Take Me Back. Chekwube O. Danladi. Edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani. New-Generation African Poets. Akashic Books. Brooklyn, New York. 2017.
New-Generation African Poets arrived at the doors of Today's book of poetry a couple of months ago with considerable fanfare. It is a stunning boxed set of nine chapbooks. To quote Akashic Books:
"New Generation African Poets: A Chapbooks Box Set (Nine), edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani, is an annual project of the African Poetry Book Fund--established through the generosity of Laura and Robert F.X. Sillerman and published in collaboration with Akashic Books--which seeks to identify the best poetry written by African authors working today, with a special focus on those who have not yet published their first full-length book of poetry."
Today's book of poetry has chosen Chekwube O. Danladi's Take Me Back as the first chapbook from this series to grace our page. Over the coming months Today's book of poetry will be looking at another four titles from this exceptional offering from Akaskic Books.
Chekwube O. Danladi tries "to mask the lust/oozing from me" as she says in the poem Tomorrow, Chaka Demus Will Play, but it turns out that it isn't quite possible. And just so you know, Chaka Demus is a Jamaican reggae musician.
Tomorrow, Chaka Demus Will Play
while I braid my hair long / thump coconut oil between
the sections / crack palm nut with my teeth / rub the
meat on my belly / I'll want to go dancing / might
go to the Shake and Bake / I'll bless Ma with a slash /
tuck a miniskirt in my purse for later / might wear lip
-stick too / there'll still black henna on my hands from
Zaynab's wedding / they might bend around a black
man's waist / we'll dance like we're blood / we'll both
wonder / was the slave trader your ancestor or mine? /
his rum-laced tongue will coat my lobes / I'll think of
Mama / while he bonds with me / I can get home myself /
I'll say / I'll creep in / past Mama on the sofa / drink coffee
to mask the lust / oozing from me / I'll eat leftover jollof
cold from the pot / I'll heave / I might struggle / with sleep
These poems wrestle with a sexuality that seems to have escaped the bounds of gender. Danladi has concerns with colonization and the dark history that frames all of the present and past but in the back and front of her libidinous mind she's working over both the notion of her sexual pleasure and the sexual politic.
Take Me Back certainly feels like a book written from a position of strength, Danladi has all the justified confidence of a seasoned and mature poet in her young voice.
When I First Encountered Kwame Nkrumah's
Crypt, I laughed
The sun-blanched effigy gleamed, Mine was the sun-blanched body,
the body of a haunt hot for wanting, skirting the pull of visibility
the crypt emerging that way in a thrust the dead enact,
that wants to be seen in its unseeing, pretending to want to be forgotten,
if the unseen could ever be so humble. as if we can shun character.
They did not even let the man die here, Osagyefo found his own end.
but there was love in the return, sure, Consider the sweetness of forgiving.
as I too have dug graves that hold no bones. Perhaps he is not even in there.
How many times must a man go on dying? Perhaps he has gone on living elsewhere.
Could a father ever be that dead? Is this the malediction of exile?
Would weeping be more appropriate? I should have wept more thoroughly but
Humour took hold as I let the mirthful musing rack me.
I thumbed the fringe stones. The crypt is sanctuary for the displaced, I learn.
I left an offering of bronze. I hoped for a Kente inlay.
Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972) led Ghana to independence and was the first President following colonial rule.
In his preface to Take Me Back series editor Kwame Dawes speaks about Danladi and how her "imagination is happily wanton." Danladi isn't afraid to draw blood, or when necessary, to let some of her own flow. She realizes, intuitively, when to go for the jugular in a poem.
This is a strong and confident voice, the voice of an empowered woman, flexing. These poems feel woman strong, purposeful.
At the World's End
For (and after) Kofi Awoonor
At a soft shore,
I have the salt, a
boning knife, candles
(two red, one black), a spool of
thread. Easy waves wane, coax flitting
fish. I have the cry of the wind while the moon gives birth
in the offing. Boss, this now is my own lament. History reigns as
cruelty, consumes more than it kills. I croak with the kingfisher here, thirst sated,
hunger not, but seeking, this loss a continued meditation; the ache of the
wound keeps me
up at night. Still I ask: What may I offer you? What would be enough? May I
near Keta Lagoon? To hope that when the water breaks open there, people may
heat of your name? Sir, even the ocean quavered, even death jostled. When my
wings mend, as night labors dawn, as the graves grow green, I will
burrow by the shoreline and meet you. I will have fruit and
sun and song for you. Here is peace, have it.
Kofi Awoonor (1935-2013), was a Ghanian poet "who combined poetic traditions of his native Ewe people with contemporary and religious symbolism to depict Africa during decolonization."
Take Me Back is a strong first outing and Chekwube O. Danladi is a poet we will be on the watch for. Today's book of poetry agrees with Kwame Dawes when he speculates in his introduction about Danladi's future. Dawes insists Danladi's future is incandescent, Today's book of poetry couldn't agree more. No whimsy here.
Chekwube O. Danladi
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chekwube O. Danladi is a Nigerian American writer of poetry and fiction. She was born in Lagos, Nigeria and raised in Washington, D.C. and West Baltimore. Yes, she knows someone who was in The Wire. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Apogee, PANK, Callaloo, Poetry International, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, titled Take Me Back, is forthcoming with the APBF New Generation African Poets series (Akashic Books, 2017). She lives in Champaign, Illinois with a wacky mutt named Goldie.
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