Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sammy Oke Akombi, Beware the Drives

Beware the Drives is one of the poetry collections I was able to pick up at this year's African Literature Association conference, held in Burlington, Vermont. Exciting for me as it heralds the emergence of what is to me a new publishing house in Cameroon: Langaa Research and Publishing Common Initiative Group (distributed in the US & Europe by the marvelous African Books Collective).

The book is well-edited and produced, and for all those reasons, a delight.

The poetry much less-so.

There are some strong lines, but they stand out for their rarity. Perhaps the strongest of the entire collection are the closing lines of "A Poet's Epitaph": "You too, poet or no poet, sure shall find peace / In doing, pieces, for yourself and mankind" (1).

The opening poem.

I am more than willing to grant Akombi that, "Always there's something to be understood / That hasn't been understood" (from "Poetry" (21)), but on the whole the collection reads more like an old commonplace book than a vibrant new poetry collection; a collection of aphorisms, and rather obvious ones at that, lacking the song and punch of poetry.
When children, innocent and clean
As they always have been
Die in storms and quakes --
Earthwuakes, techno-quakes, hunger-quakes
And then gun and bomb quakes
One can't help but question,
Is that why they were born?
"Victims" (5)

It is lines like these that are, to my mind (and ear), simply inexplicable as poetry. There is real potential in "hunger-quake" -- it could soar -- but... "Socio-politico-ideologico-quakes"??
To me it's yet unknown
Where to place my napkin at meal
Which hand for the fork,
Which for the knife and which for the spoon,
And here comes the chopstick.
"Globalisation" (37)

It's a suggestive trope, and the wonderful start to a set piece. And perhaps by this point in the collection I had wearied, but it's not quite working as poetry. Not yet.

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