffable parts of self, the parts that poetry tries to give symbolic meaning to, to invoke that presence. And if we look closer, we see that it’s not just that language gives the body presence, shape, resistance, love, affirmation, and intervention. And it is not just that the bodies of particular poets give their language a certain shape and definition, but rather that in the end, our particular idiosyncratic languages are our bodies. We exist only in the space of that language, and we use it to move a craft forward, to draw and redraw the limits of the self, both internal and external. We can argue that this is poetry’s true power, to shape reality—and that is truly what power is: the choice and ability to redraw and recast our personal narratives.” —Chris Abani, from the introduction

<h3> sugah. lump. prayer | Momtaza Mehri </h3>

sugah. lump. prayer | Momtaza Mehri

buttercream bismillahs

Each morning we wake up on opposite sides of the bed
and play at being Lazarus for a day, an afternoon.
Some of us will make it back, the rest
descending into a breaking night, only to be mourned
by those who look like us
across the split lip of an ocean.

Mehri’s collection bristles with beautiful lines reminiscent of the northern Somali jiifto poetry, in the way they combine modern nomadism (the immigrant experience) with addressing important political, religious, and philosophical issues. In many instances, the poems recount personal experiences or reflections, and they meander broadly and bring a collage of images—religious, political, sexual, psychosomatic, and cyber . . . these poems capture the subversive dare of an iconoclastic imagination that leaves the reader hungry and unsettled, salivating for more. I invite you to venture into them. —Tijan M. Sallah, from the preface

<h3> Everything Here | Lena Bezawork Grönlund</h3>

Everything Here | Lena Bezawork Grönlund


I can smell the dust here.
Maybe that is why
I keep coming back.
Libraries are the same
everywhere. Today the sun
is close to the window.
I push my hand against
the glass. Cold. Outside
blue sky, clouds move softly.
Leaves in masses whirl
like crowds of refugees
driven away by war. Inside
I turn pages following
photographs of the New Flower[1],
watching out for someone
who looks like me
more than once.
I am there, a girl looking out
from behind the corner
of a fading house.
Then there is nothing
but this building,
the blue sky,
wings flapping in my mind.
Eshu, introducer
of chance and accident,
I imagine him
standing still, lurking
inside the warm air of Ethiopia,
hovering over that house
in which my mother,
never having gone to school,
swept floors,
seeing to it that my father,
the student,
started repairing the walls.
Eshu brought them together.
That is how they met.
How they came to part,
my father has never said.
"—Eshu, the wind blows stronger outside.
Will she be able to stand?"
Raindrops fall.
These pages are dry.
She is there again.
The same face more than once.
Eshu is watching her.

[1] Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, means "new flower" in Ethiopia's national language Amharic.

    In Everything Here we have the chance to read a poet well acquainted with the effortful work of trying to see, across space and time, some trace of home, however fragmented and shifting . . . Bezawork Grönlund’s poems are not poems of resolution or arrival. These poems reveal a project utterly profound and rare: the cultivation of a critical imaginative strategy in the face of distance and loss. These are gleaming poems of effort and possibility. —Aracelis Girmay, from the preface

<h3> Blood For the Blood God | Mary-Alice Daniel </h3>

Blood For the Blood God | Mary-Alice Daniel


The first thing the dead might say
when they finally get a chance to respond

is: Sing!

(Terrible singing—terrible songs.)

The dead may be controversial—they may liken us to birds.
Maybe birds should just go a little wild.

Sometimes the spirit-like quality is pleasing and slight—
but every once in a while I want a little muscle—you know?

I don't yet feel the weight of these enormous birds,
because they're only wings and wings are only light.

Parrots do have a presence.
They have the quality of bad visitants—a dire nature in
their speech.
Parrots remember your face—(conspire)—can find you.

A two-inch feather emerges
from a baby girl's neck:
the body internalizes
the flight-coded language of dreams.


To enter into Mary-Alice Daniel’s Blood for the Blood God is to embrace a space where time can be suspended or simply conducted in the deeper regions of the imagination, where clocks have no business being. Here it is always night, the past is always present, and there is always a sense of hunger and affliction. We find in her poems a quiet and searing voice intent on reinterpreting the world to create from it a new logic, a logic that seeks, perhaps out of an ultimate desire for healing or redirection, to understand how well humanity has worked to feed the blood god. —Mathew Shenoda, from the preface

<h3> Take Me Back | Chekwube O. Danladi</h3>

Take Me Back | Chekwube O. Danladi

Salt: Alum

You can touch me.
I've been so good. I have
been especially
still, all this time,
each of my palms
made a bed for your untucking,

me, the meal made
from reused chicken grease:
eased and always saying yes.
Gender is cunning;
the ruination

a stolen position.
I have been bent over.
The beast dug
out of me, the jewels.

Pleasure light pops
the eyes, obsidian sticks in the throat,
even this body doesn't register.

The knuckles fold toward Lake Michigan.
The gut hardens.
Oxalate builds in the kidneys,
The tongue is a grateful peasant; for
a beating I can answer to a middle name.

Nigerian-born Chekwube O. Danladi is, simply put, one of the truly exciting poets emerging today. I am already hungry to read a full collection of her poems, and especially keen to read her fifth collection, which, no doubt, will be heralded, as “the anxiously anticipated new work of one of our true legislators of the human experience.” It is fair to recognize the whimsy of hyperbole here, but I have imagined her future writing in light of the surety of continued work that this splendid chapbook collection, Take Me Back, represents. —Kwame Dawes, from the preface

<h3> Girl B | Victoria Adukwei Bulley</h3>

Girl B | Victoria Adukwei Bulley


By sleeping in the dark, said Louise,
a girl realigns her chemicals according
to the clock face of old. With a pair of heavy curtains

and a thermometer, she maps her inbuilt
almanac to a graph and then divines, from this,
the times when she is most magical. This dreamtime

troubles the veil between worlds, incites visions,
can slam oceans against coastlines
like jealous lovers. Man, let a girl feel this amber sphere

just once, and she'll forget what she heard about God
and her body; seeing what difference is left, knowing
how books have burned over both. Science, too:

brutal and unforgiving—until it got the eclipse on camera:
the follicle exploding like bubble wrap,
the ballooned egg in release,

until the window for conception slams shut
faster than Pandora's trinket box, or the door of an aircraft,
One small step for man, one giant leap,

but when us girls were at school, we spoke of our own landings
plainly. If at all, as weeds, as inconvenient blossomings,
marooning the flowerbed, claiming what wanted

only to be good, clean fun, leaving
a crimson imprint after slipping in, noiseless, uncalled for,
unnamed, through the night, like a new moon.

Girl B is a probing, thoughtful, and quietly exhilarating debut. I use the word quietly with a little reservation, as these are not slight poems: Bulley’s ambition and reach is impressive and she makes her point in a manner that is enviably subtle yet direct. —Karen McCarthy Woolf, from the preface

<h3> Bone Light | Yasmin Belkhyr</h3>

Bone Light | Yasmin Belkhyr

Surah Al-Fatiha

In my earliest memory, a man slaughters a goat in my bathroom.
In Rabat, I am nameless, another Moroccan girl to be looked at
but not seen. When goats cry, it sounds just like a baby. I couldn't
list all the terrible things we do to one another. I remember the
goat kicking out, frantic. The shattered mirror. The stumbled
prayer. I was sick every visit: my stomach heaving dirty water. I
would cry and everyone else would tsk, murmur American. Once,
I kissed someone and I'm afraid it ruined the world. I've learned
that it's not what you do with the knife—it's how you hold it after.
But how do you hold something like that? Something that never
stops baring its teeth; a voiceless dog, all bite, no bark. I
remember very clearly that I never saw any blood. Honestly, I
wouldn't even know what to do with a knife. I didn't even know what to do with that mouth.

Yasmin Belkhyr has titled her chapbook as if naming one of the girls flitting through her speaker’s dreams. Bone Light is porous and amorphous, exploring lines between the material and immaterial. These poems seem polite, straightforward. Then we find sticking blood, scabs, rust, and teeth every-where. We finish and ask: what happened, who caused these marks, what wore away these figures, this speaker? —Ladan Osman, from the preface

<h3> I Know How to Fix Myself | Ashley Makue</h3>

I Know How to Fix Myself | Ashley Makue

seasons of alone

the winter scatters the strands
of your hair like cluttered echoes
like chasing your father uphill
like a purse as unkempt as your mother's heart

your mother was a spring day when she had you
and then the dust
and the wind
and the things that are torn away

in the summer
you wear your father's broad shoulders
like a new christmas day two-piece
or your father's things wear you

fruits don't ripen in the autumn
or you losing your grasp on a branch
falling not too far from your mother
from hollow

from lonely

The title of this cluster of powerful, devastating poems implies there’s a flaw in the poet that needs repairing, and that flaw is ancestry . . . Makue’s is a lyric biography, a daughter’s witness to the world of men and women . . . Though angry, though hurting, she is confident that she possesses the agency to complete her repair. She doesn’t hope she can heal herself. She “knows how to fix” herself. —Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, from the preface

<h3> The Habitual Be | Chimwemwe Undi</h3>

The Habitual Be | Chimwemwe Undi

Listing (v.)

In dog years, I am dead. In Black years, alive,
so: exceptional, increasingly so. I ask strangers
for directions on pocket scraps & build myself
a map home as cohesive as a litany
I am having trouble remembering.

I am having trouble remembering.
There are too many bodies in this room built for bodies.
We are magic typecast as disappearing acts, history
whispered into memories.

& easier things:
1. the prime ministers in chronological order,
2. My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos,
3. the angle at which the earth leans, shaking us off like water.

There is too much to say
for this mouth built for praying.
There are too many names to unhear
so I don't have to remember
or truly, repeat to meaninglessness,
or truly, forget them,
outrage a poor mnemonic device.

I am having trouble remembering.
I am forgetting & that is the worst part.
I cannot hold a name long enough
to know it. Even the faces are growing statistical,
the write-ups into archives. I know guilt better
than grief, as well as a restlessness,
better than a Black body breathing still.

This collection’s urgency is firmly anchored in the mundane losses of our present moment. Undi knows our habits of attention . . . Undi’s poems transform desire into memory, andThe Habitual Be makes our living lovely over and over and over again . . . the every day of regular folk, made paramount. —Tsitsi Jaji, from the preface

<h3> The Book of God | EjiỌfỌr Ugwu</h3>

The Book of God | EjiỌfỌr Ugwu


When you sleep in the midst of rats
a night so beautifully started
can be un-night,
then you keep sleepwalking
on rat tracks,
the feces forming slippery pads.
Rats are very movable people.
They sleep very little at night.
Rats don't sleep at night.
And it happens to you that
the man next door
escaped the war of rats
when he took sleeping pills
and woke up in his silent coffin,
chewing away at his own lips,
crying out blood.
Life cleans up the world that way.
But why do men keep rats
in their inner rooms?
And for the last time, the voice spoke:
It's a rat world.
You only live to keep them out
or on the way.
They like human flesh.
They are carnivores, always busy
sharpening their claws and incisors.

Ejiofor Ugwu’s The Book of God is an honest and powerful examination of the intricate relationship between the living and the dead, a book deeply rooted in our African oral tradition and mythology, an urgently necessary book that takes us back to our roots. —Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, from the preface