Plans are that before April 4, I will have read and commented upon all ten of the chapbooks within the forthcoming (Akashic Books) box set: New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (NNE). I've spent a lot of time with multiple readings of many of them so far and am really enjoying them (to the point that I plan to go backwards and read the three earlier annual box sets). The set was selected and edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani and there's an eleventh chapbook included which includes an essay from each about the series and their selection process. One of the specifics is that nobody that they include has published a collection prior to their inclusion. The second such chapbook I'll be reviewing here is sugah. lump. prayer by Momtaza Mehri. It is 30 pages long with 18 poems included and a preface written by Tijan M. Sallah. The cover is by the artist, Ficre Ghebreyesus who was born in Asmara, Eritrea--he passed away in April 2012. His work adorns all eleven chapbooks in this box and they are gorgeous.
The first poem in the collection is "Call it something other than strength," however, it falls into a small section of poems under the header Fajr. One of the things I've enjoyed digging into these chapbooks has been learning new things. I've gone to Google or Dictionary.com frequently and this time it was to find out that Fajr refers to the morning prayers of Muslims. There are four other sections in the book and they move through the Muslim prayer day with Dhuhr (afternoon), Asr (late afternoon), Maghrigh (evening) and Isha (night). I'm not exactly sure how that fits into the collection; there does not appear to be anything overly religious in the individual poems within.
Lines from within this poem that caught my attention:
In the beginning there was life, then death.
We're still having the middle parts decided for us.
A reminder that we all have similar beginnings and endings and maybe there is something there with that follow-up, which in the poem is a couple of lines later--that the middle part is being decided, almost implying we don't have much to do with what happens throughout our lives. That sentiment continues:
In the meantime, the dream time, our arrogant cells multiply
in spite of themselves, tear each other apart in their soft millions.
There are a trio of poems titled "transatlantic," along with these lines from "I believe in the transformative power of cocoa butter and breakfast cereal in the afternoon":
Here, in the country of your birth, we cross the Persian Gulf,
I know even less,
except our feet hanging off a hotel bed;
a geologic upheaval.
show a concern regarding immigration. Very little, however, is stated directly by Mehri in these poems. Instead, multiple readings unearth layers, and greater enjoyment each time through. Both those layers, and simply coming across lines that I loved, such as this couplet from the final poem, "To Him, We Belong,":
If I can't hvae this beauty, let me have namelessness.
At least then, I can name my dead in the kind of peace they deserved.