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Former Portuguese Colonies

January 14, 2016
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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.pessoa

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.

agostinho_neto620_2

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.”

cissé

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.

Kwei

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

embracing space

traversing time.

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.

 

 

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