Let Us Imagine a New Language
JK Anowe, I.S. Jones and Moso Sematlane
It is a difficult task to imagine new worlds, and much more, in light of the recent Covid-19 pandemic, (and the other pandemics of targeted bigotry and violence that befall humanity currently, but specifically Black lives) to create them. In such urgent times, it is human gathering to turn towards art, towards language, to mirror back to us a clarity that eludes us. In this inaugural issue, we, the editors (I.S. Jones, J.K. Anowe, and Moso Sematlane) have had the immense privilege of gathering together an eclectic array of works which play with form, take risks, investigate the human condition, but also push the boundaries of the written word.
The short stories, essays and poems we have selected here, hopefully, showcase the way in which language, at its most elemental level, can help us reimagine new ways of living. The irony and profundity of this exercise, especially where language is concerned, is not lost to us. Our continent, having been colonised, carries the English language and its other colonial exports, as a haunting reminder of our oppression. But it is perhaps in the way that language is used in these stories, how it is challenged and re-energised and made pliable, that we hope will remind you how literature can not only be an arena for resistance, but for celebration as well. We do wish that in another reality, we could’ve included, in this issue, the hundreds of submissions we went through, the worlds the writers had created and the people we met there. But our time is only so short.
These stories I, (Moso), selected for their defiant language use, but more importantly, for their unadulterated amounts of feeling as well, because it is our joy that makes us human, or longings and heartbreaks, and this too, is a way of celebration.
Sibongile Fisher’s achingly beautiful ‘A Road Called Love’ paints an emotional landscape that is awash with all the heaviness that comes with a mother grieving a loss, and yet, rendered so beautifully that the pain itself seems to become something that glitters, reminding us once again how generously life can be given to us, and how quickly it can be taken away. Mòje Ikpeme’s ‘Tell Me Something Happy’ will electrify you with its subtle and inventive weavings through memory, as a protagonist, like so many of us, runs from themselves. In Michelle Enehiwealu Iruobe’s ‘Hall Silicon’, youth is celebrated, with all its false bravado, its misgivings, and its possibilities. Ifeanyi Ekpunobi challenges form in ‘The Testimony’, showing how not only the family unit can break, but the hearts in it as well. Finally, Elikem Enyo Annan’s ‘For the Love of a Cactus’ paints a strange world with even stranger events in it, but reminds us of the role of empathy in a reality that has re-configured itself around us, and is rearranging itself still.
The wide field of the essay allows for the musicality and rich, imaginative language one expects from poetry, but there is more space to investigate, muse, bend time, and negotiate the triumphs and failures of the self.
In Alain Jules Hirwa’s essay, ‘Dear Moon, I Am the Colour of Water’, we find a young man reckoning not only with this sexuality but the ways in which the structure of masculinity traps coupled with his relationship to the spiritual. Even the moments in which the essay wanders allows its readers to borrow the narrator’s eyes: “We were looking for more faith than what we had. Yet, some of us left the seminary with no faith remaining in the bucket they took to the river. Maybe, we found the water muddy. We no longer crossed ourselves while walking into the chapel.” The young men depicted in this essay discover beauty in one another, despite being raised to believe love between young men is sinful. They re-enact the violence that muzzled them to silence: “We packed ourselves inside the dormitory. The door was locked before the boy was beaten in turns by Fleur, the victim of his crime, and other student leaders such as class presidents. Someone pushed him down and flogged him. Another one slapped him ten times in a row across his cheeks, which swelled. Someone searched for the strongest belt in the dormitory and belted him. When the beating in turns was over, they started to beat him with no order.” If the violence reads as exhausting, it’s because it is meant to. What I (I.S. Jones) found revelatory about this essay is that it was not interested in resolving the issues and complications it sought to confront. ‘Dreams of My Father’ navigates the speaker’s often difficult indifference to the recent passing of their father. Thinking on the role of fathers, I found it necessary to highlight an essay which tackles the different relationship many people may have with their own. Here Moshood pens, “I wasn’t fond of my father. It was a relationship I’d long summed up thus: ‘I don’t love him, I don’t hate him.’ It is a relationship I probe occasionally. Like I did on Saturday May 18, 2019, when I diarised on my laptop: i won’t lie, i think about my dead father sometimes. like last night. i was looking for memories to revel in; memories of intimate moments between me and him. i scanned my mind, racked my brain. nothing leapt up.” As grief takes on many forms, Iyanuoluwa Adenle’s essay utilises the distant second person mode as a means to give his sorrow a texture. Elsewhere, Som Adedayor’s ‘Distance of Days’, recounts the story of a classmate’s death and the effect it had on his understanding of loss.
In these poems, relatively rendered in language at once personal and outer-worldly, the inner workings of the self, attempting to identify with itself as it relates to family, memory, country, even the body, come alive.
One poem sees a young persona – presumably a boy – come to terms with nature, and by extension himself, by fashioning a weapon against it, and one cannot help but call to mind the following line by Ilya Kaminsky: “a child learns the world by putting it in her mouth”. Whereas, here, a boy learns the world by – if only briefly, if only mildly – way of harm. By way of doubting first and doubting to the point of muting “the shaking underneath” him.
Another poem sees its persona emphasizing, rather frantically, “& my hands / my hands / has anyone seen my hands”, a possible commentary on the unbelievable distrust one can have for the functions of one’s own body. While in another, which I consider a subtle but fine jab of satire, our persona attempts to “rationalise” their sexuality using science, Newton’s Laws of Motion, since being human, seemingly, in a world as prejudiced as ours, isn’t reason enough.
I (JK Anowe) could go on and on, about how evident the identity of the self, and all its crises, takes foremost focus in these poems, but I believe it best to leave them to the reader’s own sense of discretion. For what is a poem once it has left the grasps of its poet? For whom, other than the reader, does it toll?
Photography presents us a different way of imagining new realities. We are able to project our consciousness and feel as if we exist in the world being presented to us in the photograph. Through the photographs, we are at once transported to the narrow corridors of Stone Town, Zanzibar as Hallie Haller travels as a way of keeping hope alive. Nnebuifé Kwubéi’s ‘Ijén’ takes us to the busy streets of Lagos where he tries to find belonging in a “city of rude interruptions and messy realities.” In the ‘Nothingness’ series, Kamal Obat captures the life of a young boy out fishing. He uses the images to question the language of nothing and the idea of nothingness.
We hope that you, the reader, find joy, refuge and comfort in these short stories, poems and essays.
JK Anowe, Igbo-born poet, is the author of the poetry chapbooks Sky Raining Fists (Madhouse Press, 2019) and The Ikemefuna Tributaries: a parable for paranoia (Praxis Magazine Online, 2016). A finalist of the 2019 Gerard Kraak Award, he is also Poetry Chapbooks Editor for Praxis Magazine Online. Recent works appear in/are forthcoming from Bakwa Magazine, THE SHORE, The Temz Review, Palette Poetry, and elsewhere. He is an MFA Poetry candidate at Purdue University.
I.S. Jones is a queer American/Nigerian poet and music journalist. She is a Graduate Fellow with The Watering Hole and holds fellowships from Callaloo, BOAAT Writer’s Retreat, and Brooklyn Poets. I.S. hosts a month-long workshop every April, called The Singing Bullet. She is a Book Editor with Indolent Books, Editor at 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, freelances for Complex, Earmilk, NBC News Think and elsewhere. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in Guernica, Washington Square Review, The Rumpus, Hesperios, The Offing, The Shade Journal, Nat.Brut, Puerto Del Sol and elsewhere. She is the co-editor of the Young African Poets Anthology. Her work was chosen by the 2020 Madison, WI Poet Laureate as the winner of Bus Lines Poetry Contest. She is an MFA candidate in Poetry at UW-Madison as well as the inaugural 2019-2020 Kemper K. Knapp University Fellowship recipient. She splits her time between Southern California and New York.
Moso Sematlane is a writer and editor who lives between Maseru, Lesotho and Johannesburg, South Africa. He has work published or forthcoming in Nat Brut, The Kalahari Review and others. He believes in the power of sentences and stories to help shape new realities.