An African Elegy

Poems

Author Ben Okri
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Hardcover
$21.99 US
On sale Feb 13, 2024 | 112 Pages | 978-1-63542-310-5
This moving poetry collection from the Booker Prize–winning author finds strength and hope while reflecting on the complex issues that have burdened Africa.

First published in 1992, Ben Okri’s remarkable debut collection features poems that are now considered classics and taught in schools and universities worldwide. Here he plays with the mystique of the African continent, countering simplistic narratives of suffering that have been imposed on it with vibrant, nuanced portraits of the traditions and resilience of African peoples. An invaluable window onto Okri’s experiences as a Nigerian immigrant to the United Kingdom and as a writer discovering his calling, these poems also speak to universal truths about love, injustice, and the search for meaning.
Introduction
 
Poetry emerges from a unique way of looking at life, a unique way of feeling, within the matrix of language. The great questions of life are poetic questions.
“If an apple falls, does the moon fall too?” asked Isaac Newton. This question gave rise to the science of gravity and the invention of quantum physics.
The poems in my first collection were gathered over a period of a decade or more. I had just accomplished a transition from science to writing, from physics to poetry. Early on I saw poetry sublimated in the great scientific equations. Poetry for me then was as much about observation as capturing feelings that were roaming around in the mingled universe of those years. These poems are a fisherman’s net of the political, the romantic, the metaphysical, and something of history as it is lived.
No poet writes their poetry alone. Not when there is suffering all around. The pen is moved by flowers and by pain, what Virgil called the tears of things.

There are many kinds of poems in this book: love poems, reflections about life, poems about injustice. Writing for me is intrinsically poetic. And poetry is as much about what you find as what you make.
I have found poetry in many unlikely places.
For many, poetry is a vocation; for others, a rigorous daily craft. For me it is a destiny.
The elegies of Africans can be as full of lamentation as of joy, as full of grief as of spiritual mysteries.
They embrace the world.

They Say  

They say
Love grows
When the fear of death
Looms.
 
They say
Courage looms
When the fear
Of never loving again
Disappears
In the smell of the enemy
Who crushes us so much
We can only fight.
 
Love and courage grow together
When the flesh is rawest
And the spirit charged
And distorted within the nightmare
We see the possibility
Of a future.
“Dreams are the currency of Okri’s writing, particularly in this first book of poems…Okri’s dreams are made on the stuff of Africa’s colossal economic and political problems, and reading the poems is to experience a constant succession of metaphors of resolution in both senses of the word. Virtually every poem contains an exhortation to climb out of the African miasma, and virtually every poem harvests the dream of itself with an upbeat restorative ending.” —Times Literary Supplement
© Mat Bray
Ben Okri is a playwright, poet, novelist, essayist, short-story writer, anthologist, and aphorist. He has also written film scripts. His works have won numerous national and international prizes, including the Booker Prize for Fiction. His books include the eco-fable Every Leaf a Hallelujah, the play Changing Destiny, the genre-bending climate fiction Tiger Work, the poetry collections A Fire in My Head and Mental Fight, and the novels Astonishing the Gods, The Last Gift of the Master Artists, and Dangerous Love. In 2023 he received a knighthood for services to literature. View titles by Ben Okri

About

This moving poetry collection from the Booker Prize–winning author finds strength and hope while reflecting on the complex issues that have burdened Africa.

First published in 1992, Ben Okri’s remarkable debut collection features poems that are now considered classics and taught in schools and universities worldwide. Here he plays with the mystique of the African continent, countering simplistic narratives of suffering that have been imposed on it with vibrant, nuanced portraits of the traditions and resilience of African peoples. An invaluable window onto Okri’s experiences as a Nigerian immigrant to the United Kingdom and as a writer discovering his calling, these poems also speak to universal truths about love, injustice, and the search for meaning.

Excerpt

Introduction
 
Poetry emerges from a unique way of looking at life, a unique way of feeling, within the matrix of language. The great questions of life are poetic questions.
“If an apple falls, does the moon fall too?” asked Isaac Newton. This question gave rise to the science of gravity and the invention of quantum physics.
The poems in my first collection were gathered over a period of a decade or more. I had just accomplished a transition from science to writing, from physics to poetry. Early on I saw poetry sublimated in the great scientific equations. Poetry for me then was as much about observation as capturing feelings that were roaming around in the mingled universe of those years. These poems are a fisherman’s net of the political, the romantic, the metaphysical, and something of history as it is lived.
No poet writes their poetry alone. Not when there is suffering all around. The pen is moved by flowers and by pain, what Virgil called the tears of things.

There are many kinds of poems in this book: love poems, reflections about life, poems about injustice. Writing for me is intrinsically poetic. And poetry is as much about what you find as what you make.
I have found poetry in many unlikely places.
For many, poetry is a vocation; for others, a rigorous daily craft. For me it is a destiny.
The elegies of Africans can be as full of lamentation as of joy, as full of grief as of spiritual mysteries.
They embrace the world.

They Say  

They say
Love grows
When the fear of death
Looms.
 
They say
Courage looms
When the fear
Of never loving again
Disappears
In the smell of the enemy
Who crushes us so much
We can only fight.
 
Love and courage grow together
When the flesh is rawest
And the spirit charged
And distorted within the nightmare
We see the possibility
Of a future.

Reviews

“Dreams are the currency of Okri’s writing, particularly in this first book of poems…Okri’s dreams are made on the stuff of Africa’s colossal economic and political problems, and reading the poems is to experience a constant succession of metaphors of resolution in both senses of the word. Virtually every poem contains an exhortation to climb out of the African miasma, and virtually every poem harvests the dream of itself with an upbeat restorative ending.” —Times Literary Supplement

Author

© Mat Bray
Ben Okri is a playwright, poet, novelist, essayist, short-story writer, anthologist, and aphorist. He has also written film scripts. His works have won numerous national and international prizes, including the Booker Prize for Fiction. His books include the eco-fable Every Leaf a Hallelujah, the play Changing Destiny, the genre-bending climate fiction Tiger Work, the poetry collections A Fire in My Head and Mental Fight, and the novels Astonishing the Gods, The Last Gift of the Master Artists, and Dangerous Love. In 2023 he received a knighthood for services to literature. View titles by Ben Okri