To understand Africa, we must know its poetry.

01.04.2015 - 14:55

„To understand Africa, its culture, its people with their wishes and history, we must know their poems“, says Al Imfeld. Now the Swiss journalist and writer has published his life work: For his outstanding anthology „Afrika im Gedicht“ („Africa in the Poem“) he has collected during 30 years poems from all parts of Africa; and he has got to know many of 250 lyricists writer personally. His collection encloses 550 poems in the original languages English, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Swahili and Afrikaans. The German translation faces in each case. Find out more about Imfeld´s African poetry here.

Who wants to deal with African poetry completely in English, the following collections are recommended:

  • Badilishapoetry: The only lyric website which is resident in Africa; it offers poetry in written and audible version and introduces the lyricists.
  • The Poetry Foundation provides poems from various regions of Africa.

Be inspired by one poem of the Ghana lyricist Kofi Awoonor:

The First Circle

By Kofi Awoonor, 1935-2013


the flat end of sorrow here

two crows fighting over New Year’s Party
leftovers. From my cell, I see a cold
                hard world.


So this is the abscess that
        hurts the nation—
        jails, torture, blood
                and hunger.
     One day it will burst;
                it must burst.


When I heard you were taken
we speculated, those of us at large
where you would be
in what nightmare will you star?
That night I heard the moans
wondering whose child could now
be lost in the cellars of oppression.
Then you emerged, tall, and bloody-eyed.
It was the first time
                I wept.


         The long nights I dread most
         the voices from behind the bars
      the early glow of dawn before
the guard’s steps wake me up,
the desire to leap and stretch
and yawn in anticipation
of another dark home-coming day
only to find that
        I cannot.
    riding the car into town,
hemmed in between them
     their guns poking me in the ribs,
     I never had known that my people
     wore such sad faces, so sad
    they were, on New Year’s Eve,
so very sad.

Kofi Awoonor, „The First Circle“ from The Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems, 1964-2013. Copyright © 2014 by Kofi Awoonor. Source: The Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems, 1964-2013 (University of Nebraska Press, 2014)