27 July 2015

Poem of the Week 2015/30

Dead Wasp at the Side of the Pool

You with the terrible reputation,
how beautiful you were, your belly black and shining,
legs like honeysuckle tongues,

your tail full and flaccid. An hour ago
I watched you drown, man without parachute,
wings beaten under an august sun.

Janet Kofi-Tsekpo

It must be summer; the speaker is relaxing by the side of a pool. She sees a dead wasp at poolside, a casualty of the season. Her gaze is both attentive and dispassionate – godlike, even, observing this dead wasp closely with a care that might seem like love if it were not also indifferent: she watched the wasp drown, did nothing to save it, and yet an hour later she is still thinking about it, this enigmatic creature with its terrible reputation and its beauty. The world shrinks down to this dead wasp, or the wasp expands to include the world; there is a sense of fullness and vividness about the description: the shiny black of its belly, the tail both full and flaccid, the legs that are like tongues, the tongues of the honeysuckle flower. To the wasp a pool must seem like a vast expanse of water. He drowns in it like a man fallen from the sky into the ocean. The poet italicizes august: a pun, most likely, on the month of August, but also on the august (majestic, impressive) qualities of the sun, which does not even notice the tiny wasp surrender his life. The poet, by the poolside, notices.

I took this from Yellow Iris by Janet Kofi-Tsekpo, one of the eight chapbooks included in 8 New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set, edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani. For those who don't know, a chapbook is basically a pamphlet, offering a brief sampler of a poet's work. Part of the usual definition is that they're cheaply produced, but Akashic Books has put the lie to that with this beautiful set: the box that holds them is sturdy, the chapbooks are elegantly produced on good-quality paper, and both box and chapbooks have rich, intriguing cover art by Imo Nse Imeh. This collection is sponsored by the African Poetry Book Fund and is the second in an annual series of such collections, each to feature seven to ten new African poets.

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