‘magical leaves’

Cassava Republic presents ‘Wild Imperfections: An Anthology of Womanist Poems’

By Natalia Molebatsi, The Africa Report

Posted on July 7, 2023 07:37

This week, editor Natalia Molebatsi introduces a stunning collection of Black women’s poetry brought out by the Nigerian-based publisher.

Twice a month, we bring you an excerpt from a book to be published by the Nigeria-based Cassava Republic, a renowned publisher on the continent, leading the way in African literature and non-fiction. The two poems selected here are a glimpse into the creative expressions of Pan-African feminist poets, highlighting the strength not only to survive but to thrive in a world that is anti-Black and sexist.

Wild Imperfections: An Anthology of Womanist Poems is a gathering, in book form, of 40 poets from across the Black world – from Botswana to Brazil, Nigeria to the Dominican Republic, from South Africa to the UK, the US to Canada and Tobago, among others. This collection is a reminder that we are everywhere, laying bare our stubborn joy, beauty, truth and relentless demand for justice.

The poems are focused on the experiences of Black people – in a Pan-Africanist fashion and feminist tradition – at the intersection of past, present and future, because, after all, “tomorrow is now” as stated by poet NourbeSe Philip, who is featured in the anthology.

Wild Imperfections affirms that the past is never past, nor the future ever too far ahead, but they continue to unfold in the now. Some of the names gathered in Wild Imperfections include Nikki Giovanni, Diana Ferrus, Warsan Shire, Safia Elhillo, Staceyann Chin, Lebogang Mashile, Malika Booker and Kadija George. The poems are created with care as a way to interrupt the relentless harshness of our world.

In the poem, Women of Xolobeni, Makhosazana Xaba pays tribute to a group of women activists confronting an Australian mining company over their intentions to pillage the lands for minerals. Xaba’s poem exposes the recurring nightmare of neocolonialism.

Jumoke Verissimo’s We all live here is an ode to Black life and presence. The poem traces African sensibilities against the confines of anti-blackness. This poem is an invocation of Black dreams, hopes and resilience.

Excerpt from ‘Women of Xolobeni’ by Makhosazana Xaba (South Africa)

We now know that when men fight, women die.
This war of land and mineral resources is on, again, on our soil.
This land of Xolobeni, pregnant with mining-worthy sand.
Pregnant with titanium, ilmenite, zircon, rutile and leucoxene.
This is why these Australian capitalists have declared a war.
We now know that when capitalists are on a looting mission
And communities say no, women lead in action while men lead
in headlines and front pages. Investigative and narrative journalists
tell us about
them protesting, stabbing, beating and murdering one another,
them at meetings, talking, signing, taking one another to court.

Women of Xolobeni, we know enough now to know
That you are there, giving this our soil war your all.
We know your names now because men who tell stories could no
longer ignore you.
We speak your names: Duduzile Baleni. Nonhle Mbuthuma.
MaSobhuza Sigcau.
We shout your names: Duduzile Baleni! Nonhle Mbuthuma!
MaSobhuza Sigcau!

Women of Xolobeni, we know enough to know
That you are there in your numbers, telling the Australians
What you know about what mines do to the lives of children
While the reporters never mention your names and call you
‘Wife to …’
In cahoots with the Wild Coast, they blow your presences away.

These land wars, these original wars of scavenging have spilled
the blood of women for centuries. This unnamed blood,
flowing only for some.

This unremembered blood. This unmourned blood.
This unmournable blood.
While foreign capitalists and your brothers, fathers and sons

fight for memorialisation in monuments, tombstones, songs
and books
we write your names in poems. Duduzile Baleni.
Nonhle Mbuthuma. MaSobhuza Sigcau.
We call on you to write the names of your sisters, those with
whom you fight on those sands
of Xolobeni. May the sea waves catch your struggle songs,
sing them in soprano to the world
as you tell us the names of your sister comrades.
The naming war has now been declared.

Excerpt from ‘we all live here’ by Jumoke Verissimo (Nigeria)

she tells me: your features say you are from Africa
ignoring that the world is shrined in this head
where invented futures are legion, and loss hides itself
at meetings where every smile is a story of ongoing
fears, and each day has no name for fresh failures.

the head is the shrine where one deepens supplications for home
although it gives no comfort to the woman with lizard earrings
one of those that learned not to sacrifice her choices at the foot
of liberty and equality. home is also fashioned body
a non-verbal response to the question: does your country have a flag?

the world is shrined in this head, a continent of wilful survivors
live in it, syncopated souls with varying skins like the African pitta.
these skin colours perform a convulsion of differences which shows
that Woman I, Woman II and Sistren III while from the same place
are nothing alike, just a body excluding the head and neck and limbs.

the world is a shrine in the head. it imagines landscape where a young
dream is a mustard seed that grows by chanting #blacklivesmatter
under the distrust of eyes that weigh how heavy the blackness
rests on his skin because the rules of pain are different for each land

for some places teach you to run some tell you to stay and rot
it is at this time that the head evokes itself to be a libertine
the one with a will strong enough to grow a leaf in the mouth
while carrying birds with magical leaves on their heads.

the head is the shrine where we deepen supplications for home
the taxi guy knows everywhere, well-travelled, came with hope
to god’s own country, and this taxi job is just a start to big things
15 years counting and the dreams won’t add up, what is left is
little frustrations that are offered as philosophical tips during taxi rides:
don’t forget, there are no small beginnings, but big leaps and then stasis.

Lagunju knows the head carries the fate of unmixed colours
migrant dreamers floating through america, all gauguinesque profiles
the displaced griot, now a new york porter, who turns
every ‘how are you’ into a storytelling session with those
in a rush to head anywhere that is not the Africa they see on tv.
it shows a portrait of a feminist brutally committed to turning outward
when adonis is no longer a subject of admiration but torture.
there is the profile of abosede, who is steeped in her name.
once, her friend said someone told her there is no reason
to be afraid of the dark when you are constantly living in fear.

the ancients say the head directs the course the leg takes
my legs have brought me here and it is home now
so, when i hear the question: you are from where again?
some days i fail to respond, and i move on to be other things
on the days when i find a way to step aside and reply:
i was born here – i am from here – i am from here
the conversation will always take a curve and return
with: tell me, tell me, where are you originally from?

Wild Imperfections: An Anthology of Womanist Poems is published by Cassava Republic Press. You can order here.    

Natalia Molebatsi is a highly sort-after Pan-African feminist poet, writer, and performer. She is the author of two poetry collections: Sardo Dance and Elephant Woman Song and the editor of We are: A Poetry Anthology and Wild Imperfections: An Anthology of Womanist Poems. Her experimental CD projects, Natalia Molebatsi and the Soul Making and Come as You Are: Poems For Four Strings are available on iTunes. Molebatsi has performed in over 15 countries on five continents and has been published in several academic journals. She is a PhD candidate in performance studies at Northwestern University.

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