Afam Akeh

One of our best poets, is my old friend and classmate, Afam Akeh. A detailed writer, his lines are stewed and resonant, awaking in the mind of a careful reader, luminous memories not his own. For me, the hallmark of an Akeh poem is a well-tooled rhythm that stipulates its own pace, and words that are both spare and indulgent at the same time.

His last poetry anthology, Letter Home and Biafran Nights was longlisted for the 2013 NLNG prize. It is a treat to poetry lovers, a series of plangent landscapes of the immigrant experience. One can do worse than gift it to poetry lovers on World Poetry Day.

Let it be told how the gecko
seeking warmth
behind shut doors
clambered
to its new perch,
dreaming of home
in another life.
That familiar dream
a constant lure,
many roads after
still distant
as at the beginning

As I wrote in my review of the book,

There are many who will not read this volume because part of its title refers to a Biafran War, concerning which they have read all they plan to read, especially from a writer whose name putatively locates him on the Biafran side of the divide. It will be their loss. For a start, the poet is actually on the faultline of the war, being on the genocidal border… The war is past, in chronology, but not in memory, for his rendition of the forty-year-old facts are raw with tragedy. Yet, there is a reason why war is never consigned perpetually into history: it is because the pain of war cannot be related faithfully enough to prevent its reenactment by a newer and more ignorant generation. And because, even where it is related faithfully enough, a critical mass of the peaceful generation will fail to read, and believe, the accounts of the wounds of war.

In Afam’s words:

In a land of hostile silences the common past
is septic with storied graves

Afam’s poetic rendition of trauma is neither sentimental nor melodramatic, coming both from a height of perspective and a depth of empathy. A good war poet takes a reader jaded by hyperbole on an interior journey through trauma into beauty. The reader leaves the poem more allergic to war in the physical… to haunt her children with life-affirming memories not their own; this could be poetry’s best gift to mankind.

I leave you with an Akeh poem from MTLS

American Trauma
There is a hole in the ground the dead cannot fill.
Only memory can feed it. And silence,


that populous sound. What the world calls power
is suddenly rubble, concrete piled on grief.


The ruins of everything everywhere
evidence of dreams not traveled.


Assorted body parts in disposable bags,
dust coated, almost earth.


People look like rubbish
when they are no longer people.


Memory is the cruel companion –
familiar voices in old phone calls,


remembered faces, traveled spaces,
the loves that time locks in a heart.


They lift boulders, gather bones,
looking in the rubble for somebody’s father.


Some sift the tale, filling the gaps in spaces
where things once were.


As if the sky crashed, taking the top to the bottom,
breaking faith. And there is no longer certainty,


no sunlight, only craters and mystery, gravity,
absence, the violence of not knowing.

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