Wednesday, August 5, 2020

WITMonth Day 5 | A Rain of Words edited by Irène Assiba d'Almeida

I was surprised to realize I never reviewed this collection. I was certain - certain! - that I must have reviewed it last year. Did I simply discuss it? Did I mention it in so many other contexts that I forgot to discuss it here? Either way, A Rain of Words: A Bilingual Anthology of Women's Poetry in Francophone Africa (edited by Irène Assiba d'Almeida and translated by Janis A. Mayes) is a remarkable collection that deserves that much more attention and recognition.

I have often described my inability to review poetry books, and this feeling is exponentially higher when it comes to poetry anthologies. How can I really review a book that encompasses so much, that showcases so many voices, that alternates styles and perspectives and approaches? Some writers are given little more than a handful of lines to get their words across while others leap across multiple poems and pages. Some write succinctly, some write sprawlingly, some use intimate imagery, some use direct references, some bathe in lyricism, some laugh in modernisms, some are angry, some are happy, some are beautiful, some are not to my taste... The usual problems I have in addressing how poetry makes me feel are fully exacerbated by the nature of anthologies. So is this really a review? Who knows.

Suffice to say that I enjoyed A Rain of Words on just about every possible level. Did I love all of the poems? Of course not. I disliked some, was ambivalent about several, enjoyed many, and adored just a few. Each writer brings her own style and flair to this collection, making it less an individual song and more a cacophonous choir that doesn't always know what it's trying to do. Yes, there are moments when it sounds a little awful, but it's mostly glorious just to have the opportunity to experience it.

And in a WITMonth when I'm trying to focus on African women in translation in particular, it seems necessary to remind people that books like this exist. Some of the poems here address topics that can be viewed as uniquely "African", whether in addressing politics within their own or neighboring countries, or in raising specific cultural or religious touchstones. Some are from uniquely feminine perspectives, like poems that deal with motherhood or sexism. But many of the poems simply are, without adhering to any cultural assumptions or expectations, sometimes telling a specific story about a specific place and a specific experience and sometimes not. Poems about family, love, nature, peace, war, politics, life. Each one of these poems has value for the same reason that any poem does, and simply from the perspective of experiencing new poetry, I'm grateful to the CARAF Books series for putting out this collection. The collection sent me hunting for more works by these writers, and though I'm disappointed to see that too few of their full-length books have been translated into English, I am grateful for the exposure to those that have, whether poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. This book was indispensable for me while compiling this year's 50 Day Countdown (see tomorrow's post as well) and has been a great jumping off point in terms of finding other works.

For you, O poetry lover, I simply say this: In the same way that we seek out collections by writers from all sorts of different backgrounds, so do I recommend A Rain of Words. I think you'll enjoy it as I did.

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