This Week, I Read Memento: An Anthology of Contemporary Nigerian Poetry

Image credit: Namnso Ukpanah via Unsplash

“I grieved for my country. But/my country never grieves for anyone./She puts the tails of Panthers and Hyenas in my hands;// she runs away when they turn to bite./My country ran away from the beasts/ she built. She the Ostrich, the goddess of sprint,” Bola Opaleke says in his poem, “By the Niger,” one of the poems anthologized in Memento: An Anthology of Contemporary Nigerian Poetry.

Reading Memento, I was reminded of a quote from a TED talk by Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Adichie, titled The Danger of a Single Story. She was talking about the books that she read as a child, all of which were American and British:

“Now, I loved those American and British books I read. They stirred my imagination. They
opened up new worlds for me. But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that
people like me could exist in literature. So what the discovery of African writers did for me
was this: It saved me from having a single story of what books are.”

Memento is an example of the metaphorical microphone being passed, so that more diverse voices can get the chance to be heard. This book is important because it allows the poets involved to speak their truths–to tell their stories.

This anthology contains some particularly powerful pieces, such as “Analysis of a Mother’s Cry,” by Pamilerin Jacob, “Last Portrait as a Yoruba Demon” by Olajide Salawu, “Atonement”
by Njoku Nonso, “Memento” by Pèlúmi Sàlàkọ́, “What I Mean When I Ask You to be Wary of What You Say You Love” by Adesina Ajala, and “female genital mutilation” by Shade Mary-Ann Olaoye.

I was completely blown away by the pieces in this book. There wasn’t a single one that I wasn’t moved by. The work here is really phenomenal. This anthology is evidence that the world can be divided into land masses and countries, but the interior life of a poet is infinite. I highly recommend Memento, which was edited by Nigerian poet Adedayo Agarau, and is available now through Animal Heart Press.

If you are interested in Chimamanda Adichie’s fabulous TED Talk, you can find it here: https://www.npr.org/2013/09/20/186303292/what-are-the-dangers-of-a-single-story

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