I have to remind myself regularly that Mules and Men was officially intended as an anthropological project, a collection of Black American folklore, which was constructed to appear innocuous to a white reading public interested in the aesthetic “primitivism” of Black culture, rather than the manual for aesthetic practice as political resistance that I find it to be.
[The grand exhibition of Granary Books at Columbia University's Rare Book & Manuscript Library began on September 16 with a panel of readers & talkers, for which the following was my own contribution & heartfelt tribute, duly cobbled together. (J.R.)]
I would like to feature in this Commentary Post, three South Island (N.Z) gentlemen poets — Jim Norcliffe; David Howard and David Eggleton, all of whom I know and all of whom would without doubt be seen as among Aotearoa — New Zealand's leading mainstream poets. Mainstream, essentially, as they are English language poets all and generally speaking, would not be seen as 'experimental' poets, given David Eggleton's earlier more varied performance ethos and activities, among them as recording artist. All three are professional poets, by which I mean they have had life long careers as published poets and that they take the job of being a poet very seriously, for which I admire them.
This is the first in a series of posts about contemporary African poetry and where to find it. The series borrows its title from an album by the great South African pianist Dollar Brand (now Abdullah Ibrahim). First released in 1974, the album seems a perfect mirror of what’s most exciting about the writing and publishing coming out of Africa (and its recent diasporas) these days. The album opens with Ntsikana’s Bell, a song attributed to a Xhosa figure influential in Africanizing Christianity in the seventeenth century, and the other tracks draw on Swazi and Muslim influences. The album’s hopeful declaration of a present anchored in indigenous histories and honoring diversity resounds through the communities of writers and readers increasingly accessible through internet publishing, new presses, and a variety of audio formats. For lovers of poetry, there is good news from Africa.
Jalada is a “pan-African writers collective” based in Nairobi that has been publishing anthologies of new writing on-line since early 2014. They publish poetry alongside fiction, photographs, essays and reviews, as well as occasional interviews – or Jalada Conversations. Their most recent (and largest) anthology just came out this week, and it looks like a game-changer. Each issue is assembled around a theme and this quarter’s, The Language Issue, brings one of the most long-running debates in African writing – what binds such a vast diversity of locations and cultures together, and how do we reconcile the imperative to enrich local vernaculars with literature and the access that a lingua franca like English, Arabic or Kiswahili enables.