The New African Poetry: An Anthology acknowledges the artistic, political, and secular voice of various African intellects and poets. Published in 1999, this poetic anthology is the first of its kind “[attempting] to bring together the African voices that started to make an impact on the world poetry scene in the mid-1970’s” (1). Poets from every corner of the continent are represented, telling their stories of familial ties, post-colonialism, feminism, and other worldly issues. The most evident recurring theme within the anthology is the contradictory nature of tradition versus modernism. The ties of tradition bind the soul of these writers when confronting the modern world.
Odia Ofeimun’s “Prologue” emphasizes the long standing traditions of the Nigerian people while focusing on the nature of the modern world’s infiltrating essence. Ofeimun’s image of the village “fireside” provides the context of communal living, literally and figuratively providing warmth (191). It is upon the narrator’s return to the “fireside” of his home in which he feels he must share his knowledge of the world outside the homestead, wanting to “nudge and awaken them that sleep” (191). It is unclear whether the narrator’s message is positive or negative to those who “sleep” or are uninformed. However, what is clear is the implication of the challenge to remain traditional (true to his people) in the wake of modernism (with newfound information to recount).
Another poet which reflects this tradition/modern inconsistency is Guinea’s Ahmed Tidjani-Cisse. “Home News” reflects the family ties and familial duties of the narrator while away from the abode. The narrator is asked repeatedly to contribute and provide for the family, “send me some trousers and new shoes,” “send me a tape recorder,” “send me a shirt and a necktie” ( 165). The family’s requests however do not reflect basic needs but the perceived materialism of the “white man’s land.” In the various letters received by the narrator, the family’s contradictions emphasize the dichotomy of traditionalism and modernism. The speaker clearly is working in the political realm, forging the ways of modernism while his overwhelming sense of familial obligation emerges in every received letter, “I pray for you day and night,” “such a long absence, ” [your father has died} we all hope you can attend/ the forty-days’ wake,” “your mother was arrested/ last week in reprisal/ for your political work.” Tidjani-Cisse’s poem “Home News” depicts the opposing forces of the traditional ways of life and the socio-political components of the modern world.
Abena Bresia’s poem “Exile” illustrates similar issues in that the speaker is attempting to keep tradition alive in the modern context. Living in the western world has deteriorated the traditions of the poet’s people, ” Away from home we can not lay/ our dead to rest” (154). “No fitting burial…[or] rites” of the native people can be performed authentically in a foreign terrain. The living and the dead will continue unrest “brooding over distances in western lands…till [they] return” to their motherland of African.
Opportunity in the modern world and obligations of the traditional world as well as numerous socio-political issues are explored in great detail by the poets of The New African Poetry. Traditionalism and modernism are not the only themes explored within the collection. The editors made a particular effort to “cover all of geographical, political, and cultural African” (7). The editors, Tanure Ojaide and Tijan M. Sallah, have successfully compiled the “most representative of the younger African poets- men and women from all regions- to showcase continuity, diversity, and vibrancy of recent African poetry ” (7). Although the themes and ideologies vary throughout, the anthology is a reverent voice echoing the intellectual and emotional pulse of a continent
Ojaide, Tanure. The New African Poetry: An Anthology. Lynne Rienner: CO. 1999.