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The Brunel University Prize for African Poetry

Updated on March 16, 2017

The brunel University prize for African poetry seeks out the best poems from poets across Africa each poet submits 10 poems, the shortlist was released on the 16th of march 2017, and the winner(s) will be announced on the 2nd of may 2017

Sahro Ali

Her Nationality and Poem

Sahro is from Somalia

Daughters

In Morocco two girls are jailed for homosexuality.
My mother pulls apart my legs in fear with her
Filching fingers.
Where is my daughter? Is she here?
Mouth shut with hot wax, burbling and yellow
A bee’s nest has found itself in her throat & she tries
To cough it into me.
You are my daughter are you not?
Her friend tells her the best way to keep me safe is
To sew me shut, ‘a bird cannot fly if you clip its wings.’
My mother’s fingers shake around the needle and thread
She’s a quiet, polite madness, her cheeks fat with salve
I’m just trying to find my daughter I’m sorry
There’s something crawling down my stomach but it can’t
Find its way out, I stick my hand up my pussy one last time.
I birth a black dog, and let my mother lick the meat off its bones
A bee pops out onto the surgery table and I try to speak through
The honey in my mouth.
I put my hand on top of her shaking ones, teeth at the thread
Its fine you’ve found her

Leila Chatti

Her Nationality and Poem

Leila Chatti is from Tunisia

fasting in tunis

Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances.
Robert Hass

My God taught me hunger
is a gift, it sweetens
the meal. All day, I have gone without
because I know at the end I will
eat and be satisfied. In this way,
my desire is bearable.

I endure this day
as I have endured years of days
without the whole of your affection.
Your desire is one capable of rest.
Mine keeps its eyes open, stalks
through heat that quivers,
waits to be fed.

The sun burns a hole through
the sky and I am patient.
The ocean eats and eats
at the sand and still hungers.
I watch its wide blue tongue, knowing
you are on the other side.

What is greater: the distance between
these bodies, or their need?

Noon gapes, a vacant maw—
there is long to go
until the moon is served, white as a plate.
You are far and still sleeping;
the morning has not yet slunk into your bed,
its dreams so vast and solitary.

Once, long ago,
I touched you,
and I will touch you again—
your mouth a song
I remember, your mouth
a sugar I drink.

Kayo Chingonyi

His Nationality and Poem

Kayo is from Gambia

The Colour of James Browns’s Scream
for Stephen McCarthy and Todd Bracey

I have known you by many names
but today, you are Larry Levan,
your hand on the platter, in the smoky
room of a Garage regular’s memory.
You are keeping When Dove’s Cry
in time, as you swing your hips,
and sweat drips from your hair
the colour of James Brown’s scream.
King of King Street, we are still moving
to the same sound, though some
of us don’t know it is your grave
we dance on, cutting shapes
machismo lost to the beat–
every road man is a sweetboy
if the DJ plays Heartbroken
at just the right time for these jaded feet.
Teach us to shape-shift, Legba,
you must know I’d know your customary
shuffle, that phantom limp, anywhere;
that I see your hand in the abandon
of a couple, middle of the floor,
sliding quick and slick as a skin-fade
by the hand of a Puerto Rican clipper-man
who wields a cutthroat like a paintbrush.
Let us become like them, an ode
to night, ordering beer in a corporeal
language from a barman who replies
by sweeping his arms in an arc,
Willi Ninja style, to fix a drink our lips
will yearn for, a taste we’ve been
trying to recreate ever since.

Saddiq Dzukogi

His Nationality and Poem

Saddiq is from Nigeria

father’s demise

the opaque face of things
like stone & water

& my extended family fighting
while the village expects us to soak

in a seawater of mourning
father’s demise is a dispersing light

I kept grumbling at the moment
of his passing my siblings each

are trying to hide their happiness
my shadow is only good at imitating

my posture only grandmother owned
a genuine grief the moon hanging

by the window is unable to wash off her sadness
night won’t penetrate her eyes

my father’s brother looks like he is hiding
his schemes intimate like a lonely wife & her pillow

he has always held what is father’s
in the same way a best man

looks at the bride he is secretly in love with
my mother once told her friend

he had come to her tiptoeing
wanting to wear my father’s shoes

but later found my mother’s body
a room too big for his foot

my mother didn’t know I broke the meaning
of her metaphor like she breaks kola

for those who have now come to mourn
sad stories are stretching the size

of our sitting room into a market
I locked myself in a dirty toilet

the stench there less
than a family’s hypocricy

Yalie Kamara

Her Nationality and Poem

Kalie is from Sierra Leone

Mother’s Rules

For my mother

I. If you see me praying in the living room, never sit in front of me. You are not God.

II. When we go to a restaurant and I don’t know any foods on the menu, never order me a meal that is spelled with silent letters. I came to eat, not to explore

III. You didn’t make food. No. God, did. You cooked food. Watch your English. Watch your faith.

IV. Your Krio is offensive. When you speak, you sound like Shabba Ranks. Your accent is funny, but keep practicing. It is the only way we will be able to gossip in peace while at the supermarket.

V. Try to learn the language of your lover and his family. They could be smiling to your face and getting ready to trade you for 6 goats and 3 mules during your first trip to their homeland.

VI. If anyone stares at you for too long (more than 5 seconds), start speaking an imaginary language while maintaining eye contact. They will be the first to look away.

VII.  Consider the consequence of purchasing human hair wigs, second hand clothing, and used furniture. Maybe you will feel beautiful, and also save money, but you never know whose bad luck or misfortune will be sitting on your head, body, or in the home in which you sleep. Buy what you can truly afford.

VIII. Your father’s Muslim, so you are too (1989-1993).
I am Christian, so you are too (1993-2012).
I am Catholic now, but you keep praying (2012-present).

IX. You laugh at me now. Like I laughed at my mother. Like she laughed at hers. Like your daughters will laugh at you. And I will live long enough to forgive your folly.

X. Just make sure to pray.

Amen.

Kechi Nomu

Her Nationality and Poem

Kechi is from Nigeria

Note to the Boy Kicking the Stone

The boy’s body
bends
to pick the stone

And you see how
his body too is a road
with curves,
too many

curves

Once or twice,
you
see
the bones
of his
vertebrae
become
hills

Here, a story begins
rises, falls
and ends
in
ghosts.

Richard Oduor Oduku

His Nationality and Poem

Richard is from Kenya

The Old White Man and the Bungalow on 5th Avenue

He walks the pavements
in boxer shorts
too brief for a stuffed groin
and spindly legs
that drop flakes of dry skin
with each laboured step

he never leaves his fez behind
his browline glasses
nor his book, the Tibetan Book of the Dead
but you can tell he is most happy
on Saturdays when he stops
to speak to streets boys
and give them sweets and bread

we are seated on the terrace, nursing whisky
and Shangri-Las’ Out in the Streets –
a mix of teen-beat puppy love and nostalgia
sitar drones and psychedelics:
a world of Beatles and porous borders

then he leans forward and tells me a story

“we started from the Atlantic shores
on a forlorn stretch of brick-red outposts
and centuries-old souks
singing on the backs of camels
battling winds and scorpions
and the silence of the Sahara

in the kingdom of sand
the only god is an oasis
and when the pink skies poured over us
we cuddled in desert camps
and emptied our tote bags of want
into each other – under pickled stars

everything was fine, everything!
until that summer of 1984 in Morocco
when I was stirred from the milkshake
of sleep by the hiss of a horned viper
slithering away from a cold body:

the guile of the desert took her away
I left her bones to desiccate in the sands
and escaped the haunt of shared memories
to Kenya – a country I barely knew
to start a new life of abridged joy
in this bungalow on 5th Avenue.”

Romeo Oriogun

His Nationality and Poem

Romeo is from Nigeria

Invisible Man

And the voice was a lost bird embedded in a boy
like a word stranded between pages.

He said flee from the heat wrecking your body
and you ran to a place where water
running over pebbles is a whisper of wildness,
where lost boys are birds hiding their heads
under wings as they touch their wetness
in the dark and whisper hallelujah.

The radio said, a father shot his son for loving another man.
Marvin Gaye lives in the heart of a black drag queen
and to be a song of pebbles and water is to run into a city of light
and surrender your throat to the song of a bird.

On the streets of Lagos, a boy searches for himself in mirrors,
he opens his heart and hears the voice of his father
breaking his bones into a prince
collecting burnt teeth lying as warning on holy grounds.

This is how we kill love;
hunting it in the dark when it is soft
like a newborn chick,
breaking its bones till it becomes
a boy filled with dead men.

Rainfall teaches the ground how to breed:
a boy learns about the wetness of his thighs on a cold night.
Poster of boys diving into water holds him in a trance.
A horse hears the coming of speed rising in his blood;
a horse responds to the call of wild hills as water tickles the sky.

Wet dreams:
a boy hears the whisper of another boy deep in his bones
and wonders about the origin of stars,
his body is a lamp learning how to give light
in a place where a boy opens his mouth
from the door of a tomb;
where a boy takes his first breath
and resurrects into life;
where a boy learns how to make honey
out of a skin.

This is how to live:
a resurrected boy hides in dark bars and stare at muscles of hard men.
He is called Joe, he is called John, he is called The Wind
and that is how to be unseen.

And this is real:
a man hides his voice in a throat
before bursting out into songs.

Verbs are boys learning how to kiss,
like you turning your body into a blue sea;
turning your lips into pictures of love.
Like you opening your body into a little island;
opening your skin into a beautiful world.

Verbs are boys learning how to love
in a place where death lives in water.

One step at a time. A boy learns how to dance,
his voice is a stream learning the music of the ocean.
He opens his mouth and paints blue skies with the magic of flying.
He opens his hands and flowers plait the air with music.

One step at a time. A man kisses another man
and hears bullets hitting his windows.
A man kisses another man and hears a mob running on his skin.
A man lies on the edge of bliss and hears the rape of boots on doors,
still we rise with the sun and plant seeds of love in dark places;
still we love and hide and wait for rapture inside a boy’s body
as a voice flirts with the birds in his throat,
while a man burns on a street in Lagos for singing too loud

Rasaq Malik

His Nationality and Poem

Rasaq is from Nigeria

After My Grandma’s Burial

We sit on the benches at the
facade of our house, my mother
in a dark gown, my father attending
to visitors, the children staring at the
grave of my grandma, their thoughts
too frail to decipher the meaning
of burying a beloved. At night we
remember those who are not lucky
enough to have a decent burial,
those who lie in unknown places,
those who find solace in caressing
the photographs of their lost relatives,
those who are murdered in the cold
of war, those who wake up to see
bullet holes on their doors,
those who learn how to pray as
they wilt in the fire of bombs,
those who pass through the dark
as they carry the burden of war.
At night we listen to the voices
of our beloveds in the walls
of empty rooms, in the leaves
that sway as wind blows, in the
silence that thickens as we
remember how death happens,
how we become dust, scraps in
the kitchen, fossils for earth to
devour, bones that never rise
no matter the force of rain.

Nick Makoha

His Nationality and Poem

Nick is from Uganda

Candidate A

For the record, he loves his own reflection,
this farmer’s son from the delta. A splendid type.

Bone from the neck up, trained in wickedness,
born to lead, useful against the Mau Mau.

Unprovoked, he once cracked a cow’s skull
with flat palms as the beast stared at him.

Did the same to three cattle herders at Lake Turkana.
Reached into their necks to eat their intestines (allegedly).

He should have been court-martialled,
especially after the assassination attempt.

Such men rise in the ranks and can only be removed
by death or revolt. I suggest we seduce him with wives.

Surround him with ceremony, regulation and rules
even though secretly he feels they do not apply to him.

Feed him with titles: His Excellency, Field Marshall,
Effendi etcetera. His cravings have no limit.

We can use distrust of competition to our advantage.
He will demand acclaim in an unbridled urge to destroy.

Easily compensated, he does not accumulate goods
or possessions for the future, opting for immediate gratification.

While he buys friends, kills citizens without fear of god or religion,
in his effort to be remembered, we will make our mark.

Previous winners of the prize

NAME
NATIONALITY
YEAR
Warsan Shire
Somalia
2013
Liyou Libsekal
Ethiopia
2014
Safia Elhillo & Nick Makoha
Sudan & Uganda
2015
Gbenga Adesina & Chekwube O. Danladi
Both Nigerians
2016

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