Selected Poems by Paula Erizanu

a nutshell: thanks to the Moldova Foundation in the US, I was thrilled to be put in touch with Moldovan poet, writer & journalist Paula Erizanu who generously shared some of her extraordinary poetry – I was particularly moved by her work-in-progress collection Poems for Mental Hygiene

a line: “the joy to discover that | you don’t have to be | any thought | that crosses | your head” – ‘Authenticity is overestimated’ (I may have to adopt this as my mantra…)

an image: I loved Erizanu’s portrayal of the ego as a popcorn kernel that jumps oily on the frying pan, before being sealed in a plastic bag for the working day in the poem ‘Monday to Friday, from nine til six’

a thought: through her use of the second person and intimately powerful imagery, the poems often gave me the sense that they were tuned into my own (pandemic-infused) psyche – very much a collection that struck a chord

a fact: Erizanu recommended Tatianta Țîbuleac’s novels (excerpts here) and, as an aside, mentioned that she also just finished her first novel, which she is translating from Romanian into English over the coming months – watch this space!

want to read more? follow here

The Palauan Perspectives by Hermana Ramarui

Extract from 'Being a Palauan' against sea backdrop

a nutshell: written by a Palauan poet & educator, this extraordinary collection of poetry explores identity, freedom and colonialism

a line: “Our folly is that | We try to recreate | By trying to duplicate | The impractical past | Whose songs are | Out of tune” (‘Palauan Culture’)

an image: in Ramarui’s pages-long & astonishing poem ‘Freedom’, she suggests the US’s colonial approach to Micronesia was like a fishing expedition and asks the coloniser to throw its golden hooks away

a thought: I was intrigued by the poet’s idea of Palauan culture as a state of being – a centre in itself, hanging onto nothing – and her observation that people cease to be Palauan as soon as they fear new learning (‘Being a Palauan’)

a fact: Ramarui worked for over twenty years in Palau’s Ministry of Education and made huge contributions to preserving Palauan language & culture; she later began working on a children’s reading series and colouring book series

want to read The Palauan Perspectives? visit here

‘Petty Tyrants’ by Conceição Lima (tr. Amanda Hopkinson)

Lima

a nutshell: first published in Lima’s collection Dolorosa raiz micondó (Painful root of Micondó), this poem is a short & stark impression of petty tyrants

a line: “They don’t know that clock hands are also blindly tyrannical”

an image: I was especially struck by the poet’s vivid description of petty tyrants blindfolding sparkling eyes, letting no light enter

a thought: I loved Lima’s repetitions throughout the poem, mirroring the ways in which petty tyrants themselves (meagre, narrow, slow) try to replicate what’s come before, rather than give space to progress – amplifying the echo of their perpetual childhood

a fact: born in Santana on the island of São Tomé in 1961, Lima studied journalism in Portugal and worked across radio, television & the press in São Tomé

want to read ‘Petty Tyrants’? visit here

Lady in a Boat by Merle Collins

a nutshell: both disquieting & loving, this expressive poetry collection spans family history, the Grenadian revolution and Caribbean life more broadly

a line: “It seems the apocalypse | will be televised”

an image: Collins returns to a haunting image of a friend lying in a stinking drain, with a pig nudging at his body, which gave me the horrifying impression that it is one taken from life

a thought: the poet writes of wandering to wrestle with her furies, and the imporance of knowing the arrogance of wandering and seeking the humility of home – something that particularly struck me, as a person living on the very opposite side of the world to where I grew up

a fact: the poet was deeply involved with the Grenadian Revolution and served as a government coordinator for research on Latin America and the Caribbean

want to read Lady in a Boat? visit here

Things That Were Lost in Our Vaginas by Nyachiro Lydia Kasese

trigger warning: sexual abuse

a nutshell: among Tanzanian writer Nyachiro Lydia Kasese’s many brilliant poems, I found this one particularly moving in its reflection on the struggle to vocalise childhood trauma

a line: “and she would smell his scent on my body and know that we shared the same demons”

an image: the way in which the poet writes about whether a penny or a set of keys is in there gives this poem an atmosphere that feels paradoxically humdum & horrifying all at once

a thought: this interview shares how the scene was drawn from Kasese’s life – the moment triggered her to think back to her own sexual abuse at that age and, as she couldn’t find the words to vocalise it to anyone, she wrote about it

a fact: this poem was longlisted for the 2014 Babishai Niwe Poetry Prize

want to read Things That Were Lost in Our Vaginas? visit here

Our Father Is Tired by Susy Delgado (tr. Susan Smith Nash & Delgado)

a nutshell: translated from Guaraní, this free-flowing poem conjures a present where a demoralised god has lost belief in himself and abandoned the world

a line: “he no longer braids tight | the gleaming raiment | so that Maino’i | can fly | drizzling | the dew up | toward the firmament”

an image: Delgado exhales beautiful imagery while in the same breath mourning its decease, for instance writing of how the Father no longer scatters his seed in the middle of the earth where sweet breezes unfurl palms destined to live until the end of time

a thought: the poem ends on a deeply pessimistic note, almost dismissing a future altogether, at least dismissing any vision for it – it left me intrigued about what’s held in the rest of Delgado’s extensive oeuvre

a fact: I read this poem in Words Without Borders’ July 2020 issue The Indigenous Writing Project: Contemporary Guaraní Poetry; Paraguay is a bilingual country, where most of the population speaks Spanish and Guaraní, an indigenous language – in Guaraní, word and soul are one word: ñe’ ẽ

want to read Our Father Is Tired? visit here (also, take a look at another brilliant poem from Paraguay here)

Gen by Agnès Agboton (tr. Lawrence Schimel)

from Agboton’s collection Canciones del Poblado y del Exilio (Songs of Village and of Exile), this poem is translated by Lawrence Schimel in Poems from the Edge of Extinction

a nutshell: in just 17 short lines, Agboton conjures a powerful sense of strength in suffering – a glimpse of life in an environment dominated by death, seemingly in conflict

a line: “I’ve listened to the words of a stiffened tongue”

an image: set in a cemetery, this poem bring forth a steely stillness – distilled in the moment at which the poet writes of having found the steady gaze of crushed eyes

a thought: with the exception of the last line, each sentence begins with ‘Here’; I got the impression that the repetition signalled the important of place and it made me want to know more about the village & exile from her poetry collection

a fact: Gen is a tonal language spoken in Benin & Togo – there are about 55 languages in Benin, 50 of which are indigenous, but studies estimate that Benin will be completely Francophone by 2060

want to read Gen? visit here

p.s. hear Agboton reading her poetry

Poetry and I by Mbarka Mint al-Barra’ (tr. Joel Mitchell & PTC participants)

a nutshell: with just eighteen lines, Mauritanian poet/teacher al-Barra’ shares the beauty and power of poetry to her on a personal level

a line: “Trouble leeches ink from the quill”

an image: among her vivid impressions of poetry here al-Barra’ writes that its colours form the spectrum from grape to dawn – that is, from violet to red

a thought: I accessed this poem via Poetry Translation Centre (PTC) and really appreciate how they shed light on the translation process, e.g. in Joel Mitchell’s bridge translation the line quoted above was “Feather and ink drained concern” and it evolved into its final form through the the workshop

a fact: born in 1957 in al-Madhardhara, Mauritania (‘the country of the million poets’), al-Barra’ belongs to the third generation of modern poets – her poems address social issues and borrow images from religious texts, ancient Arab history & classical Arabic texts; as PTC writes, symbolism of religious stories is effective in a country deeply rooted in Arab-Islamic traditions

want to read Poetry and I? visit here

here you can also read another poem by al-Barra’, Message from a Martyr – written in response to the occupation of Palestine