Poet of the day: Chris Abani

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Tue, 07/11/2006 - 22:57.

Ode to Joy

John James,14
Refused to serve his conscience up
to indict an innocent man
handcuffed to chair; they tacked his penis
to the table
with a six inch nail
and left him there

to drip
to death
3 days later

Risking death; an act insignificant
in the face of this child’s courage
we sang:

Oje wai wai,
Moje oje wai, wai.

they went
on a
killing rampage


even canisters of tear-gas,
fired close up or
directly into mouths, will
take the back
your head off
and many men
died singing,
that night.

Notes caught,
as blows bloodied mouths
clotting into silence.


Jacobs Ladder

Release, alive, from Kiri Kiri
          is rare.

They hand you what is left of
          your personal belongings

in a polythene bag. Everything
          they did not want.

You step out and stand in the
          sun thawing like a side of beef

from a freezer. Yet you are afraid
          to proceed more than a few

steps from the gate. Convinced you
          will be shot in the back.

Or that people will recoil from you
          knowing you carry the stench

of death on your now paler skin.
          But nothing happens.

A gentle breeze ruffles your shirt and
          a dog menaces a parked car.

The smell of frying plantain,
          carried gently hurts inexplicably.

Cold, sweet Coca-Cola stings you
          to tears.



Chris Abani

Poems above copied from Nine Exiled Writers, at new zealand electronic poetry centre

Photo from website of Chris Abani: http://www.chrisabani.com

Bio below from Center for Creative Arts: Poetry Africa; 6th Poetry Africa Festival 29   April -  5 May  2002

In 1985, at the age of eighteen, Chris Abani was imprisoned after the previously supportive Nigerian government labeled his first novel a threat to national security. Upon his release, Abanai became active in a guerrilla theatre group that dared to perform plays in front of government building. This activity landed him in Kiri Kiri, a maximum-security prison. On his release, a year later, he returned to the university where he continued to write and study literature. In 1990 the production of his third play, Song of a Broken Flute, led to his arrest and conviction for treason. He was held on death row in an infamous cell for political prisoners called Kalakuta, in response to which Abank wrote his collection of poetry entitled Kalakuta Republic. Abani now makes his home in Los Angeles where he is currently a Middleton Fellow at USC and teaches in the graduate writing program at Antioch University in Los Angeles. He has become an active and important member of PEN Center US West, and is a founding member of the Writer's Café. Chris Abani has received several awards including the 1983 Delta Fiction Award, the 2001 PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award and the 2001 Prince Clause Award. On the occasion of the launch of Chris Abani's book Kalakuta Republic, Harold Pinter said "Chris Abani's poems seem to me to be totally naked. In no way are they pitying, never for a moment self-indulgent. They're economic, spare, concrete and precise, and truly alarming. They also express a profound and very tough compassion for all the people he saw die, all the people he saw mutilated around him. The other point here is that although the poems are precise and specific, they definitely refer to a universal state of affairs which is, of course, man's inhumanity to man. These are not simply documentary facts, they are coherent and harmonious pieces of work, I admire this very much."