Semicerchio Forthcoming

Post-Colonial Poetry

Edited by Pietro Deandrea (University of Torino, Italy; pietro.deandrea@unito.it)

Semicerchio Forthcoming > Post-colonial Poetry



These pages continue the editing work that started in the previous issue of Semicerchio (XXXV, 2006/2): from that Anglo-African focus, the perspective has now widened to a full post-colonial one. On one hand, its range of critical contributions still shows a heavy imbalance in favour of African publications – something that will hopefully be adjusted in future issues. Nevertheless, it includes precious reviews on poetry from India and Africa, the first embryo of a wished-for thrust towards all post-colonial areas. Moreover, beside reviews of poetry collections, this section offers six original poems by the Sierra Leonean Syl Cheney-Coker, and the presentations of two interesting initiatives: the IRCALC project on African literature with its related journals, and the South-African based e-journal Lingo with its focus on multilingual translations.


-) The next EACLALS (European Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies) conference will take place in Venice from the 25th to the 29th of  March, 2008. The conference theme will be Try Freedom: Rewriting Rights In/Through Postcolonial Cultures. Its call for papers and all related details can be found at:  www.maldura.unipd.it/eaclals2008

-) Real Cities. Rappresentazioni della città negli Stati Uniti e in Canada, edited by Andrea Carosso and Carmen Concilio. Torino: Otto, 2006, www.otto.to.it.
This collection of essays on cultural issues around Las Vegas and Toronto includes an intriguing essay by Barbara Del Mercato (“La poesia tra comunità e istituzione”) on the places of Toronto’s poetical production, performance, consumption and on the ways in which poetry is creatively occupying Toronto’s public spaces.

-) Gatti come angeli. L’eros nella poesia femminile di lingua inglese, edited by Loredana Magazzeni and Andrea Sirotti, with a postscript by Rita Monticelli. Milano: Medusaq, 2006, edizionimedusa@tiscalinet.it.
A rich anthology of erotic verse (“eroticism as a way to liberation”) by women poets mostly from the US (like Rita Dove and Olga Broumas), but including also some post-colonial names like Sujata Bhatt, Carol Ann Duffy, Liz Lochhead, Anne Michaels, Grace Nichols.

-) The Representation and Transformation of Literary Landscapes. Proceedings of the 4th AISLI Conference, edited by Francesco Cattani and Amanda Nadalini. Venezia: Cafoscarina, 2006, www.cafoscarina.it.
AISLI stands for Italian Association for the Study of Literatures in English – in other words, ‘post-colonialists’ from Italy. This volume contains essays on the poetry of Derek Walcott (by Roberta Cimarosti), Dionne Brand (Laura Sarnelli), contemporary Canadian authors (Carla Comellini) and Douglas Livingstone (Marco Fazzini), plus six original poems by the Australian writer Andrew Sant.

-) English Studies 2005 (2006).
This third issue of the journal, edited by Ruth Anne Henderson, includes Valerio Fissore’s essay “Notes towards a Linguistic of Verse Translation”.

-) Across / Over: Colonial Agencies / Rewriting the Texts, edited by Alessandro Monti. Alessandria: Edizioni dell’Orso, 2007, ww.ediorso.it.
A collection of essays focusing on contemporary India and its links with the cultural heritage of Hinduism, including a short story and three original poems by guest writer Anita Nair.

-) The Okigbo Review
It is a new international journal of creative writing  published by the Christopher Okigbo Society in Nigeria, supported by the Okigbo Foundation. For details about submissions and more, contact

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SIX POEMS by Syl Cheney-Coker

The Golden Chalice

Without those lustful diadems of diamond
to crown, majestic, our sinful heads,
the pestilential hunger dies; our carnality is sheathed,
and the gem diggers sleep quietly in the peaceful rivers of the gods.
Still the cup of life tastes sour in the orphans’ mouths:

Children of your creation, all, God, their last hope
was your golden chalice. Now it is bitter and inchoate,
even as they pray for your great presence.
Fervent believers all, they were singing those meandrous songs
that did not reach your ears: it was a ritual; ah, the Wretched
of The Earth- those not so very innocent children of Sierra Leone!

Waking up from those persistent nightmares in their souls,
they went seeking your hands, but all they saw, sculptured
in skeletal form, was this new frieze that stinks!
Proud profiles: the earth shook from the beating of their chests,
and becoming children once again, they adorned their foreheads
to look innocent; but a rogue leader sold their laurels to a thirsty Sahara,
where a djinn swallowed them when no saints were watching.

Going without those laurels to a distant land
a furnace was blazing in their souls, a cold breeze kissed their foreheads;
but all that awaited their mouths were the empty cups of dreams.
On a cloudy horizon, Christ sat watching their profuse deliriums.

Stubborn souls: their sacred thirst was our blazing desert;
Staggered by the sun, their epiphany was a slow walk to an oasis,
because that cursed palm tree in Sierra Leone has no milk!
Nonetheless, the gem river that was poisoned
is singing once again about fresh, clear water;
and I, lustful like a crab, throw my arms around those children.

My soul was that river on whose fiery banks
the orphans sang relentlessly for their lost mother.
Now I am waiting for a songbird to come
in the morning with a trill from its golden voice to ease their pain,
as they return, gasping, to that cup of Christ that is  the river!


Out of the Abyss

Out-worn heart, in a time out-worn’
W. B. Yeats

We emerged, worn-out, from this abyss, a broken country:
the women less tender, the men wounded, children gone crazy,
and the innocents raving naked on the night’s brutal highways.
Unlike Ireland, Sierra Leone is still a young mother:
a blight of history swims in her head; her churches smolder,
and a blasphemous hand profanes the prophet’s beard.

Worn-out, new ceremonies await us: ancestral, enigmatic,
so that we can be reborn, or simply turn our inhuman clock back.
And out of this darkness gone relentlessly into slander,
I need Yeats’ guiding light to show us a new path.

Women will talk once again with tenderness on their lips;
and love, especially in those tragic innocents, will grow new tendrils.
Children will be back at play after their fathers, a little healed
of their wounds, have put their minds once more to parenting.
For a child’s skipping rope is always a thing of joy to me;
before the sweet rain falls, slowly, on our burnt-out dreams,
when its music, always refreshing, will usher in a new dawn,
and awaken that which should never die in us: the laughter in our hearts.


Olodumare’s* Clay

For Niyi Osundare, after Katrina

In the generous summer, the Gods
created a colourful world, rich in enigmas,
from which you emerged, molded in Olodumare’s clay,
to sing of market places teeming with laughter.

Whether in Ibadan, Shanghai or Bogota,
or where only the Gods assemble in splendid raiment,
your were their esteemed wordsmith. Plucked from an eagle’s plumage,
a pen was always at your fingers, before Microsoft became a leader.

The famished Gods spoke: your house went under Katrina;
but your poems, bold and incandescent like a comet,
calmed the victims’ anxiety, and stabilized the levees.
You came to honour me on the Pacific: a profound aura about you.
Out of the storm’s labyrinth, you looked into a future not fully formed,
but, already, like the wisdom of the women in a Lagos market place,
you had a vision to stagger that world into harmony

And, not surprisingly, given that Olodumare’s children
had created the blues in New Orleans, so many tearful moons ago,
you have returned, with a poet’s lyre, always generous,
even though you have lost everything, to sing for that shocked city
a wonderful song to enchant Satchmo; and also
to show the professors how to teach under the ancient trees,
and help the mayor understand the enigmas of sea-gods.

* Olodumare : The Supreme Deity of Ifa: the World View of the Yoruba people of Nigeria and the Diaspora.


The Orators

‘When found, the missing grey parrot’s
vocabulary was so vulgar the police
begged the owner to come and get it.’
- South African news item

I marvel at some famously grey birds
that do not light the forest with flamboyance,
but confound the scientists with oratory.
Uncensored by priests, their tongues
are prodigiously lewd with speech:
these birds more renowned than Jane Goodall’s apes

Always patient, the vultures are
the kind undertakers of our foetid disasters.
They clean our gilded narratives with speed,
but leave us guessing about their wisdom,
unlike those notoriously talkative parrots.

Profanely spirited wordsmiths,
poets of  the unsavory verbs, delicious mimics,
I learn from you, struggling with perception,
to paint a filigreed world, aware of my imperfections,
while your nine hundred and five word vocabulary
triumphs over Churchill’s disputed macaw:
a mere ridicule of Hitler it remembers.

I celebrate you, African orators!
For whereas my words sit imprisoned
in an irresolution of profits and markets,
you have a whole forest of words
to shock the world with primordial eloquence.


Sept 11, 1973 & 2001

Tupac Amaru, * the jaguar no longer roams
all over your America, the oilrigs smear its path;
In halting Spanish, the tourists came looking
for its footprints in the snow; ah, golden legend of the Incas
but not for Augusto Pinochet wearing Cortez’s 
epaulettes on September 11, 1973, to silence
Allende’s defiant voice and burn Neruda’s books,
the handcuffed Commies laterdropped into the cold Pacific.

In English, the horror would repeat itself:
September 11, 2001, the murderous birds
of Al Qaeda swooping down on the twin towers
of Whitman’s America to tear at Lady Liberty’s heart,
leaving the world flummoxed that life is this insanity:
your god, my god, they are not the same!

Doomed firemen and equally robotic policemen:
with so many lives inside, they did not identify
Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Christians, Taoists,
Buddhists, Shangoists, or even the pagan poets, 
but rushed into the towers, headstrong with valor.
On that day, New York, you were an icon,
the world your widow; the old Russian woman,
her shoulders barely draped, tossed roses into the Volga,
while the poets in Dakar plucked their Kora  for you;

Impetuous city of the twenty-four hour coffee,
in so much as we love them, let us mourn
the dead with eloquence, guard their memories,
but leave them undisturbed at ground zero.
In Arcadia, they have no use for fiery rhetoric,
misplaced glories and blunt platitudes!

Inspired by our songs, they will return
in the Hudson on a blissful, sunny day,
de Kooning’s hand trembling to cover
the pavements and subway in bold, daring colors;
forever, New York: crazy phoenix in your vibrancy.
Duke Ellington and Lenny Bernstein reminding
us about what a wonderful vision you inspire!

* Tupac Amaru: the leader of a failed Inca rebellion against the Spanish in 1780.  He was captured and pulled apart by four horses, in the plaza at Cuzco, Peru.


A Simple Lesson

A pair of cardinals flew into a tree, frightened,
but there was so much light, so much plumage!
I stand near a patch of grass, sad, watching those birds
bristle on that tree, my head full of incomprehension
about the silence of the world’s conscience
over this carnage mid-wifed in the Middle East.

Seeing those frightened birds, I go on thinking
that each epoch has its poet; tender, angry, prophetic,
sometimes enigmatic: a narrative of  all our disasters and triumphs
flowing from his pen, for the sons and daughters to read,
while the cities, ghost-like, burn like the tatters of their dreams.

Relentlessly, the glacials melt from our un-symmetry;
horrified, we watch Kilmanjaroo melting like a drunken giant.
Always patient, a faithful dog expects a fat bone. After a bold insistence,
a river widens its course through the narrow forest of time.      
That is why, sick of their military grandiloquence,
I turn my back on the tin gods who, emboldened by an awkward trident,
forget that it is the mangy dog that sometimes kills the leopard!

Syl Cheney-Coker
(Sierra Leonean poet and novelist. Among his poetry collections, Concerto for an Exile, 1973; The Graveyard Also Has Teeth, 1980; The Blood in the Desert’s Eyes, 1990. His novel The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar, 1990, met with wide critical acclaim.)

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WOLE SOYINKA, Man and Nature

translated by Armando Pajalich, edited by Marco Fazzini, Lugo, Edizioni del Bradipo, 2005, pp. 64

Cleto Munari, to whom the book is dedicated, talks in his introductory note of ‘occasional nature’; and he is certainly right, as this collection, here at its first edition worldwide, has been printed in only a thousand copies, sixty of which provided with a cover showing a black and white drawing by Giuseppe Sciacca. Fortuitous coincidences (though very often, beyond coincidences, lay human passions and relations) have in fact brought to life, on July the 13th 2005 (Wole Soyinka’s seventy-first birthday), this collection of brief and striking poems, through which the Nigerian poet celebrates Nature and its beauty. And anyone possessing a copy of those sixty of the existing thousand must feel a lucky person. Lucky first of all for the very possession of such a fine book, published by Edizioni del Bradipo in their very selective series “I dardi del poeta”, edited by Marco Fazzini and enriched by Sciacca’s evocative illustrations. Secondly, for the same choice of including in this edition both the original in English with its translation into Italian, and the reproduction of Soyinka’s manuscripts; the original poems are accompanied by the fine and accurate translation of Armando Pajalich, who has been Soyinka’s Italian voice since 1979, thus representing a case of ‘double’ first edition of the text, which appears here for the first time both in English and in Italian. Thirdly, the fortune of having such a book, one has to point out, arises not only from its fine edition and from its being gold dust, but also from the immense relevance of Soyinka’s reflections not only in the landscape of Nigerian literature, but also at a worldwide level.
If one can talk of occasional nature, in fact, this does not imply that what has been written by Soyinka is also ‘light’ and ‘provisional’, as his work is on the contrary permeated by a strong will to come back, once again, on the delicacy of natural elements – such as rainbow, whose arc “is rounded in a market place / Where scattered tribes of a busy world unite” (“si fa tonda alla piazza del mercato / Dove si uniscono tribù disperse di un mondo indaffarato”, p. 31) – in order to discover in them a source of knowledge and wisdom. This approach to nature is not new, if one considers for instance Niyi Osundare’s Eye of the Earth, recently and finely translated into Italian, which also celebrates the necessity to find balances both in the world and in our private lives. Nonetheless, in Soyinka this necessity is strictly linked with a deep religious vision which leads him to draw a consistent and symmetrical universe, in which Nature and deities form a harmonic ensemble which human kind should fear, rather than either challenge or exploit for their own interests: “Who kills for love of god kills love, kills god / Who kills in name of god leaves god / Without a name” (“Chi per amor di dio uccide, amore uccide, uccide dio / Chi di dio in nome uccide, dio lascia / Senza più nome”, p.53). Therefore, together with poems openly dedicated to Nature and its elements (a leaf, a tree), there are other poems focusing on human life (specifically represented by the market) and on Yoruba deities.
Soyinka’s poems are in fact strongly influenced by Yoruba culture, as always, but Man and Nature also aims at discussing themes of general interest, as both the commitment and the widely range of interests characterizing Soyinka’s writing find a confirmation in this collection, which wants to answer today’s increasingly hard times. As Pajalich underlines in his introductory note, significantly entitled “Respectfully” (“Rispettosamente”), in consideration of that balance suggested by Soyinka throughout the volume, “surrounded as we are by frightening aggression – economic, armed or pseudocultural – Soyinka’s wise fragments ask us to stop and think. Maybe they ask for a new departure or a new sowing” (p.9). These poems, so fragmentary that sometimes they are condensed in one sentence (“Hell’s location is a place of choice”: “L’inferno si trova in un luogo di tua scelta”, p.51), are meant not only as reflections on the contemporary world, whose most banal and although significant details we are invited to observe and remember, but also as a praise for those, Soyinka amongst them, who have attempted a reconciliation of the elements through a brave and sometimes dangerous fight for the dignity and freedom of both human kind and the world we live in: “Courage is its own crown, sometimes / Of thorns, always luminous as martyrdom” (“Il coraggio è corona di se stesso, a volte / Di spine, sempre luminoso come un martirio”, p.37).
This is therefore a precious book, both in its contents and form, and certainly the fruit of the serious thought of an experienced poet, but also the result of friendships and mutual relations which basically put in practice what Soyinka wishes for in this new and unusual poetic work.

Tiziana Morosetti
(Tiziana Morosetti PhD University of Bologna, now holding a postdoctoral scholarship. Her research focuses on both Postcolonial Studies and African Literatures in English. She is editor-in-chief of the journal Quaderni del ’900.  She is now involved in a study on utopian writing in African literature.)

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Sensuous Lyrics of a ‘Political’ Bard:
A Review of Niyi Osundare’s Tender Moments
by Akintayo Abodunrin

NIYI OSUNDARE: Tender Moments, Ibadan (Nigeria), University Press Plc. 2006, pp. 102, isbn 9780690271.

Tender Moments, Niyi Osundare’s latest volume of poems, couldn’t have come at a better time than this. Released by its publishers a week to Christmas, the collection is aptly sub-titled Love Poems in line with the mood of the season. And the poet’s offering, 79 in all but divided into three parts (“In the Mood”; “Songs of Absence”; and “Metaphor”) proves that the former professor of English at the University of Ibadan but now of the University of New Orleans, United States of America, is not just a political poet as many would regard him. Really, as any reader of Osundare and Lifelines, his poetry column in the Sunday Tribune, would attest to, the multiple award-winning poet often spices his offerings with love poems containing some side-kicking ribaldry.
So Tender Moments, his first major work since Hurricane Katrina destroyed his New Orleans home in 2004/2005, deservedly celebrates love, much of which he received during his time in the ‘Eye of the Storm’, and further reveals the hitherto unknown soft side of the supposed interventionist poet.
In the first part of the collection which has 30 poems and is entitled “In the Mood,” the poet gives vent to his desire for his paramour. And as we are all wont to when overcome by desire, he expresses his feelings in touching lyrics coated with honey: “…There is a secret flower / Between your legs behind / A thicket of thorns / And a thousand touch-me-nots / Beloved / You are my forbidden songs / I dwell the eternal portals / Of your sophisticated silence,”Osundare croons in “Forbidden Song”. He equally affirms his love for his belle in “Special Day”: “Sweeter than honey / Redder than the rose / Serener than the lily / By the streamside / Friendly as water / Soft as a passionate whisper / All this / And more / You are / On this Special Day”.
For a poet extremely steeped in his culture and its nuances, and who often borrows from traditional oral poetry, it would have been scandalous if none of the poems in Tender Moments had been written in Yoruba. But Osundare did not disappoint. Aside interspersing the work generously with Yoruba words (meanings are always added as footnotes), Osundare celebrates the beauty of the female and the virility of the male in Adumaradan (One-whose-blackness-is the-beauty-of-her-skin)  written in Yoruba while the English translation is rendered beside it. Part of it reads thus: “Your love engulfs me / As the harmattan overwhelms the heat / I will pledge a thousand favours to the wind / To courier my voice to your ears / Adumaradan, come close to me / So you can behold the honour of my presence”. After going on and on about her beauty and qualifying it with more flowery words, he concludes thus:“Teeth-whiter-than-new-coins, owner of the alluring tooth gap / She of the bouncing buttocks, who-adorns-the-chest-with-breasts / Adufe, paragon of beauty so full of wisdom / Come let’s play the game of the young and free”.  Now, which woman will not like to be serenaded with that?
Tender Moments, from which the collection derives its title, indeed, is tender. Hear the poet: “And you smile your big – cheeked smile, / Your eyes breaking out of your face / Like the sun through the mist / Of a young and ancient dawn / …You are the fragrance / Which lends a name to varnished gardens, / The door which hums the chronicle / Of the house… / And so you said: / ‘Let us go behind the walls / And I will show you / The birthmark below my navel”. Employing erotic imagery, the poet pays tribute to his lover in poems like “Beehive”, “Phone It In” and “Laughter without Forgetting’, all in the first part of the book, ending it with the “Longest Love Poem in the World”, which surprisingly reads “Yes” – a three letter word!
In “Songs of Absence”, which is the second part of the book, the author truly gives vent to his yearnings for his absent lover. And we have all been there before, when loneliness and desire twist us up, and make us long achingly for our better half. “Tell me, Beloved, are your ears / Wet with the telling drought of my absence?” Osundare asks in “Song of Absence(1)”, adding in “Song of Absence(2)”: “The house rings hollow without your voice / The walls stare like vacant sentries / Their peeling paint console their walls”. The trend continues in “Where”, where the author poignantly wonders “Just where in this merciless world are you, / Oh Magic Wanderess, / Absent stanza in my Song of Sighs”, and in “Bulb Eyes”: “Dark dawn / NEPA gloom / But your eyes/ Light up my room / Like powerful bulbs / How I long for the rest / Of your absent body!”
“Have You Seen Her?”, another of the poems which interestingly shares the same title with a track of MC Hammer (rap artiste turned gospel artiste) employing simile, gently asks: “Have you seen her / who opened my chest / and took my heart / she of the wondrous eyes / and bouncing gaits / whose voice is sweeter / than the sound of laughing waters / whose mind is / as sharp as a fresh- honed proverb”.
“Metaphor”, the last part of the book, opens with “Questions for a Poet’s Wife”, which explores the ‘eccentricity’ often displayed by writers and other creative people when the muse seizes them. Perhaps giving inkling into what he does, Osundare enquires of the poet’s wife: “Does he switch off – simply fade out — /In the middle of a chat…”; and alluding to Galileo Galilei, asks further: “Does he sometimes rush out of the bathroom, soap-soaked, to grab the pen and trap a fleeting thought / Does he talk to himself and / or nod in agreement / With some unseen spirit  / …Does he make love like a hurricane / Then snuggle like a baby between your breasts?” This theme of writers’ eccentricity is further examined in “First Love” when he tunes off again on a date with his companion who is forced to ask “Tell me, / which do you love more: / me or your poetry?”
For a poet with a bias for poetry as performance, it would have been strange if there are no poems for performance in Tender Moments, but Osundare, as if pre-empting the critic who would engage him on this, includes some in the work. Apart from the characteristic lyricism of the poems, a specific poem indicated for performance is “Bless”, to the accompaniment of drum, flute and horns.
Three other unique poems in this section are “Apple of My I”, “Loreving” and “My Miss Take”, where the poet, again, affirms his love employing creative punning. In “Apple of My I”, for instance, he says: “I never knew your absence / Carried such a dagger / In the scabbard of its shadow / …Beloved, promise you will always be / The melody of my song / The only apple of my I”; and “Loreving”, where he declares “I loaf you so much / I’m your well- bread dish /  ...I will be yores / Till the rings are belling / The sings are birding / The shines are starring / ...Tender me with your loreving / Eight weeks a day”. This peculiar style is given further volume in “My Miss Take”, where he sings “…Oh dulling, dulling /Your hive so fool of honey /Are you my Miss Take / My grand Miss Harp / Do you have ears /For the lan of my guage?”
 Sensuous and dripping with affection, all the poems in Tender Moments reinforce Osundare’s status as a master of his craft.

Akintayo Abodunrin
(Akintayo Abodunrin reports Arts for the Nigerian Tribune, a national newspaper in Nigeria. He holds a masters degree in Sociology from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, where he is currently working on his doctoral thesis. Email: akinjaa03@yahoo.co.uk)

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“Of Roped Tongues, Arrogant Breast and the Naked Sun”

E.E. SULE: Naked Sun. Makurdi: Aboki Publishers, 2006, 80 pages,
ISBN 978-8098-27-4, Paperback

Naked Sun, like the many ubiquitous poetry collections in Nigeria, is a slim second collection of thirty-six poems. The collection is thematically but unevenly divided into five untitled parts; and each of the parts, perhaps with the exception of the first, contains poems with the same thematic thread loosely running through them. Therefore, it is easier to claim that there is, indeed, the same concern of subject matter and conviction, though not of any overarching style or unmistakable voice crisscrossing through the parts. The poems in Naked Sun represents E. E. Sule’s poetic struggle to strike a subtle but powerful balance between, on one hand the demand of a distinctly imaginative propedeutic, and on the other, the needs of his physical environment. As such, the poems are a symbol of hope and vision in the face of wanton despair. The clear, unambiguous characteristic of Sule’s poetry is its arresting raw metaphorization and uncluttered sincerity of vision.
E.E. Sule’s poetry is exceptional in one distinct sense, within the corpus of recent Nigerian poetry in English expression. At one level, its unique trait is the poet’s penchant of churning out poems without losing track of his imagistic density, thematic horizon and political concerns. At another more pronounced level, it is Sule’s ease with which the difficult and demanding neologism and coinage are adroitly handled.  The title poem, “Naked Sun” (9-19) is a case in point; there are, in that poem, many coinages such as: “sistery”, “wadanoises”, “abachology”, “asorocked”, etc. Though these coinages may prove difficult to a non-Nigerian reader, they, all the same, capture and domesticate what many words may not and subtly underline a distinctly Nigerian phenomenon which the poet is out to address. And it is not just in deftly negotiating the demand of coinages that Naked Sun is an important achievement: it also stands out in blending disparate but elated voices within a single poem. With Sule, polyphonous poems seem the most natural and easiest.  A mark of accomplishment to a younger poet like Sule is that of an effort to find a voice suited to one’s material; and a poet’s material (whatever the word portends) is a kind of sophistication that takes the poet to an excellent level of craftsmanship, while revealing, as it were, a sense of struggle at the same time.
Naked Sun forged both voice and experimentation, but yet it is hard to say the poems in the book are either voice driven or device ridden. The most pervasive voice in the collection is often very engaging, laconically self-conscious, creatively alert, satiric, and standoffish. Again a quintessence case is that of the title poem (9-19) where multiple voices of the persona’s family members are symbolically linked in a doxic metaphor of the sun as the strength of poetry, and by extension the poet’s. The title poem, too long to quote and too fragmentary for illustration, is dense with allusions to some apparently autobiographical experiences and is cleverly written in a postmodernist, self-conscious mode.
Naked Sun opens up with a blaze of definitions of poetry: the first in “Kaze and I” (3) which celebrates poetry via friendship with the eponymous Kaze: “I recall / how we sped  / in deciduous desert / of syllables / of rhythms / searching for the poet / in us / snatching ancient rhymes / because our tongues were unripe / but our instinct blazed.” Following this poem is the intensely metapoetic “If I Must Write Poetry” (4); the poem is akin to a poetic manifesto which sees poetry as nothing less than a “mechanical” process that also necessarily delineates the left from right wing politics: “If I must write poetry / I’ll skew / on leftist stick / chunks of delicious parable from / rightist flesh / I will seek the starry eyeballs / of leftist philosophy / I will undo the fixed knots / of rightist garments.”
If “If I Must Write Poetry” is mechanical and does not in the least seem to concede to the so-called naturalness, mystery and spontaneity of the writing process, the next metapoem, “Let a Poet Be President” (reminiscent of the late Ezenwa Ohaeto’s Pidgin English collection of poems, I Wan Be President) is ambitious as it is simplistic both in its conception of poetry and its true potentials: “let a poet be president / true poet of true country / we’ll plumb intestines / of living words / pull our muse’s detergent / wash clean the conscience / of our country / […] / Let a poet be president / true poet of true country / we’ll watch / dear dancesteps of figures / in the halo of therapeutic answers / to our quest / for bewitching brains” (5). Other poems which merit a mention include those in section four, which celebrate the poet’s friends, teachers, family members and poetic mentors; among these the poem that stands out is the one on Remi Raji (himself a noted poet and academic). As an academic and poet, Sule has written a lot about the politically engaging poetry of the eponymous Raji, and as is evident in the present book, Sule is also a great admirer of the elder poet. The fire that Raji’s poetry ignites in many other younger Nigerian poets like Sule is enormous, if only Raji knows: “If you knew / the venom / of your words / in their occultic trance / if you knew / the masquerade / of your words / in their wriggling steps / if you knew / the tendrils / of your words / in the mystical journeys / you’ll stride across / literary landscapes / a proud wordsmith” (75).
There are also some memorable love poems in Naked Sun, the most notable of which is “I Claim”. In an intense evocative mode, the persona nostalgically fantasizes about a seemingly lost love; the same tenor and zeal are also present in “Didn’t You, B?” which prefigures the lost love of the previous poem and proudly asserts the persona’s continuous relevance in the “fetish mind” of the hinted B, since the persona claims she is “still the protagonist of [her] dream”.
Despite the obvious success of some of the poems in the collection, certain poems in Naked Sun suffer from over indulgence in what, for want of a better term, could be called orality: the new trend in contemporary Nigerian poetry. Poems like the title poem and indeed many others are covertly derivative of most notably Niyi Osundare and overtly of Remi Raji. Also, some of the coinages need to be explained perhaps in a glossary, since beyond their meaning being obvious to a Nigerian reader, others would find them difficult to relate to the context of the poems in which they are deployed. Again, the inconsistent use of small letters, even with the pronoun “I” and titles is rather strange and cumbersome. There is no underlying reason for that, beyond, probably, the poet’s unconscious grasp of a non-transcendental subject (to be marked with a diminutive personal pronoun “i”).

Ismail Bala Garba
(Department of English and French,
Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria

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In the Confidence of Her Individuality:
A Reading of Angela Miri’s Running Waters and Other Poems

ANGELA MIRI: Running Waters and Other Poems, 2006.

A significant point one notices in Angela Miri’s slim volume of poetry, Running Waters and Other Poems (2006), is that it does not approximate the ‘virtuous’ diction often characteristic of poetry by women in Nigerian literature. Slightly academicised, her chosen words show the turgidity of a poetic mind in such a way that the debut reads like a second or third volume out of a maturing poetic craft. The other way to put it is that the poet here is indeed confident of her voice, sure of her message and radical in the diction she has used to relate the message. It is thus indubitably clear that Miri has been writing poetry for quite some time and may not be seen with the same periscope one sees the numerous adventurous young writers who have graced Nigerian literature with poetry volumes that sadly turn out to be sparks of impatient immaturity. For this reason, it is hard to discern the voice – or voices – that overshadows her voice. It is safer to say the maturity of her craft defies such shadow; she has pulled her voice out of a density of poetic influences and emerges with a considerably distinct voice of her own.
Some of her themes are peculiar to women writing, some are not. At least not in recent Nigerian poetry have we encountered a poet that is so engaged in self-discovery as she does in the second part of her volume. The quest to discover not just the self, but also an unproblematic selfhood in a world so uncertain spins such titles as “I am an individual”, “I Have Freedom”, “Eroding Confidence”, “Agonies of Childhood”, “Accepting”, “To Old Flames, No More”, “In Response”, “I Can See through Them” and so on. In these poems, the persona is not just a searcher of the self, but is engaged in a process that ultimately leads to her resilience about what she comes to accept as her selfhood. In a tone never apologising, in a tenor triumphant of the existing circumstances, Miri’s persona compels the world to give her attention and respect because of where destiny has taken her.
In “I Am an Individual”, a rather prosaic poem, the poet begins this way: “I am an individual, aware of my membership of, / and responsibility to my society. / An awareness which does not automatically / make me a slave to its institutions. / I am not a mere pawn within a rigid / and ruthlessly authoritarian society, / Nor a blind, unquestioning slave to the native / institutions, / With neither individual will nor freedom / of action and expression, and personal responsibility”. Miri’s persona operates from this high level of awareness and consciousness, which are part of the “running waters” in the volume. In taking such a stand in a bifurcately oppressive reality – oppression from Establishment and from patriarchy – the poet-persona deflects the social order and at once rivets her vision on socio-economic, cultural and political liberty for all kinds of human beings in the society. Miri’s presentation of this assertion is predicated on the pre-knowledge of a social disorder where somebody can be a member of a society without her individuality so that she is looked upon as “a mere pawn” and as “a blind” receptacle of the inherent imbalance in the society. In the remaining part of the poem, Miri’s thesis is that the individuality she proclaims is not the type that is “individualistic in / total regards of [her] interest”, but the type that recognises and approves of communality. An individual is an organic part of a community and the understanding of this strengthens the individual as well as offers the possibilities of interaction and humanism to the individual. Yet the selfhood must be jealously guarded so that the individual does not surrender herself – and this means the totality of her conscience – to the vagaries of her society. So, in “Accepting” the poet admonishes that no matter what people say of you, no matter from what perspectives people view you, there is no resolution better than what this truism signposts: “Accept yourself”.
The familiar themes Miri treats in this volume are the feministic ones. The design of the volume that places the feministic themes before those of individuality deliberately bespeaks of the transition that accounts for a resolute individuality. Miri’s persona, awake with a personal freedom, has come through the debris of thoroughly patriarchal structures and mores. With such titles as “‘A Woman’s Place’”, “How Can You!” “Weep No More”, “We Want to Love”, “Strangers at the Hearth”, “Ode to My Mother” and others, we encounter the struggling woman, determined to pull through and does actually succeed in doing so as we have seen in the second part of the collection. Worthy of note is that the tone of the persona is not threnodic and dismally self-pitying as is sentimental with most feminist writers. Rather, in the poems, the speaker states the woman’s case straight, uncompromisingly and without capitulating to any given male superiority or any providential intervention. “‘A Woman’s Place’” begins: “Deep down the abyss / Where divergent views are muffled before utterance / Is a woman’s place; / A graveyard sub silentio.” The remaining of the poem is a matter-of-factly explication of “the abyss” as the poet sees it. While poetry cannot be divested of the praxis of hyperbole, Miri’s poetisation appears even to the critical reader as a modulated practice.
In another poem, “We Want to Love”, the poet states, in a down-to-earth tone, the important thing that a woman wants from a man and can give to a man. The poet’s contestable position is that the woman’s quest to love and be loved is often wistful because she does not usually get the love from the man. In other words, women suffer from unrequited love more than men. Drawing a literary allusion, she likens the woman’s expectation of a man’s love to “waiting for Godot”. Her pessimistic ending of the poem clearly signifies the woman’s resignation that she can move ahead with her life without any love from man. In most of the poems in this section, the poet is conscious, as it were, that she is speaking on behalf of people like herself. The plural personal pronoun, “we”, is used in almost all the poems. In some of the poems, the poet self-importantly withdraws from the “we” to offer advice to those she considers victims of patriarchal vitiosity. In “Wrapped Gift”, for example, the poem ends with this advice: “Now someone wants to steal your brains, / To embarrass you for his manhood, / But that will not break your mountain rock. / You have to remain a warrior / To survive assaults of tormentors. / Indeed, “how many stars can rival the moon?”
In all these the poet’s ‘justifiable’ anger is perceived. She bares her mind, without sounding apologetic, at the imperfection of her society, at the inhumanity of the menfolk towards the womenfolk. The problem of the feminist writer, however, surfaces here. That such passion is expended on the suffering of the woman as if it is only the woman that suffers in the world is a pointer to the insensitivity of the feminist writer towards other depraved species of humanity. The child, for example. Does the emancipation of the woman imply that of the child as some feminists argue? What about the inadequacies of the Establishment and even the working class in the society towards old people, weighted down by the gerontic complications that make them – sadly, regrettably – fall off to the other side of life?
Since this is her first volume, we expect that the poet will expand her poetic vision to encapsulate other suffering beings since she can so well speak on behalf of the suffering. Miri deserves a good place in Nigerian literary arena for her bold craft and courageous voice. Her concrete images place the woman in the very place she should be, not the place she is yearning to be. For Miri, the woman’s individuality is sure. This means a woman has got every opportunity to remove herself from the mess she has been thrown into, wash herself up and pick a way of life that suits her. This is the summation of Miri’s individual theme. Miri has moved the pursuit of women liberation in Nigerian literature a step further.

Sule E. Egya

(Department of English, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Nigeria)

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Lingo: an electronic e-journal for literary translation

1) Historical context
There is a severe paucity of literary magazines in South Africa. It is a matter of grave concern that directly affects the advance of South African literature. It has been shown that vibrant literary magazines often support the development of literary movements and the maturation of writers. These journals encapsulate the mood of their times and provide hothouses for new writing, they stimulate new perceptions and stabilise literary or artistic movements. For example, the development of West African writing was greatly supported by the role of Transition and Presence Africaine; in South Africa newspapers and magazines like Imvo Zabantsundu, Standpunte, Trek, Drum, Kol, Sestiger, Contrast, Classic and Staffrider were significant publication platforms during their periods of existence. Important South African writers (to mention a few random names) such as Breytenbach, Gordimer, Jabavu, Mkhayi, Mphahlele, Serote, Tladi, van Wyk Louw and others published their first writings in these and similar publications.
The cost of printing and the small market of literary magazines have severely hampered the growth of such journals in South Africa. In the past few decades important journals like Standpunte, Contrast and Staffrider have floundered and were replaced by journals – chiefly in digital format – that reflect to some extent the demands of contemporary South African culture.
We believe that it is the apposite moment to maintain a literary journal that reflects appreciation for an evolving South African culture. In a situation of historical mistrust contemporary cultural activism demands the breaking down of socio-political barriers, the appreciation of South African culture on its own terms and the fullest possible exposure of writing in local indigenous languages. In selected instances translation from languages outside the Southern African region may also be accepted.

2) A general description of Lingo (www.lingo.org.za)
Lingo (www.lingo.org.za) is an e-journal which encourages, reflects and publicizes the multilingual culture of this country and facilitates intercultural exchange. Lingo joined the global electronic community in 2005. It is currently funded by the Arts and Culture Trust of South Africa and the Royal Dutch Embassy. Two core activities characterise the website’s unique approach: firstly, the publication of literary writings and oral traditions in indigenous (or original) languages; secondly, making these literary products accessible to a broader audience through the medium of literary translation. Works are published in the eleven official languages of South Africa, Dutch and French. The eleven official languages of South Africa are Afrikaans, English, isiZulu, isiXhosa, siSwati, isiNdebele, Setswana, Sepedi, Sesotho, Xitsonga and Tshivenda. A subeditor is responsible for each language. The editorial team currently consists of 11 members.
The website is maintained on the basis of literary genres, e.g. poetry, prose, essays and the oral tradition. The material is published in the appropriate rubrics in the original languages; translations in other South African languages would be made posted as they become available. Some translations are commissioned and where appropriate readers may offer their own translated versions. Literary translation is a neglected skill in South Africa.
It is accepted that a digital divide exists in South Africa. The Internet or computerization is not generally accessible to all South Africans. Our initial investigation point to greater than general accessibility in the population segment that we intend targeting. Writers – aspirant and established – have access through Internet cafés, educational institutions, friends, acquaintances and relatives.
The electronic environment offers interesting possibilities to the field of literary translation. It gives individual authors and literary translators the opportunity to share their original work with a larger target audience. Secondly it stimulates interaction between authors and literary translators from divers linguistic and cultural groups. Via a network of hyperlinks, colour coded schemes and an electronic submission system authors, readers and translators can gain immediate and easy access to texts. For example, an English reader who does not understand an original isiXhosa poem may gain immediate access to the English translation with a few mouse clicks. The electronic environment has the dynamic ability to break down linguistic barriers via literary translation presented in an electronic format.
Lingo is the first electronic journal on the continent of Africa focusing on the publication of literary translations.
Apart from creative work, Lingo, also welcomes essays and discussions from local and international authors which focus on issues within the scope of literary translation. Although the primary focus falls on publishing poems and short stories (and literary translations) in the indigenous languages of South Africa, Dutch and French, original works and literary translations in other languages will also be considered.

Submissions and enquiries may be directed to lingotrans@mweb.co.za

Neil Cochrane
(Editor in Chief)

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Few international organisations have devoted their entire project life on African writings and fewer still have gone the extent of making African literature and poetry the centre of its project activities. Thus the journal project of the International Research Confederacy on African Literature and Culture IRCALC may well pride itself as the most scholarship significant activity in contemporary studies in African /postcolonial literatures. On its website www.africaresearch.org, IRCALC defines its mission and purpose as "dedicated to studies in African literature and culture for the purpose of furthering and propagating studies in African literary thought and aesthetics.” It seeks to further the imaginative approach to Africa's leadership and development concerns and aims to be the "authentic network for scholarly publications on African literature and Culture, not excluding, indeed, other writings of the black Diaspora that lend meaning and support to the African vision."

Every year the IRCALC CFP [Call For Papers] releases guidelines for acceptance of manuscripts for assessment and publication in the IRCALC Journals. All correspondence and contributions regarding IRCALC publications are forwarded vide post or electronic media (e-mail) to the Editors: America, United States, C. Smith <ircalc_nnp@yahoo.co.uk> Thus for three years IRCALC initiatives toward research in African literature has provided a world wide forum for exchange of information, ideas, and research writings that enrich our understanding of Africa's rich and diverse cultural heritage by member organizations, college departments, libraries, and individuals across the Diaspora. Contributions on non-African writings are accepted if they combine a comparative appreciation of African works or if they advance a theory such as of literary/cultural criticism that includes contemporary and historical paradigms centred on the African discourse.

Members cut across all races and nationalities and are committed to a more imaginative approach to Africa's development issues. IRCALC membership is however determined by published scholarship and recommendation. It is available on invitation /nomination by any regular individual or College/ Institutional member(s). IRCALC members are usually enthusiastic scholars who work together to research and propagate the literature, thought and heritage of modern Africa.

There are two major publications that have emerged from the IRCALC project in African literature apart from regular Critical Supplements [CS] on important writers and voices from the African region: the Journal of African Literature and Culture [JALC] and the Journal of New Poetry of African Expressions  [NP]. As a collegiate program, IRCALC JALC and NP are internationally reviewed and submissions prior to endorsement are subject to extensive assessors’ revisions. Currently both journals are indexed by the MLA International Bibliography as an annual, PDF, Electronic and Print journal publication in English with specialty on African Literature and Culture.

IRCALC Journal of New Poetry [NP]

This NP journal made its debut in 2005 with the New Nigerian Poetry Journal edited by its project editor, Dr. Gloria MT Emezue. With "Critics of the New Poetry" as its theme, the journal was dedicated to one of Africa's finest literary scholars Romanus Egudu, professor emeritus and Fellow /Foundation Editor of the Nigerian Academy of Letters; Foundation Convener, and Foundation Editor of the Literary Society of Nigeria and member of the Association of Nigerian Authors.
The NNP journal provides two Introductory Papers on Nigerian poetry. Ushie’s “Phases in Nigerian Poetry” and Emezue’s “History, Vision and Craft in New Nigerian Poetry” are specially to set the background for a study that proves illuminating for scholars of postcolonial poetry emerging from the Nigerian republic. While Ushie reiterates the critical prejudice of the old writers against the new Nigerian literary movement, Emezue’s paper highlights the literary and artistic merits of the new poetry noting that “images of Africa’s self-inflicted reversals are graphically illustrated with emotive poignancy and expressive clarity in the new poetry” (27).  The journal also features some Critical Case Studies on the poetry of contemporary Nigerian poets such as Osmond Enekwe, Odia Ofeimum and Romanus Egudu. The final and longest section, the “Literary Chat Forum”, is an interview /exchange of critical opinions between the project editor and a member of the new league of postcolonial Nigerian writers, Chin Ce. Chin Ce’s argument that “we must write for the simple reason that we feel deeply the need to give expression to what motivates us to speak…[and] though we may tap quite richly from the abundant store of images that abound in African flora and fauna, … a conscious artiste … tries to authenticate this rich repertoire of tradition within the expressive  power that he has acquired” (142) is sure to excite further commentary from readers of postcolonial poetry from Africa.

NP (v3) 2006
The 2006 edition of the Journal of New Poetry of African Expressions is themed “Beyond Subjectificatory Structures”, after the paper of British scholar Grant Hamilton on the poetry of Nigeria’s Chin Ce. The political trends in postcolonial poetry dominates the discourse as two scholars from Nigeria and Great Britain study Chin Ce's second volume of poetry entitled An African Eclipse, revealing its commitment to post colonial issues and dilemmas of the nation state particularly “Ce's striking portrayal of military (and civilian) dictatorships in Africa” (Sule, 41). Hamilton however argues that Chin Ce's poetry moves us beyond these “subjectificatory” structures mounted by the nation state, against the citizens while noting that for Ce “the inadequacy of state thinking is due to the failure of Nigeria's political class to engage in deep personal thought at the hands of a 'liberating' literature” (97). The NP 2006 edition also features a study of indigenous unwritten literature in a paper entitled “Igbo Oral Literature” by F. Orabueze who writes that “Igbo oral poetry celebrates the birth, death, achievement of kings and warriors; the legend of communities and, as a social satire, controls the excesses of the members of the community as they strive towards the survival of the group” (28).
The NP 2006 Poets’ Forum features new poems on Africa by African, Canadian and African American poets and scholars such as Kathryn Waddell Takara, Irene Marques, Damon Renard Jones, Sue Brannan Walker, James Cherry, Keena Diaspora, Nafeesa Nichols, Gulere Wambi, Ahmad Maiwada and Jamal Ali to mention but a few. A salient element of the 2006 NP journal is the Critics Forum where Katarzyna Malecka takes a look at the legacy of Phillis Wheatley in poetry arguing for her “importance as a poet-liberating goddess” (23) whose poetic sensitivity and craft she compares with the English John Keats. Here too the journal edition moves away from a national setting to embrace not only the continental boundaries of Africa but the entire Diaspora that includes African American poets and literary critics. Thus we have in this volume a wider and richer appreciation of the postcolonial problem from diverse continental and international perspectives.
With these and more discourses the Journal of New Poetry [NP] continues to bring interesting searchlights on African and African American poetry with the intention of “broaden[ing] the perception of history and continuity apparent even from a glance of African written poetry but not to neglect its entire historical (oral-written) context which scholars and researchers have also found to be quite relevant” (Intro, 7).

The 2007 CFP Project “Griots of Their Times”

For the 2007 IRCALC editors have invited papers from scholars all over the world on the theme “Griots of Their Times”, in honour of the bard tradition of African literary aesthetics which continues to inspire contemporary indices in post colonial literatures of the African continent and the Diaspora. Like the succeeding volumes, this journal is available on PDF from the IRCALC website and in Printed format at some online book stores in the United States.

Future of IRCALC

As an online non-profit, non-government confederation of writers, scholars and researchers from all over the world with common interest in African studies, particularly the literary arts and cultures of Africa and the Diaspora, IRCALC will surely need funding or partnership with institutes and college to ensure the sustainability of its projects in the years ahead.

Ama B. Amoah
(University of Ghana at Legon)

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L’India dell’anima.
Antologia di poesia femminile indiana contemporanea in lingua inglese

New revised and enlarged edition. Edited by Andrea Sirotti, Firenze, Le Lettere, 2006, pp. 242, € 15,00

This new, revised and enlarged edition of L’India dell’anima celebrates the work of women poets from the Indian subcontinent and highlights the feminine gist rooted in the cultural tradition of India. The position of womanhood is rather controversial and complex in such unique context, as it evokes images and references as diverse as ancient female deities, like powerful Durga or Rhada, the earthly lover of god Krishna, and “slave” women doing domestic chores and working in the fields of many regions of India, or adolescent brides bound to arranged marriages, a custom commonly followed in this country and denounced openly in a poem by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. However, the authors here collected discuss, enhance and depict all the roles of woman, caught in-between tradition and modernity, and their lyrics focus on social and postcolonial issues. Particularly wise is the decision of Andrea Sirotti, the editor (and translator of most of the poems) to extend the range of authors in order to represent the whole subcontinent, and thus the selection includes also some poets from Pakistan, as well as some of those artists living abroad and experiencing the dilemma of the diaspora.
«We must always return / to poems for news of the world / or perish for the lack» (p. 78): thus starts a poem by Meena Alexander, an expatriate writer who strives to conjure up the power of orality based upon poetry-making, and its ability to show and meditate on the violence of the world. The stanzas illuminate sad scenes in Cambodia and in the United States, and ponder over a nightmare in New York: a confused picture of movements, and forms of racism («The subway corrupts me / with scents the robed Muslims sell / with white magazines / with spittle and gum», p. 80) leads to a climax of pain, and visually looms as a personal tragedy: «I stall: / the tracks flash / with a thousand suns» (p. 80). The violation of the female body echoes through the lines and silently warns the reader, with the shocking truth of unreported rape and unsaid things. The same poet, however, also inclines to more tender tones: in «Daffodils» the female speaker observes the inescapable passing of time and, thoughtfully, reacts by means of striking imagery, through which she acquires a new awareness: «Come, look, I’ll not flash daffodils flesh at you, / I am older, I have two children now / my breasts are jugs of blood, / my hair black with silver running through / makes a pillow for my man, his thighs / cut from river mud, belly gold with longing» (p. 76). We read of metamorphosis of breasts, limbs and bodies turning into objects against the backdrop of nature: what emerges is a unifying rite, expressed by similes and alliterations.
The device of staging India in topographical terms seems to be rather fruitful in contemporary Indian narrative in English, but what the Pakistani author Moniza Alvi proposes concentrates on the sedimentation of the mind, on the intertwining of feelings and memories that reconstruct a geographical as well as mental space, a special “room of one’s own” one would be tempted to say. India stands majestically as a huge, apparently undecipherable entity and yet is close to the deepest emotions of the poet: «Sometimes it’s an advent calendar - / each city has a window / which I leave open / a little wider each time. / India is manageable – smaller than / my hand, the Mahanadi river / thinner than my lifeline.» (p. 98). The Lahore-born author now lives in the UK and some diasporic elements surface on her works – the thorny question of multiculturalism on the edge of strict parochial traditions is hinted at, and penetrates everyday life, with mundane items like «shoes and socks», from the eponymous poem. When Muslim believers go to the mosque, a plenitude of shoes works as a synecdoche, a symbol conveying dramatic meanings and weightless overtones, while it subtly alludes to the complexity of an ancient heritage: «Ali Baba sandals, business shoes / all precious to the shoe-keeper. / Azam’s socks have gaping holes / one for each of his teenage years?» (p. 102). The path that Moniza Alvi seeks to follow narrows through space and time, and joins together the spirit and the place, so that in another composition she affirms that «within me lies a stone / like the one that tries / to fill the mango. / Inside it is the essence / of another continent.» (p. 100).
The lyrics reproduced in the volume are translated with competence by Andrea Sirotti and belong to the English-language literary canon of modern India. The precise methodological choice of bringing together only poems in English underscores the linguistic debate of India and presents an arena of cultural forces at work. Moreover, the orientation of poets, and not only novelists, towards the adoption of English opens up a series of intellectual interrogations and preoccupations; it constitutes a subtle example of what linguists technically define «schizoglossia», namely a wavering attitude to the use of English. The well-known poet Sujata Bhatt wonders over the condition of those who are split between two codes and two (or more, in the case of India) cultures; she investigates the interstices of words and languages, and in her «A Different History» she seems to mitigate the turmoil of identity crises: «Which language / has not been the oppressor’s tongue? / Which language / truly meant to murder someone? / And how does it happen / that after the torture, / after the soul has been cropped / with a long scythe swooping out / of the conqueror’s face - / the unborn children / grow to love that strange language?» (pp. 130-2). It is not only a concern for linguistic communication, but also for an intricate, «twice-born» sense of belonging. In the preceding strophe of the same poem, Bhatt indeed mentions Saraswati, the great goddess of words in the Hindu religion, whose colourful iconographic representation includes a white sari, a white lotus, and a white swan, along with a vina (a kind of Indian lute).
When female poets start encompassing a large range of motifs, words evolve into dynamic tools to express the suffocation of the self and the emergence of gender boundaries. Imtiaz Dharker, born in Pakistan, educated in Glasgow and now living in Mumbai applies her creative boon to different media, like poetry, painting and documentary-making as well. The subjugation of female identity, the anguished indictment of purdah (that is the strict line of divide between the positions and roles that can be attributed to men and women) and the alienating displacement of diaspora inform her lyrics and her marked, political we may add, commitment attacks all forms of intolerance. To give voice to the women who are marginalised and neglected, the poet mentions the mouth, the organ that articulates words, in «A Woman’s Place». Here she explores the restrictions and anxieties of female identity in a patriarchal society: «Mouths must be watched, especially / if you’re a woman. / […] / If occasionally you need to scream, do it / alone but in front of a mirror / where you can see the strange shape the mouth makes / before you wipe if off» (p. 126). The might of poetry manifests itself once again, and in ever-changing shapes speaks of India of the soul, and the world too.

Esterino Adami
(E. Adami is a scholar in English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Torino, Italy. He has recently published the volume Rushdie, Kureishi, Syal. Essays in Diaspora, New Dehli, Prestige Books, 2006)


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Sydney, Paper Bark Press, 2001, pp. 81.

MARTIN HARRISON, Who Wants to Create Australia?
Broadway NSW, Halstead Press, 2004, pp. 110.

“How do I get the words to do something they do not normally do? How to get language to see, to hear, to taste and touch? Does the poem say enough? Do you see the world differently when you read it? Do you know what seeing the world actually is? How to get the finished poem to be a kind of tactical leap between sense and meaning?” Like every poet, Martin Harrison feels that language is inadequate to convey experience.  In this review, the crucial doubts that Harrison puts forward in his question-marked collection of essays Who Wants to Create Australia? become an access key to unlocking his poems. In other words, how do his theoretical questions on language and experience translate into poetry (and vice versa)?
Martin Harrison lectures on writing, poetry – in Harrison’s words, “a primary and meaningful art form for today” – and sound studies at the University of Technology in Sydney.  He began publishing poems in the UK in the Seventies, moved to New Zealand for three years, and has been living in Sydney since 1978. Besides being a former leading radio producer and broadcaster (he promoted drama, poetry and innovative sound-features on radio), he has written extensively as a reviewer and critic, mostly on contemporary Australian literature.
Among his collections of poems are The Distribution of Voice (University of Queensland Press 1993), The Kangaroo Farm (Paper Bark Press 1997), Summer (Paper Bark Press 2001) and Music (Vagabond Press 2005). His collected essays about contemporary poetry and culture, Who Wants to Create Australia? (Halstead 2004), were selected as one of the Times Literary Supplement’s “International Books of the Year” for 2004.
Summer opens with the following verses: The hotel’s blue pool has little shipwrecks on it: / Last night’s mosquitoes, a bug or two, a lollipop stick. / It has coolness, too, greyness and limpidity, / Together with the slight echo of pre-traffic moments / Shimmering across its transparence, its daybreak light.  In Summer’s pool, where colours overlap with feelings, greyness is limpidity.  Little insects and children’s things float on the surface of the water as on a placidly mobile plane; they are relics of smallness, and at once evoke and invoke an ordinary happiness. In his passionate essay “What Can Poetry Teach?”,builtupon Roland Barthes’ seminal paper “Reflections on a Manual”, Harrison discusses the role of poetry in the contemporary world, and stresses that a childhood experience of literature is fundamental. So, what shipwreck does this lollipop stick signal?
Harrison’s poetry resonates as fertile and profound as his faith in it. On the one hand, his images vibrate with the freshness of life from the opening lines of the first poem. On the other hand, his aspiration to celebrate “vitality” as the experiential essence of poetry implicitly relates to the awareness (expressed in one of his essays) that “there is also a real danger in our time – not just in Australia, I must add – that talk of poetry becomes a narrow kind of talk, exclusive of poetry readers’ other interests and experiences”.
Why do readers give up reading poetry? According to Harrison, “they feel that poems can no longer address the significant big and the significant small questions of their lives”. He explains that on one side, big questions are the seminal ones, issues to do with deep and ultimately ethical matters in the experience of life and death, while on the other side, small questions are more intuitive and, in a sense, more ordinary – everyday issues to do with painful or pleasant emotions. As a matter of fact, Summer harmonises big questions as well as small questions by transforming rootless, mindless objects into emotional and mental symbols. 
Throughout Harrison’s poetry and prose, possibility and openness manifest themselves as fundamental values of the same philosophy. In Summer, empty chairs call for “imaginary bodies”: they are really signs of death, sculptures signalling ‘absence of body’; / while quiet water, I suddenly remember, is stagnancy and grief.  Chairs stand for an absence, and at the same time for a possible presence. Yet, while articulating his praise of Australian poet Robert Adamson, Harrison argues that Adamson’s poems “are open to the absences which they relate, open to another possible fullness”. 
Harrison’s metaphors are always trepidant, as if to alert the reader of language and experience ambiguity.  So, exhausted travellers sky-dive in its clearness. / Water (they think) cares for them as it lets them through. (Transparent) water is a recurrent image that signals Harrison’s interest in the ‘how’ of seeing – what he calls “the manner and the nuance” – rather than the object that is seen. “Good poetry keeps the channels with the local world open, flowing and fresh”, underlines Harrison.  Reality and vision combine in a poetic style that converses with life, about life.
“How to get language to see, to hear, to taste and touch?” “Do you see the world differently when you read it? Do you know what seeing the world actually is?” Harrison considers poetry a way of seeing, and his questions are mirrored in his poems.  In the poem “Hill Country”, for instance, he recounts a dreamy vision: I dreamt, too, how I walk into an upstairs room at night, / Where my mother’s trying to hang herself. / She’s standing on a chair as if she’s fixing a light-bulb. / There’s a pale, thin rope instead of a light-cord. / I interrupt her, talk her down. – It’s then I wake.  Are things unstable, or are the poet’s eyes trembling?  Sounds and rhythm amplify uncertainty.  According to American modernist Wallace Stevens, imagination is the mechanism by which we unconsciously conceptualise life’s patterns, while reason is the way we consciously conceptualise them.  Similarly, in the poet’s unconsciousness, objects are wrong, and places are vague; then he returns to consciousness, to himself.  In this way, poetry ends up involving both imagination and reason. 
In another essay, Harrison cites English philosopher Owen Barfield: “Poetry differs from all her sisters in this one important respect, that… consciousness is also the actual material in which she works. Consciousness is to her what their various mediums (marble, pigments etc) are to the other arts”.  In a similar sense, Harrison’s poetics result both speculative and practical: he is both a poet of ideas, and a creator of that knowledge.
Open vision coexists with its opposite, blindness: There’s that same sense half way / Between anxiety and sadness – a sort of blindness – (“Farm Diptych”).  In other words, blindness is a suspended sense, an indefinite mixture of disquiet and grief.  Similar feelings move Harrison’s reflections in prose: since poetry is vision, it must connect with contemporaneity, and display life; yet – he laments – “much of the cultural experience I wanted to discuss was so recent, relatively speaking, that I wonder how useful my talk would have been. […] clearly I was trying to make connections some of which may not have been as obvious as they are now. Others may just have been false trails”. The poet is worried that his visions/connections might not be useful enough, that they might be unseen/misunderstood, or simply blind/wrong.  Only the passing of time makes things obvious.
Now it’s playing its late modern ensamble of pings and drum/beats. / It should be recorded, treated, made into a model / of world music – a long-sought harmony between things and minds. (“Fine Rain at Night”)  One of the most fascinating aspects of Harrison’s poetics is the many-sided nature of his poems: they often offer a “half-way” between the aged Australian environment and the young video and sound technologies. The poet does not see a duality, but rather a meeting point: (his) contemporary experience of life is located where sounds, texts and interpretations merge into a complex and harmonious concert. Today and tomorrow’s technologies linked with interactive writing and reading stimulate Harrison to ask himself whether texts can voice individual stylistic characteristics any longer, as in “Walking Back from the Dam”: So much / Life, too much of it: / detritus, memory, phrases. / I live, I’d say, in the age of biography.
Summer’s intense beauty resides in transitory experiences – the immense Australian landscape echoes hesitating moments between sound and sense.

Margherita Zanoletti
(University of Sydney)

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