facebook twitter tumblr newsletter
By Aaron Bady
Anyone claiming to be an expert is selling something. I brandish my ignorance like a crucifix at vampires.
rss feed

African Poetry: Gbenga Adesina

(This is the second of eight chapbooks from this collection that Keguro Macharia and I are reading and thinking about. Read Keguro on Gbenga Adesina here.)


As with most chapbooks, there is a general singularity of purpose to Gbenga Adesina’s Painter of Water, a short book of poems which mostly focuses on the plague of war in northern Nigeria. That purpose—for which the speaker is the reference point—is the work of mourning which must be done, and for which—the speaker seems to fear—he will be inadequate: with some exceptions, nearly every poem very visibly struggles to make burning silences into songs, to find ways of making the unspeakable absences of loss and violation into something musical, something poetic. But that struggle comes to the fore in these poems, in a way that the pain and grief and loss itself does not always do. These are poems about writing poems about grief; these are not, or not so much, poems about grief.

(This is not a criticism in the sense of a complaint; this is the point from which I can begin to criticize this poetry as poetry, to think about how it works, where it bends and where it will not, what it moves and what moves it. There is, it seems to me, a clarity with which this poetry describes the work of describing that it does not have when it comes to the thing it is describing. There is, it also seems to me, a point to that.)

So: Why must the work of mourning be done? And what work does mourning do? And, finally, why does the poet fear he will not be able to do it?

Let me come at it from another angle. Some of the most powerful moments in this and other poetry are the moments when language breaks down, when it visibly cannot bridge the distance it gestures towards. Language-breaking is powerful in a way that unbroken language is not (and anyway, what language is unbroken?). But here, the places where language breaks are where it isn’t rusted closed, or where it finds flexibility and movement from where it was closed. This is the work of poetry, the gesture which finds movement.

Take the phrase “that woman,” for example: “that” is a distancing phrase, indicating far and an expression of the speaker’s inability to know: “this woman” would indicate more closeness to the speaker, but “that” expresses the distance that makes her identifiable but not described: “that woman” can neither be understood or spoken or paraphrased. “This woman” can be embraced; “that woman” can only be pointed to, gestured towards. But that gesture and “cannot” certainly can be felt, and is.

In the poem “Christmas in Chibok,” for example, the speaker references “that woman of Ramah in Shiki, north of Chibok.” In one sense, this is a reference to a figure from an earlier poem, “Three Fifths of the World’s Songs,” a poem which describes “that woman in Shiki, north of Chibok.” She is a mother crying for her children, “cradling her songs in the open air…calling forth forgotten daughters to forgotten homes.”


“Shiki, north of Chibok” places this woman in Borno state, the part of Nigeria which has suffered the most from Boko Haram. The term “Chibok girls” frames the meaning of these daughters who have been lost.

“Ramah” is not a Nigerian place-name; it places us in Jeremiah 31:15:

“A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.”

At the start of the early poem “Three Fifths of the World’s Songs,” this mother in Shiki is the sort of mother the poet has never heard before (“I have heard mothers sing but not her kind”); he has no words for her song. He has read “this woman of Ramah” but “that woman of Shiki” is something he has not read. So he struggles to bridge the distance; he struggles to read and understand:

“When she sighed, it was a book crammed with many chapters…her face, a narrative told in wrinkles.”

By “Christmas in Chibok,” “that woman of Ramah in Shiki, north of Chibok” remains distant, but she has become the poem’s reference point, the vanishing point against which sorrow is plotted. In the early poem, “that woman in Chibok” demands: “How do you say in my country they buried my daughters alive for six months?”

By the later poem, it has become clear that the speaker takes this question personally; he hears her say “you” and asks himself “how do I?” And so he writes a Nigerian poetry out of this question, out of the imperative to find an answer.

Now, it may or may not be relevant to observe that the name Adesina places the poet in the generally Christian south of Nigeria; Shiki, Chibok, and Boko Haram are northern words for northern places and things, the part of Nigeria which is generally construed according to Islam. It may be relevant because this poetry is filled with biblical references to a war that has been suffered disproportionately by Muslims. Yet it may not be relevant because there seems to be no north and south here, only Nigerian, only the “you” that is to be found in “my country”; it may not be relevant because Rachel is a figure for loss to be found in both books.

When the poem “Christmas in Chibok” was first published in Premium Times, it had a brief introduction, an introduction which seems to have been excised from the chapbook version:

“In the privacy of my merry heart and the not so private laughter of my kin, I suddenly remembered the Chibok girls and their families and…and…colour just flew out of everything for me…for us…:”

It may or may not be worth noting that sometimes those who celebrate Christmas do not mourn the deaths of Muslims. It may not be worth mentioning because this collection is not about Islamophobia, but it is worth noting that “African” is a term for what makes northern and southern Nigeria parts of the same country. In “Christmas in Chibok” we are seeing a gesture like this one; the gesture of reaching across the division that cannot be bridged, but which can be felt; Rachel will not be comforted, but she can be embraced.

When I say jingle bell
amidst the din of my pollen daughters,
beautiful as solace in mother’s arms.
Chichi and Denike, 4 and 6, lithe as the intimation of joy,
in their small red dresses, laughing like love, those Lupita eyes,
braying around the house in kindred mischief,
smiling and dancing their little dances, jumping and
pulling at my shirt: “look at me look at me.” Their tongues
rolling out joy in unformed word: Daaaady!

When I say jingle bell, my mind will become one
with punctured homes and vacant chairs in far Chibok
where silence and absence sit in place of daughters that once sang.

When I say jingle bell, my mind will become one with
that woman of Ramah in Shiki, North of Chibok. Eyes
kohled in loss no words could touch, tending her wounds,
cradling her song in the open air.

This is the work of poetry, to make “jingle bell” something other than an expression of Christian identity; it is a gesture—and only a gesture—which longs to make here and far into one.

This is the work of the “painter of water,” which in the poem that gives the collection its name, is described as: “Words, brittle as the intimation of rain, try to say things only silence can speak.”

This paradoxical work—to make brittle words say what only silence can—is the same paradox as painting water, but in that moment, it is inverted. The speaker has learned something there, as the formulaic opening of the poem announces; “I once met a painter in Borno” signals the reader that something has been learned, that the poem will contain this lesson. This is what the painter in Borno said:

said not even bombs and their mournful tidings—
The forceful gospel of fire and such rust
Could unmake water, could unmake song.

This story of the “Chibok girls” has no happy ending, after all, only different kinds of worst. The president of Nigeria promises to rescue the Chibok girls, promises to do something about all of that, but this is poetry for where there is nothing to be done. For what poets can do—with the malleability for which “water” is idiomatic—is be moved, and to move someone: to cry.

This: Tears paint with water. And this work, this try, gives the poetry its drama, the soft, malleable point where something is at stake, the place where bells are not rusted shut, but jingle. And this drama—the drama of the poet, of art—subsumes the other drama, because that other is no drama at all. There is nothing soft or malleable about war, and certainly not this war: there is no happy ending, nothing moves or is moved, and whatever worst-case-scenario there might be, the prospect of avoiding it does not fill anyone with hope.


African Poetry: Ngwatilo Mawiyoo

I’ve been thinking about how the most tedious “authenticity” debates are the ones demanding that writers be Africans, or whatever authentic thing they must be; I’ve been thinking about how such demands put the burden on the writer, because what’s really going on is an effort to tell writers what they can and can’t write; I’ve been thinking about how rarely we ask someone to read Africanishly, and how silly it sounds when we do.

The more interesting question is: how to read this book of poems, what helps, how to help?


I don’t know if it helps to read Africanishly. It helps that I met Ngwatilo, once, and we had doughnuts and coffee in a weird Vancouver doughnuts-and-coffee shop that she suggested (she made this google-map walking directions thing for me to find it; I think I had a maple syrup doughnut, because of Canada). It helps that we talked about a lot of normal things, but also she told me about traveling through Kenya, how she had intended to visit 20 different families, in 20 different parts of Kenya, over 200 days (though she “only” made it to “7 different parts of Kenya in 70 days”).

It helps to know the grand intimacy of this project’s ambition, and it helps to explain why “twice in ten days” she took a mug of milk from a mother’s hand, “for my bones,” and why she wrote a poem about that:


It helps to know how close to the bone poetry can cut, that along with all the images of rebirth and baptisms that we find in this book—with all the rich symbolic overtones and metaphors—there’s also the miracle of opening yourself to the world and being given a mug of milk, for your bones.

There’s something equally miraculous about this poetry, too, that you don’t need my help, if you have the courage to travel to where it lives, and be open to it; you can read something as small as Ngwatilo’s small book, and be left breathless and deafened by it without knowing anything about anything. The miracle of poetry is that it actually is, that a “book of poems”—words that train us to turn away, to give way (I don’t read poetry, who reads poetry, yikes, poetry voice, oh yeah, I don’t read much poetry, poetry sucks, oh I love poetry, haven’t read it in years)—turns out to be something as simple and breathtaking and real as this:

photographing daddy

I don’t know how Ngwatilo wrote that, because I’ve never written poetry; but so many words must have been carved from the pages and pages of prose that thought would have eaten up if I’d written it.

This poem works. This poem helps.

A photographs works because of all that gets carved away, everything outside the frame, in time and space. And so with this poem: it’s such a fragile, perfect, simple expression of a fragile, perfect, and simple moment. Photography makes tangible something which is too tenuous for certainty: how to be sure what a parent is thinking? Their body is not yours, even if it once was. And though you can’t be sure, you can guess that your body might survive theirs, that you might have to choose a picture for their funeral program; the uncertainty of death is what death is, and the certainty of a photograph—the sameness of that image, which will never age, nor fade, nor die—is a snapshot of a moment, carved out of time, that time sweeps away from you, like a parent: he has almost died so many times. He has always lived, until he won’t, and until those snapshots of time becomes suddenly, permanently, tragically, precious.

This small book is filled with small moments like that, small moments which need everything that would have made them big carved away; her “ngoma for mango,” a little anagrammatic play on words (not a letter to spare) and a few words about how much a fruit means to a child, and to the society of children created when a fruit is divided among a multitude, when a single flesh becomes many: “How else / would the young learn to share”?

The young learn to share other things than mangos, of course.


Her devastating “Site of Sorrow,” which I only dare to share in its entirety, carves something gentle, shared, and small out of the moment in time and space that silenced a poet, along with a sense of a nation; if we were to read Kenyanishly, I think we would know how rhythmically the Westgate bombing that silenced Storymoja still echoes. There is a violence in the way a Westgate poem is obligatory, as Keguro puts it, that a glimpse of Great Kenya from an aerial, sacred height—a bomb that corrals whole tribes in crawl spaces—became so deafening, making a poet’s voice impossible to hear.

But after silence, always, an echo. Deafened, but pounding a drum—and if I can read Swahilishly, I’ll note that an ngoma is a drum that’s also a song—there is something in Ngwatilo’s words that helps, that works, and most of all, that teaches you how to share. How else would we learn?



The Novelty of African Poetry

color leaves

Image| Jerry Riley |

Does “African poetry” exist?

It’s the worst sort of question, because the answer is too easy to be interesting: Yes. There are poets who are African—lots of them—and when Africans make poetry, that poetry is “African poetry.” There are poets who are Africans, today; there have, also, always been Africans who were poets. So, yes.

And yet, what is it that exists? This is a harder question, and one worth asking… even if an answer is impossible.

In a way, African poetry is older than “Africa” itself, and more African. “Africa” was a term first coined by Europeans, perhaps two thousand years ago, the Latin word for the norther rim of what is now Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia. Dating back to a time when Southern Europe and Northern Africa were closely linked by commerce and strife into a single Mediterranean civilization, “Africa” didn’t mean the Africa we think we know; as a term for Carthage and its environs, it had nothing to do with the rest of the continent, and the vast, vast majority of people living there would have had no idea they were “African,” no reason to think so, and would have found the idea absurd. They had their own names, and states, and understandings of the world, so many of which have been lost to us; it was only after the slave trade made black bodies into slaves—and after imperialism made these states and histories into primitive “tribes”—that pan-Africanism was born as a philosophy of resistance, to give the continent’s name a deeper meaning than mere geography: after the word had been used as a slur, negation, and de-humanizing brand, Africans took it up as a principle of solidarity and community.

But long before that, Africans were already poets. When Africa was not yet “Africa,” when it was just an enormous continent peopled by an unspeakably vast diversity of human societies and culture, the word “poetry” suffices to gesture towards the multitudinous forms of art-in-language that every culture used and uses to give form and meaning to the world. It is a universal rule, after all—one that includes Africa—that where there is language, there is poetry. And if there is one thing Africa has, and has always had in abundance, it is language. The same is true, and always has been, of poetry: to think otherwise is to be lost in the labyrinth of racism, or the conceit that if it wasn’t written down—and if we can’t find it in our bookstores—then it doesn’t exist.

Saul Bellow, in a moment of glib and racist douchiness, once asked “Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus? The Proust of the Papuans?” His point being, of course, that such people did not have such things; he found “multiculturalism” laughable because of the insistence that all cultures had Culture, and whatever it was that Tolstoy and Proust meant to him, naked savages in the jungle didn’t have it, by definition: as he went on to explain,

“I was speaking of the distinction between literate and preliterate societies. For I was once an anthropology student, you see.”

If you ask the bad version of that question—if you ask “Does African poetry exist?”—you ask it because of statements like Saul Bellow’s, because of the notion that there is a clear and obvious (and ontological) distinction between “literate and preliterate societies.” This is what being a student of anthropology meant for someone like Bellow, in the 1930’s: when he was a student of anthropology, the discipline was entirely a function of the imperial rule of Africa and Asia, producing the kind of knowledge that “literate” colonial rulers needed to justify and defend their benevolent rule over “preliterate” societies. We are literate; they are not.

Of course, calling Tolstoy’s Russia a literate society is generous, since the vast majority of Tolstoy’s fellow subjects of the Czar, were, of course, not literate. Tolstoy’s Russia was not a “literate society”; it was a brutally hierarchical non-society in which a fraction of the population could read and write and the rest festered in poverty-induced ignorance. What Bellow meant by “literate” was the class-based pretension of those for whom “literature” is a mark of distinction, distinguishing elites who read from workers who do not: It can be applied within a society—to distinguish elites from the masses—and it could be applied to the world scale, to distinguish between civilized societies and mere primitives. But it’s not about societies taken in their entirety; it’s about worlds cleaved apart by class, a bigoted worldview that works to naturalize a class-based, race-based, or gender-based antagonism.

To give the easy answer to the question of African poetry, then—to say, simply, “Yes, it exists”—is the obvious and easy first step. But it still gets caught in the logic of commonsense racism like Bellow’s, even by contradicting it: whether it exists is one thing; the other is what “it” even is. And what it might be.

Of course there is poetry by Africans, and of course Africans make poetry. But what is this thing we call “African poetry”? And where do you find it?

First of all, much of it is online: You can buy Juliane Okot Bitek’s just published collection—and you should—but you can also find a lot of that material on her blog, along with a whole lot more. The ICC Witness Project is the most vital and important work of contemporary poetry I’ve seen in a long time, and it only exists online (though if any publishers are reading this, let’s change that). And a lot of African poetry lives on youtube: Name an African poet, and then type that name into a search box; what you will find might be astounding. (Here, I’ll help you. Oh, here’s some more at random! Glad to oblige.)

You don’t, however, tend to find African poetry in “African literature.” In the places where African literature lives and circulates—where it is read and debated and taught—the thing we take to be “African literature” is almost always novels. Poetry is an afterthought, if it’s even a thought at all. “African literature” is a story that begins with Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in 1958—if we don’t push the beginning back to Camara Laye or Thomas Mofolo, or some earlier novelist—and after that, it’s all novels, all the way down. The fathers of African literature are almost always people like Achebe or Ngugi, and the future of the tradition is, likewise, in prose, writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor.

African literature is novels. And because of that, it is not poetry.

Let me give a simple example. Here, Ainehi Edoro begins by talking about African fiction, but slides into discussing African literature without ever changing the subject. She knows, of course, that she’s talking about fiction—and not about poetry, not about drama—and so she begins by framing the essay in that specific way. But critical habits assert themselves: We might start off talking about fiction and the novel, but soon it will be literature we’re discussing when we talk about novels; if we know, on some level, that novels, poetry, and drama live in different worlds from each other, and that you can’t really generalize, our grip on that fact will inevitably slip: we’ll eventually use “novel” and “literature” as synonyms.

I’ve done this myself, many, many times. So has almost everyone who talks about African Literature. Not (only) because we’re careless, but because there’s something fundamentally true in it: African Literature is novels. Novels are what we are talking about when we are talking about African literature. And for that reason, when we are talking about African literature, we are not talking about poetry.

Of course, we can and should observe that there have always, also, been poets writing poetry. In the 1960’s, Achebe was surrounded by poets like Christopher Okigbo, Kofi Awoonor, and Gabriel Okara, and his work is steeped in oral proverbs and other forms of Igbo language play. If we go back to the 50’s francophone novelists like Camara Laye, Mongo Beti, and Cheikh Hamidou Kane were writing in response to the Négritude poets of the 30’s. Poetry is always, also, there: if we go as far back as Thomas Mofolo’s Chaka—published in 1931, but written two decades earlier—we will find ourselves talking about a “novel” adaptation of… oral memory and epic poetic form. A lot of the great novelists, too, are also poets; somehow, poetry is always, also, there. Poetry is also, always, also.

It’s easy to see the problem once you look for it, but it’s not a problem you can correct by adding a few poets to the usual lists. The underlying structure is based on fiction; the narratives and timelines and canons by which “African Literature” becomes knowable as a thing are based on prose. Adding poetry doesn’t change that.

The problem is this: poetry is a long, long story, the story of a continent before it even became one, and also, many stories, the many, many, many stories of many, many peoples, long before they became one. But “African literature” is novels because it’s a story about national independence, a comparatively short story, one that barely spans the 20th century, if that; like most African nations, “African literature” is a single, genealogical story about a handful of fathers (always fathers) and their descendants. Three or four generations, at most; the “first” generation of African novelists—if we date it back to Achebe and company—has only relatively recently begun to pass away.

This short story of African literature is relatively tidy. If we push hard, we can get as far back as J. E. Casely Hayford’s 1911 Ethiopia Unbound, even though calling that strange book a “novel” might be a stretch. But we won’t get much farther than that. If we can debate what the first African novel is, and if we can find predecessors that start the clock earlier than the 1960’s (Is Amadou Mapaté Diagne’s 1920 Les Trois Volontes de Malik really a “novel”? Is René Maran’s 1921 Batouala really “African”? and so forth), we cannot push the history of the novel back even as far as the Victorians who colonized the continent. And so, in the grand scheme of things, African literature is a novel short story, much shorter than European colonization of Africa, and much more tidy.

This tidiness is one reason why critics and readers keep telling it, the only story short enough, coherent enough, and Eurocentric enough for us to be comfortable with. The longer stories take us into impossibly complicated places, and the word “Africa” stops meaning very much. After all, is Ge’ez writing, in Ethiopia—whose manuscripts date back to the third century of the common era—an “African literature”? Perhaps it is. But with rare exceptions, scholars and critics tend not to see it that way; for all practical purposes, what people mean when they say “African literature” is the literature of the 20th century, the literature of national independence.

Each African nation has the story of its literature, a story that is simultaneous with the nation-state itself: Nigeria’s literary story that begins with Chinua Achebe (or someone like him) and extends forward to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (or someone like her). In Kenya, Ngugi wa Thiong’o (or Grace Ogot): now there is Binyavanga Wainaina, or Yvonne Owuor, or Okwiri Oduor. In Angola, Pepetela: now there is José Eduardo Agualusa, or Ondjaki. The Congolese novel could take us from Sony Lab’ou Tansi to Fiston Mwanza Mujila; Sudan, from Tayeb Salih to Leila Aboulela. And so on.

Collectively, these national stories are the story of the postcolonial continent. They are, collectively, the story of pan-African collectivity, in and through the nation-state.

When we talk about poetry, however, things get strange. We don’t have these handy stories: every poet seems sine qua non, ex nihilo, or some other Latin phrase meaning “off on their own.” Where do you put Kofi Awoonor in the story of African literature? Or Léopold Sédar Senghor? Or Dennis Brutus? Or Christopher Okigbo? Or Shabaan Robert? Or Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye? If critics tend to treat novelists as exemplary or representative—and build stories about literary nationalism and development out of them—poets are always sort of eccentric, individual and fragmented. They tend to be also’s: did you know that there were also a bunch of poets around when so-and-so was writing a novel? Did you know that Chris Abani or Kojo Laing or Ama Ata Aidoo also writes poetry?

You probably didn’t, or if you didn’t, you wouldn’t have a place to put that knowledge. If African literature is a thing, a simultaneity of novels linked to nation-states, it is also not something else, or anything else: it is not, for example, the multitude of poetries that preceded it, and surround it.

Once you start looking for poetry, however, you find it everywhere. The poetry that’s been written in Swahili since the 16th-century, for example—when the Arabic script was used—is only the written version of an oral tradition that goes much farther back; when we read modern Swahili poetry, the echo of millennia rings through it like a bell. But the critics who fence in “African literature” invariably focus on European languages, along with European styles like the novel; even discussions of “the African novel” almost never include Shaaban Robert’s 1951 Swahili novel, Kusadikika. Partly, that’s because Kusadikika has never been translated into English (and Eurocentric critics rarely read Swahili). But I think the reason is that Shaaban Robert is, fundamentally, a poet. His 1951 novel would only be novel if we called it a novel: Kusadikika is early compared to Achebe or Tutuola, but if we think of him as a poet, if we place him in the grand thousand-year tradition of Swahili poetry, then he’s nowhere near the beginning. As a poet, he was a latecomer to a story in media res.

But even the story of Swahili poetry—as vast and as old as it is—is literally just one of many, many literary traditions, each pulling us back into a different horizon of antiquity.

If we follow that pull, in any language, we will find poetry. Pick a language, pick one of the thousands of languages that Africans speak, today, and follow its thread back: poetry is there, whether or not you can find it.

That’s a story that intimidates critics like me. There’s no room in Africa’s literary history, as we know it, for a thousand years of Swahili poetry. There’s especially no room for thousands of these thousand-year traditions, something which, if we think about it for even a minute, even we critics will know to exist. So we look at “African Literature” and we see the novel, and we look at a novel like Roland Rugero’s Baho!, and we see “the first novel from Burundi translated into English.” We don’t see the lines of poetry in Kirundi that begin each chapter, because we’re looking for firsts, not latests. We look at poetry, poetry, poetry, and also a few novels, and we see: the African novel.

African poetry exists: but it tends to get lost when we tell this very short story about the thing we call African literature, the short pan-African story about beginnings, about emerging forms and authors and traditions, about the future and the beautyful ones that have not but soon will be born. Since the 60’s, African literature has been a story about emergence, about what would be after colonialism. It was a story about fathers and heroes and the Great Authors who forged the soul of their nation with The Word; it’s a story that got all caught up with nationalism and with the creation of imagined communities, new ones, that could break with both the colonial and pre-colonial pasts. But poetry doesn’t lend itself to those kinds of stories. Poetry isn’t a thing. Poetry is eternal. Poetry was always, already there, and always, already everywhere else. Where there is language, there is poetry. Poetry crossed the borders that new postcolonial states were fast building; poetry is the sound when a child hears a story and likes the taste of the words on her mouth.


Today, African poetry is being found: in the last few years–even before Beyoncé discovered Warsan Shire–African poetry has begun to become a thing. In the last three or four years, there has been an explosion of “African Poetry” institutions–both imprints and prizes–mostly sharing DNA with The African Poetry Book Fund. This fact has changed what it means to say “African Poetry.”

Along with Keguro Macharia, I’m going to spend some time thinking about this fact: in three years, they have published a remarkable (and somewhat overwhelming) library of chapbooks by twenty-three young African poets, and they’ve already produced full-length collections by some the greatest poets from the continent, young and old: how would you talk about the development of African poetry without placing people like Kofi Awoonor and Gabriel Okara at the center of the story? And how could we imagine its future if we didn’t look to young poets like Clifton Gachagua, Ladan Osman, Mahtem Shiferraw, Mukoma wa Ngugi, and Patricia Jabbeh Wesley?

That’s one question to ask. And thanks to the African Poetry Book Fund, we don’t have to ask it. As this archive grows, “African Poetry” is coming to mean something that it didn’t before; it is coming to be a thing that, before 2013, it wasn’t. It is becoming an answerable question. One can only celebrate this prospect. One can only be glad these works are published, circulated, and read. One can only be glad they exist. And while part of me wonders what happens as African poetry becomes a thing, and a thing, at that, that must pass through universities in the UK and the US before it can exist, most of me is simply glad that we have the luxury of asking that question. And of not asking the other one.