New World Reading

This week to follow up on my post about Kobus Moolman, winner of the Glenna Luschei prize, I’m sharing some fine posts about Moolman’s fellow finalists, Joan Metelerkamp and Togara Muzanenhamo, and about contemporary African writing more broadly.

There once was a time, in Frank O’Hara’s day, when an American reader had to

“walk up the muggy street beginning to sun   

and have a hamburger and a malted and buy

an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets   

in Ghana are doing these days”.

But today all one needs is internet access. And a place to start.

Africa In Words is a blog that covers various forms of African expressive culture, and it’s a wonderful source for up-to-date news about not only literature and publishing but also festivals, music, visual art and more. The blog was started in 2011 by Jenny Greenshields, Kate Haines, Katie Reid, Nara Improta and Victoria Moffatt when they were all completing Ph.D.’s directed by Professor Stephanie Newell at the University of Sussex (now at Yale). Along with the collective behind Africa Is A Country and Ainehi Edoro, founder of Brittle Paper, the Africa In Words team is part of a game-changing shift in how the creative work of African artists circulates. By drawing attention to production and events from regions that are neglected not only by the mainstream media but also by scholarly journals, syllabi, and hiring committees, these sites demonstrate every day how to theorize from the global South.

Last November they published Tom Penfold’s review of Metelerkamp’s eigth collection, Now the World Takes These Breaths, for which she was shortlisted for the Glenna Luschei prize. Penfold sees Metelerkamp as part of a group of South African writers he calls “The Poets of No Sure Place because of the apprehensive and unstable nature of their work. A diverse group, which includes poets as varied as Lesego Rampolokeng, Seitlhamo Motsapi, Angifi Dladla and Mxolisi Nyezwa, they are united in combining the public with the private; juxtaposing the regional, national and international; and in cathartically probing the often controversial nature of South African society.” Africa in Words continues its attention to poetry with Rashi Rohatgi recent review of another project of the African Poetry Book Fund, an annual box set of chapbooks by New Generation African Poets. Her review of the 2015 collection comes in perfect time, as the 2016 collection will be out soon…maybe a Jacket2 reader will want to review the new collection.

In a similar vein, poetry publishers in Africa, as elsewhere, have been returning us to the experience of hearing poetry. The Bulawayo-based publisher ‘Amabooks has posted a rather magical reading by Togara Muzanenhamo (also featured as a finalist for the Glenna Luschei Prize last week) with musical grounding from accordionist Leo Svirsky. The evocative twinning of voice and music evoke the long history of concertina music in Southern Africa, transporting us to a mental landscape “stirring a rhythmic breeze in us…[with] wild stars twisted above” us.