Critically acclaimed Somali-British poet Warsan Shire is the continent’s best known contemporary poet. Winner of the first Brunel University African Poetry Prize, Shire’s work, “the unbearable weight of staying — (the end of the relationship)”, gained further attention when it was featured in Beyonce’s newest visual album, Lemonade. However, Shire is only one of many African poets who are changing the face and subject of poetry all around the world. Here, are just a few of such trailblazers, in no particular order.
Awachie is a Nigerian-American, whose creative work reaches into fiction, poetry, and photography, and is an Ayiba favorite. She has performed with Yale University’s slam poetry team, the Teeth Slam Poets, and directs Yale’s African arts and culture festival, AFRICA SALON.
Jesus marching to Golgotha
Hashtag movements marching in Ferguson, New York, New Haven
You, Dr. King, marching on landmarks for years
I read that Christian pacifists, white men
Advised you to answer the call to nonviolence
Did they argue that this would make you more palatable to the majority?
Measure your patience with the spoon they would feed their white peers?
Ifeanyi Awachie (“Letter to MLK Regarding My Black Anger”)
US-based Waheed has two poetry collections, salt. and nejma and was nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award in Best Poetry. She was also recently featured on vibe.com for her mother’s day ode to Afeni Shakur.
mothering. is a poetry.
Nayyirah Waheed (“A Mother’s Love”)
Nigerian Umebinyuo’s first published work Questions for Ada was released to critical acclaim. It chronicles the journey of love and womanhood and feminism.
do not love a man who keeps you clinging
to the pillow for too many nights.
from men who peel the skin
of other women, forcing you to wear them.
Ijeoma Umebinyuo (“Phoenix” – excerpt from Questions for Ada)
Onsando is a Kenyan writer who released his experimental poetry book, Something Quite Unlike Myself in 2014. He writes in both verse and prose form, and has been praised for being one of Africa’s most promising poets.
I open my eyes,
awake in a dream,
My little fingers,
Larger than they seem.
Words new and alive,
Life flies past,
My little thoughts,
Seem longer to last
Ethiopian Libsekal, won the Brunel University African Poetry Prize in 2014 for her work, including her poems, “Sorry, We Are Busy Growing” and “Riding Chinese Machines.”
There are beasts in this city
they creak and they crank
and groan from first dawn
when their African-tongued masters wake
to guide them lax and human-handed
through the late rush
when they‘re handled down and un-animated
still as we sleep, towering or bowing
Liyou Libsekal (“Riding Chinese Machines”)
Burundi Nivyabandi is not only a poet, but is also an activist. Forced into exile when she protested President Nkurunziza’s third term in office, Nivyabandi is also a poet who writes about Burundi and its growth.
The sun mourns its glowing rays
Ever since strange men
Men of small ideas
Men of small actions
Men of small ambitions
Men empty of imagination
Hoisted each other on tiny shoulders
And from the crest of their wreckage
Blindfolded a small land
Shadowed by the tint of dusk that,
Once upon a time,
Dreamed of becoming great.
Ketty Nivyabandi (“Les Petite Hommes”)