by Honora Ankong
Unlike the widely known, extensively studied, and highly celebrated literary fiction from the continent, African poetry has been largely disregarded in most literary conversations and scholarship. The first time I encountered poetry by an African poet was in 2019, during the last semester of my senior year of college. I had spent my undergraduate career studying extensively African American literature and African Literature, but my studies were limited to fiction and nonfiction works of African writers. I remember walking through the English department knocking on office doors and asking, “who were the African poets and where were they publishing?” I was hungry— I wanted to read it all, contemporary and non-contemporary poetry from writer’s who identified as African. As a young African writer, myself, I needed these works in order to conceptualize the work I aimed to do with my poetry. I was at the time, empty of the language to name my queerness, to name my otherness, to name the specific type of displacement I was experiencing. I also felt forsaken by my literary ancestors— with no knowledge of my poetic lineage. African poetry is a rich and thriving milieu that transcends time, geography, and language. There’s an abundant history of oral and written poetry by Africans on the continent and in the diaspora. African poets engage in a plethora of concerns like traditionalism, culture, colonialism, displacement, queerness, folktale, nationhood, just to name a few. African poets complicate our western ideals of craft and are inventors of form. To read African poetry is to decenter whiteness, decanonize, and decolonize writing spaces.
The first thing I recognized when I encountered the poetry of my contemporaries was that there was a renaissance happening in African poetry. Young African poets were both rejecting and embracing tradition, they were both challenging and subverting western literary ideals, and they were writing to fill in gaps into a history that was bent at erasing them. So much has become possible for me since this encounter— so fellow reader, what could it make possible for you?
You might be asking yourself the same questions I was asking “who are the African poets and where are they publishing?” So, here’s an abridged list of some African poets to look out for. Note that this list barely scratches the surface of the massive literary entity that is African poetry. There’s so much to take into account like African poetry written & published in non-English languages, African poetry published outside of America and outside of the western world, non-contemporary works by African poets which have been lost because of colonial theft, oral poetries of African poets, and etc.
The New Generation African Poets Chapbook Series edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani (http://www.akashicbooks.com/catalog/new-generation-african-poets-a-chapbook-box-set-nane/ )
Semiotics by Chekwube Danladi (https://ugapress.org/book/9780820358109/semiotics/)
Your Crib, My Qibla by Saddiq Dzukogi (https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/nebraska/9781496225771/)
Sacrament of Bodies by Romeo Oriogun (https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/nebraska/9781496219640/)
Exiles of Eden by Ladan Osman (https://coffeehousepress.org/products/exiles-of-eden)
The Rinehart Frames by Cheswayo Mphanza (https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/nebraska/9781496225764/)
The Careless Seamstress by Tjawangwa Dema( https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/nebraska/9781496214126/)