Literary folk of Kenya, there is something in the poetry pipeline. Something I would like to invite you to be a part of without plugging the publisher, Kwani?, a publisher that, as you know, has always given a damn about Kenyan prose and now gives a damn about our poetry. If you read or write poetry, be excited.
There’s a new anthology in progress. I know we often misuse the word ‘anthology’ in Kenya, just as we like to wrongly call a ‘Foreword’ a ‘Forward’.
I know we call any single-author collection of poetry an ‘anthology’; well, it isn’t.
So, people, let us agree on what this ‘anthology’ will be. The word ‘anthology’ means a ‘bouquet’ or a ‘collection of flowers’. As Philip Ochieng would tell you, it is a Greek word. Anthologies need not be of poetry.
Indeed, they can be of any mix of texts and perhaps the most influential anthology is the one many Kenyans read, often to the miserable exclusion of any other books: the Bible, which is an anthology of Jewish and Christian texts spanning about a thousand years.
But these days we tend to consider anthologies to be, and here’s my own definition, ‘A collection of poems written by different people, gathered together into a book’. Our most famous regional example is perhaps Cook and Rubadiri’s Poems from East Africa.
So, Kwani? is to publish an anthology edited by two of Kenya’s leading poets, and me as an impostor third person.
The editors are: Phyllis Muthoni, author of the brilliant Lilac Uprising and Clifton Gachagua, the highly-sought-after, prize-winning author of Madman at Kilifi.
Phyllis is one of our most consistently solid poets; Clifton is the name to watch when it comes to African poetry in the future. And I mean continent-wide poetry! So, be excited by the editors. Um, and then there’s me, who, as Professor Indangasi might hint, writes rubbish, but my failings are compensated for by the other two.
It is to be a poetry anthology that presents the strongest, most conscienced and enjoyable poetry written in Kenya (or by card-carrying diasporans) since 2003, end of the Kanu era.
It will be ‘broadly Anglophone’ as the Call for Submissions puts it, but this linguistic peculiarity will be compensated for by the fact that we now have excellent Kiswahili poetry competitions (with publishing opportunities) in the form of, for example, the Mabati-Cornell Prize, following the solid work of Mukoma wa Ngugi.
Anyway, this Kwani? Anthology is for ‘broadly Anglophone’ poetry, meaning that any one poem might have a smattering of words in other languages. If you write in other languages, that’s fine and admirable; we just won’t use such work in this anthology.
If you write ‘broadly Anglophone’ poetry, perhaps you woud like to submit something for our, the editors’, consideration.
The anthology will feature well-known and upcoming poets, perhaps even those who can be called ‘closet’, who have not had the opportunity or courage to publish.
Anthologies can be cliquey; consequently, but we want to open this one up to good writers who we might not yet know about.
You see, we are aware that many anthologies, including the now canonical ‘Cook and Rubadiri’, can be enabling and exciting for a while, and then stale into establishment ‘acceptability’. And they can exclude; we want, rather, to include.
We feel the time is right for a new anthology, one that shakes off shackles of the Moi era, takes advantage of the increased freedom of speech that was one of the successes of the Kibaki-Raila years, and that revels in the rights enshrined in the Constitution.
It will have some verse that pleases (and includes) the academics, yes, but will foreground poetry that comes from the complex streets, from outside the academy.
It will print ‘from the page’ poets and ‘spoken word’ poets side by side, giving equal respect to each, linking to web-performances, and yoking the complex whole together with a thoughtful semi-academic Introduction that celebrates the diversity of on-the-ground Kenyan talent and the work of the poetry groups that thrive, especially but not exclusively, in Nairobi and our other towns.
If you want to submit a few poems, visit the Kwani? website where you will find two PDF documents that you must read: a) a Call for submissions; b) a Poet Submission Form. Read and understand these two documents, and then submit as requested; if you fail to email in the manner requested, we will probably ignore you, because we are rude like that.
And then, if you do submit, expect silence from us as editors, either forever or for a long time as we read. Our silence is not rudeness; it is just the result of the overwhelming number of submissions that we are very happy to read.
But do read that Call. You see, we will publish nothing that is racist, sexist, homophobic or hateful of others. Nor will we consider too much ‘O My Afrika’ poetry or poetry that features English with awkwardly old-fashioned word order such as ‘Broken was my heart’.
So, if you read a good verse from our continent or further afield and write in innovative or relevant ways, submit, because we hope to reserve a section of the anthology for ‘Upcoming Poetry’.
And know that even if we don’t use your verse, we respect you for writing poetry. Indeed, we love you for it, and want you to read and write more and more, because by doing so you prove yourselves our great creators, the people who are able to participate in imagining a newer, better Kenya that ever changes as our ability to express it in words changes with each poem we write.
Get ready for this new anthology as it prepares for publication some time in 2015. Write, redraft, and submit.
Whether you submit or not, start saving your shillings now, ready for the arrival on the scene of this new book that will bring together some of Kenya’s best editors, poets and publishers. It will be a publication worth waiting for. Good luck, and thanks.