Former Portuguese Colonies
I found scraps of time over the last two weeks to read multi-national literature emanating from Portugal and the former Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea and Ghana. I read largely in three anthologies that have carried me through a good part of this past year: The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris; The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry, edited by Gerald Moore and Ullii Beier; and God’s and Soldiers: The Penguin Anthology of Contemporary African Writing, edited by Rob Spillman.
Fernando Pessoa once said “I’m a mystic, but only of the body.” Reflecting the very old idea that spirit and body are one, Pessoa’s Portuguese poetry is a nice complement to the 20th century the African poems I have read.
In a typical Portuguese African poem, Augustinho Neto [above], first President of Independent Angola, writes
I was glad to sit down
on a bench in Kinaxixi
at six-o’clock of a hot evening
and just sit there . . .
and then details a mysticism of everyday life that is “simple, too simple.” In another poem he evokes “the perpetual alliance of everything that lives in The Grieved Lands of Africa.”
In another poem from Portuguese Africa, Guinean poet Ahmed Tidjani-Cissé [above] writes “Of Colours and Shadows”:
The adornments of nature
scorn the audacities of imitation . . .
Ash grey, dirty grey, iron get, pearl grey
The metamorphosing power of a colour
. . . shatters the yokes of comparison.
Sulfur yellow, saffron yellow, golden yellow
Fever can be yellow
Yellow is a self-respecting colour
The yellow of an egg as the beginning
But the respect for a colour is only apparent
when the yellow peril is in question.
Color by color, the poet describes the richness of life for which we have not-enough-words and so not-enough-experience.
Similarly, in “Seeds of Time,” Ghanaian poet Ayi Kwei Armah [above] counters an unnamed interlocutor who dismisses the story of Ra, Egyptian God of the Sun, as “unreal mystical stuff” with an embodied mysticism that sees in this story
…psychic feet and hands projected
thought he universe
to help us move
from what happened to us
to what we need to be[.] Say
no my love
Ra’s no self-created God
Ra is our self-creation
Ra is us
I also read some short fiction this week, including a stunning essay on language by Mia Couto of Mozambique called “Languages We Don’t Know We Know.” Expect to find a reflection on this piece in the future – or its appearance in a sermon. My anthology included two further pieces by Ondjaki and Agualusa, both of Angola.
I continue to be blessed by this global and entirely unsystematic literary journey around the world.