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Sunday, October 24, 2021

A Harvest Of Gambian Lines: An Anthology of Poems

So far, there are only two Gambian poets – Dr Lenrie Peters and Dr Tijan Sallah – who have achieved planetary recognition in the field. This, however, should not tempt anyone into believing that Gambian poetry is not worth its salt; or that, there is no other Gambian poet worthy of international renown. The just published work of poetry, A Harvest of Gambian Lines: An Anthology of Poems, is a glaring proof that it will be erroneous to conclude that The Gambia literary community has dumped her poetic potentials into a bottomless pit of apathy and indifference.

Quite the contrary, there have been Gambian poetic works other than those of the legendary Peters and Sallah that have been published within and outside The  Gambia. Besides the well-known iconic publications of Peters and Sallah, a wealth of poetry from close contemporaries has also been published in the local Gambian literary magazine, Ndanaan. After the Ndanaan era, a host of other poetry publications followed from a new generation of poets that was more concerned with domestic issues in their experiment with their poetic art than with any other thing else.

In the international scene, however, the late Peters continues to enjoy monopoly status as the only Gambian poet of international acclaim up to the 1980s when Dr Tijan Sallah published When Africa Was A Young Woman, Kora Land and Dreams of Dusty Road. Although it is difficult to surpass Peters, Sallah’s poems have quickly earned him international recognition and stature. The fact of the matter is, Peters set the bar too high and thus made it difficult for latter generations of poets to make an impact outside the frontiers of The Gambia. 

This anthology, A Harvest of Gambian Lines, is another literary milestone in the emergence of a new generation of talents and voices. It introduces the artistic works of fifteen young Gambian poets (Anna Sylva, Mariama A Camara, Aminata Sanyang, Isatou Juwara, Satang Dumbuya, Jama Jack, Alieu Bah, Sheriff Jaiteh, Abdoulie Jatta, Talibeh Hydara, Marabi Hydara, Musa T Jallow, Omar Cham, Yusupha Kolley and Babucarr G Kaira. The anthology is undoubtedly rich and diverse. Though they sometimes appear amateurish, because the poets are relatively young, the reader will surely be swept by the youthful exuberance and vitality transmitted through the poems. Despite the youthful and experimental nature of the poems, the poets demonstrate such talent and poetic energy that set them out as undisputed poets with amazing potentials. Unencumbered by the limitations of orthodox poetic conventions, the poets’ approach to poetry as a means of self-expression in a most natural way spurs the individual to read on without sensing any boredom.

Coming out at a time when little is known about this generation of young poets, readers will definitely be stunned by the rich poetic quality and the depth of the messages embedded in the poems included in this anthology. The collective aspirations of the showcased poets is perhaps captured in Isatou Juwara’s poem titled I Cannot Die Now:

To cross mountains and swim the oceans 

To see the world outside my own 

To break the bounds that holds me down 

To be an inspiration for generations to come

 

The rationale behind the publication of this anthology is not only to ensure the sustainability of Gambian poetry, but also to enhance its advancement and boost its recognition internationally.

In some of the poems, the talent demonstrated by the poets holds much promise.  The poems written by Sheriff Jaiteh, Mariama A Camara, Isatou Juwara and Alieu Bah, to take just these four, are unarguably brilliant. Sheriff Jaiteh’s poem, Pobreza, 

You have made our house a crucible 

But deprived people are always compatible 

No matter how much you make our stomachs grumble 

We will never crumble 

And we shall eternally remain humble 

 

In deed this poem portrays a dignified resistance against poverty. Additionally, it is moulded in a poetic style and vibrancy that will not fail to mesmerise even the most fastidious reader. In Message to a Thief, his hilarious attitude, contrasted by and yet blended with the thief’s criminality, strikes every reader. Let us take a listen:

Dear thief………………..

You removed my anklet 

You took my amulet 

You stole my friend’s jacket 

You visited him; he didn’t see his hand set 

You raided my mother’s cabinet

You went with her blanket

You went with her bracelet 

You stole her locket 

You pilfered my brothers’ cigarette packet 

You picked my uncle’s gadget 

You even took my grandpa’s casket 

 

The reader’s mind is not only captured by the thief’s seemingly irredeemable deviousness, but also by the impressive repetition and rhyme pattern of the poem.

Isatou Juwara’s If Tomorrow Never Comes is another manifestation of promising talent:

But if tomorrow never comes 

Just you remember 

That you had a daughter 

Who despite her teenage rebellions 

Adores you 

Please mother 

Do tell my father 

And my brother 

That in spite of our differences 

They were dear to my heart.

 

These lines will almost certainly fill the reader’s mind with a lingering delight, a delight that can be likened to the fragrance of musk on silken drapes. In another poem she writes thus: 

This is no goodbye 

Soon, the cocks will crow no more 

My life shall flash before my very eyes 

And on the other side 

We shall meet again 

 

These lines reveal profundity and raise similar sentiments about the theme of transcendence into the afterlife.

Indeed, this anthology contains the works of the most exciting Gambian poets at work today. The richness in and diversity of the poems ensures that every reader will find their own favourites.

The poems in the anthology are not only diverse in form and style, but they have also been carefully selected to encompass a wide range of themes. While some deal with mundane issues, others concern themselves with the abstract realm that is more peculiar to poetry. Some of the poems are patriotic outbursts of celebration of the beautiful manifestation of nature in The Gambia. Sheriff Jaiteh’s The Gambia and 18-year-old Mariama A Camara’s The Gambia, The Smiling Coast of Africa both echo praises of the motherland.

Young Mariama Camara writes about The Gambia:

Look at the sun peeping anxiously 

In the clouds like a baby behind its mother’s back

With vultures scanning the sky 

The sky casting its usual blue face 

Farmers ploughing the earth

 

The imagery painted by these lines is an exact visualisation of The Gambia environment on a given day- vultures navigating the sky in the blue background of the sky above; farmers toiling and sweating on the fields. For such a young poet, this is really edifying.

The exploitation of Africa has been the major concern for much of African literature. As poets and other writers of African descent strive to immortalise the struggles of the continent, some of the poems in this anthology concern themselves with the theme of exploitation in Africa since The Gambia has had her own firsthand experience with imperialism and exploitation. Anna Sylva’s Now is the Time, Mariama Camara’s Africa: It’s Time We Developed and Aminata Sanyang’s Africa all dwell on similar themes about Africa. Mariama Camara writes thus:

Look at the paler brothers on your mines 

Extracting, exploiting and militating the riches 

That can heal your gashed skin to sleep.

 

These lines convey the exploitation of Africa by ‘the paler brothers’; they also echo the pain Africa has had to endure in the form of gashes on her skin. In her turn, Aminata Sanyang laments on the endless cycle of conflicts that have and continue to besiege the continent. To this end, she writes:

Africa! When shall the suffering end?

When shall the violence stop?

Poverty, hunger shroud you 

The street is the home of the children 

Nowhere to see their parents 

They know not the cause of the violence 

Always hearing bombs and gun shots all over.

 

The lamentation inherent in these lines cannot be ignored. Although it may be a distant cry, the image of war conjured up in these lines is an unfortunate but ever-present reality in other parts of the continent.

While these poems tend to dwell on Africa’s downside, there are others such as Aminata’s Proud to Be Black which celebrate the beauty and vitality of the black race.

Literature has always been a medium through which culture is documentated and transmitted. Many of the poems Culture’ and Neglecting Culture and Camara’s The Need for a Change Has Come all deal with the significance of culture in forging the identity of a people.

Indeed a close scrutiny of the anthology reveals that almost every facet of Gambian life, ranging from everyday family issues to political, economic, social, international affairs and even the metaphysical and philosophical, has not been left untouched.

In order to follow the development of emerging talented and promising generation of poets, A Harvest of Gambian Lines is a must-read. Besides acquainting the reader with these silver talents that will surely turn to gold in time, it is hoped that this anthology will provide a rare treat through the most exciting, young and exuberant poetry of our dear Gambia.

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