The International Poetry Festival of Medellin Celebrated 20 Years of Bringing Poetry to the People: A Cultural Revolution of Healing Decades of Pain from the Colombian War, July 8-17, 2010, and I Was There!

The International Poetry Festival of Medellin is always so amazing, neither rain, thunder or the blazing sun can drive away the thousands of lovers of poetry who pour in during the opening and closing ceremonies in any given year. The first sign of rain, and the thousands in the audience quickly begin to put on plastic coats, pull out umbrellas, sitting on the hard wet stairs of the Theatre Carlos Vieco to hear the World Poets read in their various languages one after the other, from 4 pm up until 10:30. Translators and poets, reading side by side while the audience cheers, screams, enjoying the power of poetry. For twenty years, poets have come and gone, children have been born, and have grown up under the warmth of this powerful tool of healing, and some of those young people are today volunteering with a literary revolution that gave birth to them.

This is inarguably, the largest, the most fascinating, most revolutionary, and most people-centered poetry festival in the world. The International Poetry Festival of Medellin was founded in Medellín in 1991 by two young, idealistic and practical Colombian poets, Fernando Rendón, who was also editor of the Colombian magazine of PIW,  and Gabriel Jaime Franco. Of course, they were assisted by a great group of poetry enthusiasts who banded together to establish what is now a cultural revolution, impacting the entire world over twenty years. Today, one of those hardworking poetry lovers is Gloria Chvatal, whose dedication to organizing and helping to run the festival is simply inspirational.

FOUNDERS: Fernando Rendón (R) and Gabriel Jaime Franco

Gloria Chvatal, a strong arm of the festival, Fernando, and Gabriel against the backdrop of one of the festival audiences.

With the powerful vision to reach their people through poetry, they launched a poetry festival that draws audiences from across the Americas, their neighbors  and from other regions of the world. They have featured close to 1000 poets from around the world, bringing in African, European, Asian, South, North, and Central American poets and poets from every region of the world. This year, I was invited for the second time, including my first invitation in 2007, to be a featured poet among one of the largest if not the largest group of world poets in the twenty years, nearly 100 of us, in a celebration worthy of itself. Again, as with my first visit to Colombia, the International Poetry Festival of Medellin remains the most powerful experience of any poetry festival in the world. Stay tune as I bring you various features, photos, video clips, etc.I in this blog posting. It is long overdue, but you will forgive me if you realize I had to get a new book out and begin readings to promote the book.

Medellin, 2007:

A Poem for Fernando’s Colombia (copyright “Where the Road Turns, 2010) By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
to God, I wish I could take out my heart for you,
but how will I sing this song to you without a heart?
You, with so much heart for love and poetry,
for hope in the eyes of the little girl
who with a scrap of white paper, wants me to say a word
to her, to autograph my name for her, to write it in her
name. She tells me with that unusual smile how
she loves my poems, but she is only eight years old.
She and Carlos, the five year old brother who have
pushed through the thousands to get to me.

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
where we go down from the mountain
into the bowl of a city, into the deep heart of a city,
so warm, a city where people still smile
and clap to a poem, and cry for the war, a city
where concrete houses hold up the hills with muscles
of steel, muscles of pain, and somewhere along the roads
as the bus descends from the airport, the poor have
erected their own lives so sadly, waiting,
and yet, they overlook the city with hope.
From the edge of sharp cliffs and the side roads,
the burning lights and flames of the city, hard
and indistinguishable from anger.
But theirs is of the pain from the years gone.

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
Waiting can be so hard, Medellin.
And I love you from my heart. I love your laughter,
your warm hugs and kisses, your Spanish, so simply
plain and warm. I love even your tears that
you have shared with me, when a poem I’m reading
touches you in that place where only a poem can go.
At the International Poetry Festival, you sit there,
along your hill arena, clapping, thousands of people,
sitting and thinking and listening and hoping,
Medellin, I have never seen anything like this before.
Thousands of people sitting for long hours
at a poetry reading, Medellin…
we wait for that day, Medellin, we wait.
Trust me, I know how to wait, and I know you do too.

Here, I am, reading with African poets in the beautiful Jardín Botánico. Theatre al aire libre on July 10: l-r: Paul Dakeyo (Cameroon), Niyi Osundare (Nigeria), Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Liberia) and Amin Haddad (Egypt), reading.

I was honored to read with, meet with, eat with, and be in the company of some of the finest poets in the world. Our poets came from every area of the globe, different languages and cultures, different world issues in their works, different looks, dress and cultural patterns, but we were all one in the use of poetry as a medium of expression of the sensibility of our unique people, and therefore, of the world.

Here, a group of us poets on our way to sight-seeing in Medellin, Colombia, were chased by newspaper crews who made us stand in the middle of a busy city street to take this shot, featured in the paper the next day. (L_R)Poets sJean Jacques Sewanou Dabla of Togo, Alhaji Papa Susso of Gambia, Lola Koundakjian of Armenia, Veronica Zondek of Chilli, Althea Romeo-Mark, representing Antigua and me, representing Liberia. Middle photo- Me and Althea Romeo-Mark, Me and Koumanthio Diallo of Guinea, West Africa, standing with an Afro-Colombian brother after our last Africa Reading.

Poets, Gemino H. Abad (Phillipines) and Imtiaz Dharker of India looking on.

I have been privileged as a poet to be in the company of Pulitzer Prize winning authors, renowned authors, even Nobel Prize winning authors and to be influenced by their unique ways of viewing the world. But the experience at the International Poetry Festival of Medellin 2007 and 2010 alone has been a life-changing experience for me. Let me discuss in brief the kinds of impact such a great festival has on the invited poet, the Colombian people and others from parts of the Americas who descend upon the city, and finally, upon the country, friends, associates of those who return home with this huge vision in their life experience.

A Life- Changing Experience:

The city of Medellin, Colombia, is a city on a hill, skyscrapers of the wealthy alongside the dwellings of millions of the poor. As in any other country, the poor find a means of survival. It is in the center of this city that has survived forty years of civil war that poets from around the world must all merge with their many voices of hope with the voices of hope from Colombia and nations around the region. The most exciting is not in the structure of this beautiful city and country; the most exciting for me is in the people of Colombia. They are a warm and beautiful people, vibrant in every way, their warm hugs and kisses will melt  your heart. But what will cause you to jump from surprise is their love of poetry. Upon arriving at the airport, you will hardly clear out of customs before noticing the crowd of volunteers, festival organizers and friends out at the Medellin Airport to meet you.

The hugs and kisses will be a regular part of your nearly two weeks of living in Medellin, basking in the beauty of poetry and culture. And then, another big surprise is the crowd at the opening and closing ceremonies. The number has been estimated at between seven to ten thousand out in the open arena, cheering, listening, shouting, enjoying the experience of one poetic voice after the other. If you are a first time festival visitor, your jaw drops, you wonder if it is real, whether you are now a rock star, and whether these great people have all lost their heads. But trust, me, it is real. They love poetry and they will change your world after this. This was when I realized that my coming to Colombia was meant to change me, not me, them.

Yira, my Spanish reader assigned to me at the 20th festival (l) Yira & me, Me, Norwegian poet, Erling and the Colombian team.

Images of the festival. Me at the Afro-Colombian center in Medellin, where I was the only presenter, Me after the reading with  and my girls after our reading out of town in Municipio del Carmen de Viboral. Casa de la Culturaon next to a quick photo from the car driving from Bogota Airport to the city of Villavicencio.

The Most Important Impact of Such a Festival:

The crowds of thousands who are dedicated to listening to poetry, reading poets from around the world, sitting in rain or shine, bringing their babies, toddlers, old people for two decades now tells you something about this country, about the visionaries of the festival, about how poetry, reading of poetry, and writing can be a powerful tool of healing. If anyone tells you that you can have such a literary revolution where people are dedicated to using words as a tool in healing produces small results, that individual is a fool. When you begin to mingle with the people, whether they are poor or rich, you will know the impact of the festival on the country, on ending violence. Remember, in case you forgot, Colombia has been in a civil war with drug lords and armed movements for more than forty years now. So, how is it possible to have such a peaceful festival when the country is supposedly at war? Well, my visit in 2007 and the 2010 visit indicated to me that yes, there has been a great change.

A group of young people who had come for our last African poets reading on July 16, stayed on after everyone had left, lining up to greet us. They were a force to see.

One of the most powerful evidence of how the festival is positively affecting the Colombian people in a powerful way is through the photos. I know of no other place in the world where thousands of people will sit to hear poetry read in various languages with translators reading in the pouring rain, people pulling plastic coverings over their heads, and just intent on listening, where mothers will bring their children, including infants with gifts to authors they’d never met, as if these authors are Priests needing to bless the children, they come by the scores to teach their little ones how important it is to learn, to be intellectual instead of being a rebel fighter. This to me is one of the most wonderful gifts any people can give to their nation. But we all know how much it must cost for organizers to raise the money to feed 100 poets, excluding staff, student volunteers, to give them all stipends, to give them lodging in individual rooms in a beautiful hotel, to tend to them when they are ill during the 12 day for most and more days for others, to help provide transportation from across the world for many, and to pay for the use of numerous venues, to fly dozens of poets across the country or drive them hours away. It is a powerful machine that must be recognized. We are most blessed to have lived this experience; hopefully, some of us will be inspired to emulate this great example.

Poets Saturate the City & Country With Poetry: A Dynamic Organization by the Festival Organizers:

Many of us poets had several readings throughout the 11 day festival. The poets included the following number:We were eleven poets from Africa: Niyi Osundare (Nigeria) Alhaji Papa Susso (Gambia), Arif Khudairi (Egypt), Paul Dakeyo (Cameroon), Mohammed Bennis (Morocco), Luis Carlos Patraquim (Mozambique), Koumanthio Zeinabou Diallo (Guinea), Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Liberia),Jean Jacques Sewanou Dabla (Togo), Amin Haddad (Egypt) and Chirstopher Okemwa (Kenya). Some of us poets came from the Diaspora of Europe and America while others came from the continent of Africa.

After the African poets reading the 16th of July, the elderly gentleman was so excited, he came up to be photographed with us.

The audience waiting before the African reading. Above: After the reading photos

Among the 100 invited poets, less than hundred in attendance, there were beside us 11 Africans, 58 poets from the Americas, 10 from Asia, and 18 from Europe. Some of the poets I connected to include all on the African team (speaking French, English and Arabic), Althea Romeo-Mark, my American Lit. professor of long ago, Sir Howard Fergus of Monsserrat, Obediah Michael Smith of Barbados, Grace Nichols and her husband, John Agard both of Guyana, Renato Sandoval of Peru, Bob Holman of the US, Gemino H. Abad and his spouse (guest), of Philippines, Hala Mohammad of Siria, Lola Koundakjian, U Sam Oeur of Cambodia, Uwe Kolbe, excluding our very fascinating volunteer translators, interpreters. Special among the entire crew was my dear reader, the young and beautiful Yira Plaza Obyrne. Yira went with me everywhere to read the Spanish translation of my poetry whenever I appeared, and where there was no interpreter to translate my short speeches before the reading, Yira would step in. The only trip she did not accompany me on was the one to the far away city of Villavicencio.

Hala of Syria, making an early departure and that goodbye photo as the poets hurry through breakfast for another busy day

I had about ten readings throughout Medellin, reading in various venues with a team of four assigned different authors each time. I also had one solo presentation at the Afro-Colombian Center of Arts. My two out of town readings included a reading far into the Andes Mountains. This was one of the most fascinating of my participation. The Nowegian Poet, Erling Kittelsen and I were sent out to read in a far city of Villaviciencio on July 12, returning on July 13. I also had another reading out of town, with Armenian poet, Lola Koundakjian, just about an hour away to the town famous for its ceramic art, china ware. The town, Municipio del Carmen de Viboral.

Here are some connections in photos made during various readings:

In Municipio del Carmen, a five or six year old girl clung to me after the reading, telling me how much she liked my poetry and how she wanted to me to take her with me.

Connections to Children When Parents Bring Them:

Book signing after the African Poets reading in the Botanical garden that morning. Whenever there was a reading, the audience was so inspired and excited, they in turn inspired and excited us poets. Many in the audience came from various parts of South America. Besides these readings, I did a number of print, TV and newspaper magazine interviews.

Reading In Villaviciencio , Colombia:

When I arrived in Medellin on July 7, 2010, I saw that I would have to be driven to Medellin Airport for a one hour flight to Bogota, the capital city, and then driven to Villaviciencio for two hours. So on the morning of July 12, the Norwegian poet and I were taken to Medellin Airport to be flown to the high mountain city of Bogota. The driver, one of my favorite and the son of one of the founders of the Festival made the journey to the airport. To my surprise, the driver stopped by a mountain side eating/stop place and treated all of us to a beautiful lunch. We then took photos in the kitchen of the stop station.

The Driver The sign says 50, but hey.

The City of Villavicencio, according to Wikipedia, lies “in a rural zone of tropical climate… on the great Colombian-Venezuelan plain called Los Llanos. The city is east of the Andes Mountains. The Andes are a series of endless mountains that allows you to drive on clouds as if you were on a plane. I was so mesmerized, I took numerous photos as clouds swirled around the windshield of the car.

Despite its closeness to the vast Savannas that lie between the Andes range and the Amazon, you cannot drive from Bogota to Villavicencio without meandering through high mountains, long winding tunnels or feeling the pressure of the height of the region. According to the records, Bogota is the second highest capital city in the world, boasting more than 9000 feet above sea level. Right off the plane from Medellin, the cold chill hits you along with the pressure of the height. My allergies kicked in right away and I was quick to grab hold of my jacket. My Norwegian poetry colleague, Erling was a gentleman who quickly took my laptop from me as we made our way to the outside for the ride to Villavicencio. Our reading that night was at 7 pm, therefore, we became a bit nervous at being picked up fairly late.We arrived more than two hours later to an auditorium filled with more than 300 people, eager to hear these two foreign poets from different ends of the earth. Our Colombian colleagues and poet partners, interpreters, translators, including the Director of of Cultural Affairs were again as Colombians are, very warm, excited, loving, happy and welcoming. We were exhausted, but we went through quick orientations with our partners, which poems to read, gestures, what to expect, rehearsing quickly, hugs, embraces, laughter, and we hit the stage. Below are the photos of that evening, one of my last three reading evens of the festival.

Erling reading while I try to stretch my back on stage at our reading soon after arriving in this far away town.

Here in this photo are Erling of Norway, me, my reader, a Colombian young woman, a Colombian poet, Erling’s reader and the government official, Cultural Affairs Director, who hosted our visit and the Festival in his city. What a privilege it was for us to meet these warm people. Before the program began, the Colombian poet read a poem dedicated to me, presented flowers to me, a surprise, and everyone was happy.

Reading that evening in Villavicencio, Colombia

A Cross section of the hall that night.

The After Reading Photos: Folks are often excited after reading, and in this city, the norm was no different.

Kids who come to the reading ask the toughest questions. They know so much about poetry, about suffering, about war, and want to know how someone like me can end up not only in the US, but in a huge poetry festival. How did I begin writing, whether I like their country, and how I feel about returning to another festival. Often, they are accompanied by parents, also wanting answers. The most fascinating when the questions are posed is the warmth, the appreciation, and the open affection of the Colombian people, grateful to the visiting poet. There’s so much to learn from the Colombian people, from the International Poetry Festival, from their survival stories.

Afro-Colombian party.

Kenyan poet and a friend posing and photo from my hotel room porch with my visiting bird friend.

The visiting bird at the Gran Hotel visiting the visiting poets.

Bringing a Great Festival to Closure:

The last couple days of our stay in Colombia, many of us needed to go shopping, but the rain, the busy reading schedules, the lack of individual private translators, and of course interview schedules for some of us kept us from doing so. And yet, we found the time to slip out, some of us in small groups, visiting small vending places nearby the Gran Hotel where we were lodged. Althea, Grace Nichols, and others with me, joined the others, shopping for souvenir for our families and friends. We met the warmth of more Colombians in the market places, receiving small gifts and being recognized by the many who had followed us around the city. I took off on my own in between the beautiful hand-made jewelry counters, and came upon one Colombian vendor unlike everyone else I had met. He wanted to sell a necklace to me for 80,000 Pesos, but the necklace was worth 12.000 pesos, and I knew that. I could not speak Spanish, so I gave him a sheet of paper to write down the price. He did, and I asked him again to do so, and he repeated the price. I looked at him and smiled. “You are a big crook,” I said, but he did not understand me. I left him as he stared after me and went to the next vendor to purchase the same necklace at less than 12,000 pesos. In every beautiful country, you will see someone who is ugly, I laughed as I made my way bravely through the busy traffic back to the hotel where a journalist working for a French news agency was waiting to interview me.

July 17 marked the end of the festival; therefore, our hotel was ready for the last party with our own private dance group to shake up the place. Many of us watched for a few minutes and went to our rooms to pack. We would depart early for the airport, groups of us, coming from various regions of our one world, carrying in our hearts the one spirit of poetry, telling our sad and happy stories in stanzas and metaphors, the power of language that can heal and destroy, depending on how you want to use language. But here  in this mountain country, these wonderful people have discovered that words can be more powerful as a tool in forging peace. They have found the treasure of life, and have passed on this wonderful gift to their children over two decades, have brought the world to their doors, won hearts, and have sent us all out to let the world know that we have seen here is bigger and more wonderful than the negative propaganda that we’ve been told. As for me, I will never be the same again after meeting Colombia, after meeting the world at the festival, after sharing my own stories of pain and suffering with the Colombian people, after learning that love is not about what we have, but rather, about what we can give.

And so, the great festival ended on this note even as we poets sat around to watch the professional dancers do their thing.

(All photos are the exclusive right of Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, and must not be used for any commercial purposes)

Links to Articles Around the Festival:

Announcing My Fourth Book of Poems: “Where the Road Turns” is Now Available in Stores

A new book is like a new baby. You plan, you write, you edit, nurturing the poems, then you find a publisher, and wait, and then the book is published. When the book is published, like a new born, it must be well-received, welcome, and shown around the harsh world it was born into. If it finds good footing, it thrives and finds its own hearts to conquer, its own eyes to drain tears from, its own lovers to make laugh. If it does this well enough, the author and publisher are happy, and the book grows as reviewers study it, examine it, and test it. The author on the other hand, has delivered the book, and is empty of everything for a while, like a new mother.

Biography When the Wanderers Come Home

—Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

This is where we were born
in these corrugated rugged places,
where boys chasing girls chasing
boys chasing other girls chasing bellies
chasing babies chasing other babies
chasing poverty, chased death.
Of potholed streets and bars and sex
and other girls getting drowned
forever and ever in loveless love.
And then the fires of our lives
lit other fires of other lives
with lust and then
there was no longer us.
So then the war came with its bullets
chasing people chasing the bombs,
and ghost towns sprang up
with carcasses of the dying
and the dead. And like mushrooms,
the dead rose up to claim the land
and we were no more.
But the fires still burned in the wombs
and in the eyes of the city streets
below which the dead lovers and
love lie. And there was life again
out of so much pain,
and life took on its own life again
and the girls returned on the backs
of surreal horses in search
of that old fire. But these were no longer
the same girls or boys or men or women.
But this is where we grew up on these
sidewalk streets, in these rugged places.
This is where the streets come in.
This is where we belong.
This is where life begins.


When people ask me which of the few books I have written is my favorite, I say, “All of them. They are each like a child, unique and beautiful in themselves, and there’s none that is better than the other.” That is the writer’s perspective. The literary reviewer/critic says something entirely different. They are the gate keepers. So, here comes another book for the gate keepers to examine. Enjoy.

I am pleased to announce to my readers, my supporters, fans, friends, fellow poets that my fourth book of poems,  Where the Road Turns has been released by (Autumn House Press, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, July 20, 2010)

The book, which has 110 poetry pages or 126 pages in total was published by the publisher of my third book, The River is Rising, and is already enjoying its first week on the market. I was fortunate to have two very important writers in my life write blurbs for the book. Frank Chipasula, poet, editor and publisher reviewed the book and wrote a very beautiful blurb for me. Another blurb was taken from a review by Robert H. Brown in the Liberian Studies Journal. Chipasula is the editor of Bending the Bow: An Anthology of African Love Poems, e Heinemann Book of African Women’s Poetry and books of poetry by himself wrote a blurb that I have yet to live up to. I am only the fortunate one to have so many great poets, publishers, poetry friends and well wishers in my corner. I would not be here writing books of poetry without all of this network of good people. I take this moment to express my thanks and gratitude to these friends, my family, including my wonderful children who have always been there for me.

A Very Busy Few Weeks Leading to the Book’s Arrival:

Where the Road Turns was slated to come out on Sept. 1, 2010, but I was again blessed when my publisher, Michael Simms decided to bring the book out as early as possible. So, it arrived at my door on Tuesday, July 20, a day after I arrived from the 20th International Poetry Festival of Medellin in Colombia. In another post, I will take the time to highlight my adventure, the great festival of 100 world poets, the great audiences and the Colombian people. At this point, I will post a few poems from the book to help you take a glance into the book. Michael Simms, my publisher really believes in the book, and let me confess, he helped even me believe in the book. I know that you will love the difference between this fourth book and the third, and you will see how far the book is from the first two.

This is my last reading from Where the Road Turns as a manuscript. A new book is like a new child. It comes into a very harsh world, but if the book is fortunate and is promoted, it is well-received, and finds its place into the hearts of the people.

This reading is part of the nine readings within ten days that I had scheduled for me in Colombia’s 20th International Poetry Festival of Medellin. The auditorium was packed with about 300 or more from the region of the city of Villavicencio, Colombia. To get to the town from Medellin, we were driven about an hour or more to Medellin Airport, flown for about an hour or less to Bogota Airport, from there, a driver drove us from Bogota Airport to the city of Villacicencio, where a packed room of the beautiful poetry lovers of Medellin awaited my team member, Erling, a poet from Norway and I. This is only a sneak peak into the Festival posting that is to come within the end of the week.


We Departed Our Homelands and We Came . . .
Grebo Saying

By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

We departed our homelands and we came,
so the Grebo say, we came with our hands
and we came with our machetes

so we too, could carve up the new land.

When we left home, we crossed streams
and we climbed up hills; we set out through
wet brushes, and the rivers parted
so we could cross.

We know that if the leopard should leap,
it is because it sees an antelope passing.

We came, not so we could sit and watch
a wrestling match, not so we could watch
the land on which our feet walk,
rise beyond our reach.

We journeyed from our homelands,
and we came
, so, let it be known that we left
our homelands, and we came.

When we arrived, we dug up the earth,
and in this new earth, we laid down
our umbilical cords, forever.

So let it be known among the people– we left
all the beauty of our homelands

not so we would sit out on The Mat to wail.

Ghosts Don’t Go Away Just Like That
By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Sometimes they lurk in hallways where they have lost
the other side of them. They may hover over new wars,

like the wars that carried them away from their bodies,
causing them to lose their world and us in the rush.

Ghosts don’t go away just like that, you know;
they may come in that same huge crowd that was

massacred together with them, and since that massacre
may have happened at school, in a bar or at church, they

may be found, kneeling at the pulpit, singing and taking
communion again and again, with everyone else.

They gather on a Saturday evening, as the sun sets over
the hills and a small flash of yesterday’s lightning lingers

from that old storm as the new storm rides in, and then,
there they are, ghosts! You can see them only if you have

eyes to see them as ghosts of humans, and yet not ghosts.
They’re looking to see if we will recall that they were here.

To see if we will build a stone to honor the fact that they
were here, with us, walking and talking, like us, to see

if we will remember that they lost so much blood
in the shooting, that they broke a leg or two, and that

so many of them were not counted in that sad number.
They want to know if we will put up a stone or keep

the fire burning to put out the fires, to stop all the killing
in the city streets, around the world,

to stop all the killing in the eyes of the city streets.


All poetry in this post was taken from Where the Road Turns (copyright Autumn House Press, Pittsburgh)

(“Biography When the Wanderers Come Home” was previously published in The Literary Review, Winter 2009 Issue.  Copyright: Autumn House Press, Pittsburgh, PA)


HOW TO PURCHASE COPIES OF THE NEW BOOK:, Autumn House Press, your neighborhood bookstore (if not available, you can ask them to carry the book, most institutional libraries, etc.)

Again, thanks for giving me the inspiration and support to continue to write. None of this would be possible without you.

Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Fall for the Book Festival-2009—My Friend, Gabeba Baderoon and I, Patricia Jabbeh Wesley Read at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on September 19, 2009 at 2 pm


Fall for the Book Festival Reading: Gabeba Baderoon and Patricia Jabbeh Wesley- Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009, at 2 pm. The reading takes place at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on 950 Independence Ave. You are invited, and please, bring all of your friends.


Fall for the Book Festival 2009 began on September 6, 2009 with preview events, and will continue throughout the DC, Virginia and Maryland areas this month. Many great readers will bring their works to literary audiences through readings, discussions, and other festivities in libraries, institutions and other locations throughout the Washington DC area. This year, the festival is significant to me because my friend, Gabeha Baderoon, a poet, originally from South Africa and I will be participating in the readings as featured authors. Our reading takes place during one of the many preview events of the Festival. I would like to take this time to invite you to come and hear us read from our books of poetry, and enjoy the diverse cultures of Africa through our works. Our work will also surprise you because when you come to the reading, you will see that we do not only write about the great continent of Africa, but we also write about our experiences as  Americans and immigrants from another world, living in a new world, exploring all of the images both of our homelands and our new found home of America.



Our Published Books:


Gabeba Baderoon, here presenting at a previous occasion, will be reading from her collections of poetry, including  “The Dream in the Next Body” “A Hundred Silences,” among others. I believe Gabeba will also read a poem or two from newer poetry. Gabeba is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Women’s Studies at Penn State University. She is particularly dear to me because she is my friend and colleague. Over the last two years since I first met her, Gabeba and I have collaborated on various projects, including presenting on a panel on African Women’s Literature at the African Literature Association, visiting one another’s African Literature classes at Penn State talking on issues to our scholarship, reading together at other poetry events, among others. This fall, she and I will be part of a discussion on a panel with the African author and friend of ours, Binyavanga Wainaina, when we will discuss the topic, “Who Owns African Literature.” In November, I will be visiting Gabeba’s Comparative to read from my new book, “The River is Rising,” for the benefit of her students who are currently reading the book. Gabeba and I usually compliment each other in our readings, if you ask me. This is because my own poems and poetry reading complement the silences in Gabeba’s images, the beauty of softness of her language and the vividness of feelings her work brings to the reader. Where my images can be brutal in its portrayal of war and ruin, Gabeba can bring the softness, and where my poetry may often burst out with humor, she can bring calm and seriousness. All of this is from my own observation, but you will have to speak to Gabeba yourself or hear us read to know. I have read all of her books not because she is my friend, but mainly because her voice as a writer originally from South Africa is a necessary voice in this contemporary day of poetry, and because I believe poets have a lot to learn from each other.


Patricia Jabbeh Wesley performing at the City of Asylum Poetry-Jazz Festival 2008

Our Published Books:


Here I am  above, reading at another occasion. My books above include, “The River is Rising,” “Becoming Ebony,” and “Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa.” I will also read from a new manuscript. I am shamelessly inviting you and your friends to attend our reading on September 19,2009 because unless you come, Gabeba and I will have to collaborate again this time by reading to each other.  I don’t want to say anything about myself because when you attend the reading, you will get to know my poetry and about me. The one thing, I’d say is that I am also a professor at Penn State, but I teach Creative Writing and English mainly, specializing in poetry writing. When you explore the rest of my blogging, you will get to know me. We are both fortunate to be among 130 writers from across the US who will participate in this important occasion, and it will be our honor to come hear us at the Smithsonian. Sherman Alexie is the main reader, I think. Don’t take my word for it. Visit the Festival site at:

———————-POETRY FOR YOUR ENJOYMENT———————————————————-

The Sound of My Name

————-              By Gabeba Baderoon

To step into another language
direct the breath
swell the mouth with vowels
feel the jaw configure itself around the word
write another script on the tongue

A woman learning Russian describes
the new inclination of her head,
her chest, her hands,
the muscular changes in the tongue
the way sibilance tightens
the upper lip
like bee stings around the jaw
the movement of air over her throat
a subtle invasion
taking possession of her mouth

I teach you to say the first letter of my name,
a sound between g and h,
for which there is no letter in English.

Breathe in,
take a sip of water,
make a flat oval of the lips,
breathe out.
Remember the sound of the exhalation.

Clear the throat.

Between the two is the start of my name.


The River Is Rising

————————Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

a song for Liberian women

The river is rising, and this is not a flood.
After years of drought, the ground, hardened

and caked in blood, in dry places, here we are, today.

River banks are swelling with the incoming tide,
coming in from the Atlantic just beyond the ridge

of rolling hills and rocks in Monrovia.

Finally, here we stand at the banks!
Finally, here we are, see how swiftly

the tide rushes in to fill the land with salt.

Fish and crabs and the huge clams and shrimps-
all the river’s creatures are coming in with the tide.

The river is rising, but this is not a flood.

Do not let your eye wander away from this scene.
Yes, all the bones below the Mesurado or the St. Paul

or Sinoe or the Loffa River will be brought up
to land so all the overwhelming questions
can once more overwhelm us.

But they are bringing in our lost sister
on a high stool, and there she stands, waving at those

who in refusing to die, simply refused to die.

This is not a song just for Ellen. This is a song for Mapue
and Tenneh and all the Ellens there are.

This is a song for Kema and Musu and Massa.

This is for Nyeneplue and Nyenoweh, for Kou and Glayee
and Korto, for the once solitary woman of war.

This is a song so Wani will also dance.

This is a song for that small girl child who came out
just this morning. They are still seeking a name

to call her- a river name, a name from the water
and from the fire too. That solitary mother in flight

will no longer birth her child by the roadside
where shells were her baby’s first bed.

Let the womb quiver!
Let church bells jingle!
Let hundreds of drums pound, Klan-klan-teh!
Let men bring out old trumpets
so the wind will take flight!

Let that small pepper bird on the tree branch cry
and sing no more the solitary song.

Let the Mesurado behind my home or what was my home
or still is or maybe, maybe, who cares?

The river is rising, but this is not a flood.

Let no man stand between us
and the river again!

Facebook is Down???? August 6, 2009


Facebook is down at this minute, and has been for at least twenty minutes now. I just received birthday wishes through e-mails, and wanted to check up on the senders, and found out facebook is down. After a few minutes, others are also commenting on twitter being down. Does this say something to us? It is amazing how in the busy schedules we have, we cans still connect to professional and personal friends from around the US and the world.

Since I started using facebook, I can communicate with my writer friends in Eastern and Western Europe, in Spanish America, in the Islands, in the UK, and particularly, in Africa. I can even edit my former studentss poetry, give them advice about their work, and encourage them. I can congratulate them on their achievements just by a few strokes and a click, and have found out that my world has got smaller and more fun. It is not a place only for crazy people as others think; it is great for the writer of poetry and fiction. My writer friends here in the US have also been much closer to me than the world away that they are. What is most beneficial to me is how my former students from around Africa and parts of the world or fans of my poetry have been supportive of me by their kind comments, their arguments about writing or about life on the whole, and how I have learned so much from being connected. Of course, there are many friends I know that I do not facebook with. This may be because they are too close to me or are not folks that will benefit my line of career or thinking.

But I have one of my sons on facebook with me. That keeps me in check. He is watching me as much as my many non-biological, writing children are. So, today, one day before my birthday, my birthday greetings are coming in (even though they make me feel so OLd), I see that facebook is down. WOW. What an interesting age. I’m going to get me a cup of coffee and continue writing and editing my poems.

Poets, Poetry Readings and the Adventures of Literary Connections


The Connection between poets and writers is unique. Here below, you will find me paying a visit to the University of Ghana campus near Accra to meet with the renowned Ghanaian poet, Kofi Anyidoho. Kofi Anyidoho is a poet from the Ewe tradition, a Professor of English for many many years. I wanted to sit with him and just learn from his wisdom as an African poet while I was teaching poetry writing with Pan African Literary Forum in Ghana this summer. So, here I was, being taken around the campus, visiting the officials of the campus with this well respected poet and Professor. There is much to learn from simply talking to Professor Anyidoho. Here are some photos for your eyes: I am here standing with Kofi at the English Department building at Legon.


photos-for-mom-121 Here I am standing before the English Dept. at Legon

photos-for-mom-109Presenting my three books to Kofi for the English Dept. library

photos-for-mom-112Sitting in the English Dept at Legon

photos-for-mom-113This is Kofi here at his desk at Legon.

photos-for-mom-115This is me reading the poem, “For Kwame Nkrumah,” from my third book of poems, The River is Rising.

The visit ended with my photographer, Enock Amankwah also getting a shot taken of him. He was my faithful photographer, tour guide, the Ghanaian best friend of my son, MT. Here is Enock posing to have the chance to also be seen with Kofi. Afterwards, Enock said that before this day, he had always only heard about the Professor and poet, but today he had set eyes upon the renowned Kofi. There was no one as patient with me as Enock when he worked with me in Accra.


Enock and Kofi

photos-for-mom-098My friend, fellow writer, Faith Adiele, reading at the Pan African Literary Forum in Ghana. Faith is one of those rare people you meet and always know. Meeting Faith in Accra was one of those reunion activities for me. There were other writing friends too, like Pamela Fletcher who is one of my friends from long ago. Faith’s reading that night made us laugh and think about the way of life we call African culture.

photos-for-mom-458And of course, another reading here in Monrovia, Liberia, at the Liberian government forum.

Poetry Readings are usually very interesting both for the invited poet and the institution, students, and audience who may often come from the community. My students over the past years have often come away from readings with all sorts of comments about the invited poet, often some of the comments not so encouraging. I do a lot of poetry readings across the country and now in other countries. Usually, I look at a reading as a sort of a performance, something the inviting institution is paying their hard cash for, however small or large, and I, the invited one must do my best to articulate my poetry so the audience can get a clearer perspective for what is important to me. I want my images to be clear in my reading, and I want people to walk away with a sense of what poetry is. Sometimes, I think I do a good job. Sometimes, hey, I can’t know. Below are a few photos of a few readings I have recently done. Sorry, I can’t load the numerous videos I have, but the photos will tell you how seriously the inviting groups often believe poetry reading is. And who can blame them?


This is me here practicing with the famous Oliver Lake Jazz Group, Mr. Lake standing there, and me looking like I was ready to die just from doing the same poems over and over to match the reading to the music.  We are practicing here one poet at the time with several other poets for the Pittsburgh City of Asylum’s Poetry Jazz Concert that was held one day later on Sept. 13.


poetryfestival3After all that trouble, and all the poets had practiced well, here is the occasion. There were a couple thousand people at least in the audience of an enthusiastic crowd, a few voices of various poets, including Gerald Stern,  Lynn Emmanuel, Terrance Hayes, Nikola Madzirov, among others. A fantastic evening after all, and I drove back home the next morning, leaving behind Pittsburgh and all the memory as always. The Concert was a fund raiser to help settle two exiled poets in the US each year. My favorite poet among all of us was Gerald Stern, one of the finest poets who still has a sense of humor and a heart after decades of living the life of a poet. On the morning of concert day, I walked into the breakfast hall of our hotel where the Festival founder, Henry Reese had lodged us, and Gerald welcome me to his table with his wonderful humor and his warm heart. He is one of my most beloved poets, even past 80, he is still bubbly with poetry and a heart.

POETS FOR A BETTER COUNTRY: Pittsburgh Poets Rally in A Big Poetry Reading for the Obama/Biden Campaign

poets for a better country:

Some of America’s finest poets, many I know personally and have much respect for will rally in Pittsburgh this weekend to voice their support for the Democratic ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden. If you live within the Pittsburgh area or if you can drive up to Pittsburgh, this should be a once in a lifetime experience you cannot afford to miss.

Here is what the announcement says:

We urge you to join with us in forging a national movement to transform political consciousness. Barack Obama has defined democracy as “a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.”


Continue reading “POETS FOR A BETTER COUNTRY: Pittsburgh Poets Rally in A Big Poetry Reading for the Obama/Biden Campaign”

Greetings from the Ocean City of Accra, Ghana: The Pan African Literary Forum in Ghana is Going Well Out Here

At home just before I left for Ghana

The Pan African Literary Forum Study Abroad in Ghana is going well out here in Ghana, West Africa. We are just at the end of the first week of teaching and poetry festival.

Hello Everyone:

Have you been calling and not getting me? Some of you have no clue I’m away, but hey, let me tell you how much fun it is out here with photos. My “adopted” daughter who is actually my son’s friend, Ashanti caught me on e-mail the other day and started chatting. She wanted me to post some photos so she and others would know what was going on with me. I have been out here really working, doing research, and teaching students poetry at the Pan African Literary Forum’s Study Abroad in Accra, Ghana. There are a lot of wonderful writers and students of writing out here. The trip has included much laughter and tears too, so here below is what it is.

Here Below is Poet Laureate of South Africa, Keorapetse Kgositsile reading and giving the keynote address at the opening ceremony. I enjoyed meeting and exchanging books with him during the week.

I was the second of three readers at the opening ceremony, reading after the South African poet. The readings and opening ceremony took place at the WEB Dubois Center of New York University’s Ghana campus in Accra.

The third poet reading at the opening ceremony was Tyehimba Jess below at the mic.

Below are a cross section of photos from the opening ceremony on July 5, 2008

I am in the middle here of the heat, students from all over Africa, teaching poetry workshops, eating Ghanaian Banku, fufu, rice and tomato stew, and of course, all fufus must and must be eaten with hand, poetry readings, publishers lectures, more eating, taxi cab drivers who can’t find their way around their own city, more poetry readings and discussions, and now tomorrow, we will visit Cape Coast and see the Slave Castles. This has been a wonderful experience. The sun in Ghana is like no other sunshine, and does not come any close to my own country of Liberia, West Africa.

My friend, creative non-fiction writer, Faith Adiele and me talking at the opening ceremony

Below here is our last performer of the evening, Grandmaster Masese from Kenya. Masese is a very young and talented writer/musician.

Below is a cross section of the group at the opening ceremony. My camera help caught Laurie Calhoun explaining some concept about something apparently very important. I was glad to meet Laurie who is the Publications Editor of Transition Magazine at Harvard because I had worked with her preparing my poems for publication in Transition Magazine.:

In Search of Our Ancestral Past- The Pain of Visiting the Slave Dungeons at Elmina Slave Forts and the Cape Coast Slave Dungeons:

The Pan African Literary Forum’s students and Creative Writing teachers took a two and a half hour trip to the Slave Forts located at Elmina and Cape Coast. We rode in two buses in the hot Ghana sun, but our arrival at the Dungeons was met with emotion like no other I have known for a long time.

Standing Before a Dungeon brings only tears

This is just a brief blogging of the painful moment when one comes upon this huge structure where our ancestors were bound and chained, bundled up and beaten in preparation for the long transatlantic trip to slavery and to death. I broke down just like many others, shedding tears. Even the men were struck dump with silence at looking at the ingeniousness of torture.

A group of us Pan Africa Literary Forum participants standing before the Elmina Slave Fort. This is a solemn moment.

My Visit to the Buduburam Refugee camp:

The Buduburam Refugee Camp where Liberian refugees have been for the past nearly two decades is shutting down. I took a cab to the camp to speak with camp members, but particularly, because I still have a sister-in-law in the camp. Camp members live in little small mud houses erected like a shanty town, and have made a sort of a make-shift home for themselves. This was my first visit, and again, there was much emotion, the pain of watching so many who had lost the years, now packing to return on their own to Liberia. The trucks were high with furniture and personal belongings. My sister in-law was healthy, a mix emotion of happiness and sorrow just to see me, but it was a wonderful moment. One concern she has is the concern of all of the other refugees. They are being pushed out of the camp without any incentives to help them get back home or help them resettle in war-torn Liberia. But they are leaving anyway. Hopefully, most of the refugees will find home at home, jobs, schools, opportunities. Some have decided to remain in Ghana because there is nothing to return to in Liberia.

Tomorrow I Fly Away Back to Liberia

I am bracing myself for the next leg of my trip, back home to Liberia, a moment I have waited to see for so many years. The last time I was home was eight years ago, just for ten days to bury my mother who passed suddenly that year. But this was not a real return home to visit then. I saw everyone then in a cloud, in long lines before or after the funeral, during the traditional Mat times when my mother lay in state. Some of my siblings were far away in a refugee camp here or there and other family members were in hiding still. Tomorrow will be the first real return in nearly twenty years. I am bracing myself for this one. God is good to me. I will post more. My internet at the Afia Beach Club Hotel where we are staying is shutting down. But the ocean is just a few yards from my deck, and the sound of the rolling ocean reminds me I am almost home.

AWP in New York City: Poets, Writers, Publishers, Everything About Writing: Let’s Meet At the Autumn House Press Book Table


The Associated Writers and Writing Program (AWP) conference has come around this year again, and this time, we’re moving in on the Big Apple. Already, friends have contacted friends, new phone numbers have been exchanged, those who were lucky to get their panel accepted are bracing in to present, new authors are about to sign new books, publishers are going to be there too, to meet potential authors, literary magazine publishers, journalists, poets, poets, poets are going to be all over the place like crazy, and of course, some folks are going to be interviewing for jobs in the middle of all of this crowd of more than seven thousand registrants, and did I hear that AWP is so sold out that there will be no one registering on site, no room in the INN, and oh, my God!


—–AWP – Austin TX in 2006- Lydia Melvin (Meta Sama) and me at our publisher, New Issues Press book table where Jade’s first book had just come out——-

For some of us who love to write and to see our work published, AWP has been a place for finding a base. When I went to my first AWP in 1999 in Albany New York, the city on a hill where the walls of official government buildings are marble even on the outside in that hilly town. I was the African woman everyone was surprised to see at a conference that almost saw no African presence. There were hardly any black people around, I tell you, and yet, my publisher, the late Herbert Scott of New Issues Press and Prose was confident that I would make it. “You’ll survive, Patricia, you will.”

He believed in me, so I took on AWP, jumped in the Western Michigan University van with him and three other grad students who were taking turns to drive. I had decided I had never driven anywhere that far from Kalamazoo before, and most of all from Kalamazoo to Albany, and I was not signing up to drive, and of course, Herb looked at me with that disapproving look, but I didn’t budged and didn’t drive. “If you didn’t sign up, you can’t drive now,” he told me when suddenly, I felt like driving after we’d overcome some hills or because I opened my eyes during the night and thought the car would throw us down the mountain.


—-AWP -Chicago, 2004- New Issues Press book table- Ever Saskya, New Issues Press poet and I pose for a shot. Ever’s book had just been released—


So, there was I in Albany, signing books, attracting conference attendants who stopped by our table just because of my accent. “So you’re from Africa?” People would ask me,”and how did you end up here?” They’d stand, surprised, and I wondered then and now whether they bought my books in good numbers because they liked me, hated to make me feel rejected or simply because they were surprised at my accent or by my boldness.Was my poetry that good, I wondered. Whatever it was, it was good to sell books those first years.

And I have survived well, thanks to Herb Scott for that small beginning. That year, I was so afraid of going to AWP that I didn’t book a hotel room in time or didn’t have the money to book a room that year. After all, I was a PhD student with a family of six, trying to recover from the Liberian civil war even while that war still raged, trying to joggle my newly turned-teenage two older kids, trying to joggle my beloved husband, and everything a woman joggles, trying to make sense of the news of on-going war at home, trying to be helpful to ailing parents, dying cousins, uncles and neighbors at home, etc. etc.

I got bunked up in a Best Western with another younger grad female student on New Issues Press booking, and stood at the table for days to pay for my free hotel bed.

From then on, I discovered that AWP was indeed very very white, but that there was still room for me, the African woman with the African accent, writing poetry that people were beginning to accept and love in America where everything African is unknown, and best of all was that I was building up a new family of poets who were of all races, male and female, and I was also learning that the life of a poet is different from any other life because you belong in a community, and that I was also here on this earth to change the way things look before I arrived.


___ AWP – Vancouver-The late Herb Scott, founder of New Issues Press standing next to New Issues current Managing Editor, Marianne Swierenga at the book table in Vancouver, Canada——

I went to every AWP since ’99 beside Vancouver. I don’t know why I didn’t go, but maybe I was afraid of another country, maybe. There was Kansas City, and then came AWP New Orleans soon after September 11. And then, I got one more book published from just being a part of an organization where I met publishers and friends who were like and unlike me. I got on panels and did readings, and saw another African or two at the AWP conferences following. There is always room for one even if that room is not as open as should be, but there is always room for another.


——(AWP- Chicago 2004, Ade-Juah, my then ten year daughter, our youngest and I walk through the Book Exhibition hall at the Palmer House Chicago. Every now and then, I take a child with me to AWP. Ade loved meeting the many great writers and publishers, and collecting AWP pins and pencils during the last days of the conference. She still remembers some of the writers by their names up to this date.)

Now AWP conference in New York City is full, I hear and I’ve read. I will be there however, having signed up early as always. My new publisher of my third book, Autumn House has signed me up to be at the table at 1 pm on the 31st to sign books, that is if anyone cares to come by and buy my books. If they do, thanks to them because there are so many books, anyone can get overlooked in the crowd of great writers.

Beside book signings, there are numerous other things I may be doing. Eating with friends, visiting with old friends from grad school, making new friends. I will also be reading at the New school in Greenwich Village. I am so honored to read with such a good group, and then I will be reading with a friend of mine, Ruby Harmon. It’s going to be hectic, but that’s why one attends a writers’ conference, to work.

____Here are some of my most lasting memories of past AWP conferences. In AWP conference in Atlanta last year, I was pulled to PEN America reception where I met all of these great writers as AWP draws out. Right before me in the crowd of writers eating and drinking was Rita Dove and her husband who had over heard me telling a Mexican writer that I would be attending the 17th International Poetry Festival of Medellin in the summer of 2007 as an invited guest. Rita and her husband, German born novelist, Fred Viebahn drew closer to us, and I was introduced to them. We were now in a circle of about six writers who had had the Medellin experience, and everyone was excited to recount their stories about the famous festival. Rita and Fred stood there and both took turns excitedly telling me about the International Poetry Festivals held every year in Medellin, and assured me that I would have a good time and not to worry. After a long conversation with them and others in a small circle while the others around us chattered in the small room, I realized I wanted my college son, MT Wesley, whom I had brought along to the Atlanta conference to meet Rita and her husband, especially, since they had a daughter at the University of Rochester where my son is studying.

My son, who had just arrived on a plane from Rochester came up quickly to the PEN America reception. I was so excited, I was beside myself. My son was going to be meeting a great American poet like Rita tonight. Of course, I’d met Rita numerous times at AWP, but had never been in a close conversation with her this long, so it was great.

MT, then a junior student at college, came up and I introduced Rita and her husband to him. But his eyes did not light up and he was not as impressed as I was. So I said to him, “MT, do you know who this is?” His eyes had that look of “okay, Mom, who is Rita Dove?”

“MT, ” I said again, “Did you learn any literature in high school and in college?”

“Mom, please help me, who is she?” MT, his hand in Rita’s hand was unlike the kid I thought I would have, verse in literature and all of the great writers, especially, of the black world. So, I was embarrassed.

Rita said, “It’s okay, hi MT, I’m Rita.”

“Hi, nice meeting you,” he smiled and said “Sorry, Mom,” I don’t know all the great poets you know.” k

“We have a lot that our schools are not teaching our kids,” I said to my embarrassment. “Every American kid and every black kid should know the great writers of our world,” I said. I then excused my not so literary son from the group, and moved him around the room to meet all of the poets and writers in the room that evening. I wanted to give him a literary lesson at this very literary conference. He shoke hands with Sonia Sonchez and all of the great writers in the room before I let him off to run back downstairs. I am sure that he was glad to be set free from what he called, “a bunch of crazy poets.”

But MT was the wrong kid. He told me throughout the Atlanta conference how much he disliked artist and their confused festivals and writers conferences like the one he was attending with me. The book tables and booths, he thought were all confusing to a guy who loves computers and Economics, law and the like.

And yet, this was not the most humbling of my AWP experiences. My first humbling experience was the Albany conference. I had just published my first book, Before the Palm Could Bloom in 1998, and felt like the world was now opening up to me again after all of my loss, and that I had achieved something even if that was just a small thing. So, I wanted everyone to know about my new book at that AWP.

Down the book exhibit aisle from New Issues Press book table was a tall, slender, blond woman looking like someone in their late fifties. She was staring ahead, so I drew her in a conversation. I was still bold enough to speak to strangers faster than I am today, having only been in this country then less than ten years. She lit up when I greeted her, and introduced herself, her calm voice of confidence. Then she asked about me, my books, etc., and I told her about my excitement of having published my first book. She smiled that knowing smile.

We talked for a little while and I wanted to know about her book or books, and if I could look at them if she had published a book. She smiled again, maybe feeling sorry for me or maybe identifying with me because maybe I was taking her to a past memory. “Do you have a book?” I asked.

You’ve got to understand that at the time I knew that you didn’t have to have a book to be here, but I wanted to meet people with books and to be encouraged by their presence.

“Yes,” she said. “I really like you, Patricia. You are so real,”

“Thanks. Can we go to your book table?” I asked. “How many books do you have?” I asked.

We walked, and as we walked, she said in that humble way. “I have published fifty books, Patricia,” she said in that soft voice only common to the famous. It is like they do not have to make an effort to say something about themselves because you should know if you knew any better.

I almost slipped and fell in the middle of the aisle, just hearing her say, “Fifty books.”

“But some of my publishers are here. The big ones are not here,” she said, taking my hand as if to help me not fall from the shock that here was a woman like me, not black, but a woman still, with fifty books.

I felt like a mosquito right there, a tiny little ant, standing and looking at this beautiful women who was humble enough to be here standing with me. This to me was AWP- where one can mix with the great and the small, the famous and the not so known, the student and the professor. I am looking forward to this sort of inspiration as I drive up to the big Apple for my ninth AWP conference. AWP conferences make me realize each year that there is more I need to do to be where I need to be when I visit the booths and see how many books being published and how many better writers are out there making a difference. And yet, I see myself also as an inspiration to someone like me who came to this country with nothing, someone who believes that there is still room in the INN for everyone, yes, there is room for all of us.


Two of my favorite poets, Paula McLain and Anthony Butts signing books at AWP Texas, 2006- New Issues Press table.

I will conclude on a poem I wrote on the train as I left AWP 2002 in New Orleans. That poem, “There’s Another New Orleans,” was pulled from Becoming Ebony before it was published, and never made it in The River is Rising, my third book. But it was published on my college website and in Chicken Bones soon after Katrina’s flooding of New Orleans. The poem below:

There’s Another New Orleans
By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Where the roads crawl backwards
behind streets broken up in many places
and children stand in doorways,
staring. Their eyes look far away,
and a woman stands by the street corner
hollering for a dollar to take her to the shelter.
At the Chinese restaurant,
a blind man was having a meal after
a long day collecting coins that we
tourists threw into a plastic bowl
on Canal Street.

My girlfriends and I took a streetcar
from Bourbon down to the Gardens
where colonial mansions rush past you
with lost history. I didn’t know
you could ride a streetcar on a sidewalk
and watch houses disappear into history.
I wanted to feel the years.
I wanted to holler until I cried, or danced
through these colonial-mansion-streets
so the past would come flying out like
chicken feathers.

The colonial houses want to tell me
we have done away with the past?
But the streets behind our view crawl
backwards into history we came here
to remember or forget.
Someone should have kept the years for us.
Someone should have carved up the years
on pieces of metal for us.

At the restaurant door, I lose my step
in the dark. A five-year-old-boy
is playing the harmonica–nine o’clock
at night on Thursday. On Bourbon Street
nude girls are dancing in a bar,
and the five-year-old-boy outside,
on the sidewalk collects brown coins
into a plastic bowl. Will we ever know
what pennies can do?
Down the road, we forget the child,
the penny-collecting-harmonica-playing-child.
Just a few steps away, a saxophone
wails on a thin string. At Bourbon and Canal,
tourists come out in colonies, holding
on to the thin evening air.

What brings out the best of Canal Street
brings out the worst of Canal Street.
The Saxophone player sweats and balloons
hard into the night air of footsteps coming
and going in search of food and drinks
and happiness. Lovers holding on to each
other as if afraid of unfamiliar ghosts.

There’s another New Orleans, I say,
where the blind man rises at dawn
below our passing feet.
You will not see him beneath the footsteps.
The tall buildings will lose him too,
in the French Quarters, where the smell
of Cajun spices and crawfish drowns us tourists.
The Gumbo tasted like home food to me,
and my God, they brought Jollof Rice
all the way here, and named it Jambalaya.

Our waitress placed me in the middle
of people eating fresh oysters and drinking
red wine. The wines and hot peppers will drown
only the moment. Outside the night air,
on our way back to where hotel rooms await us,
there, again is the five-year-old,
somebody’s son–the child who plays
the harmonica like no other person
in the whole world.

MARCH 2002

Reading at the International Poetry Festival on July 15, 2007


The first “small” group reading in front of the public museum


Monrovia, Revisited

by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

This is the city that killed my mother;
its crooked legs bent
from standing too long,
waiting so angry people can kill
themselves too.

No grass along street corners—
so many potholes from years of war.
Immigrants from all
over the globe used to come here
on tender feet,

in search of themselves.
Abandoned city—
a place that learned
how to cry out loud even though
nobody heard.

This is the city where I first learned
how to lose myself.
Windy city, blue ocean city.
They say a city on the hill
cannot be hid.

The city of salty winds, salty tears,
where stubborn people still hold
us hostage after Charles Taylor.
You should come here if you want
to know how sacred
pain can be


Monrovia revisitada (Monrovia Revisited)

`Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Esta es la ciudad que mató a mi madre;
sus largas piernas torcidas
de estar tanto tiempo de pie,
esperando que las personas furiosas
puedan también matarse a sí mismas.
Ya no hay hierba en las esquinas de las calles––
y tantos baches luego de muchos años de guerra.
Los inmigrantes de todo el mundo
solían venir aquí
sobre sus tiernos pies,
buscándose a sí mismos.
Ciudad abandonada––
un sitio que aprendió
a gritar su llanto a pesar de que
nadie lo escuchó.
Ésta es la ciudad donde por primera vez aprendí
cómo perderme a mí misma.
Ciudad ventosa, ciudad azul océano.
Dicen que una ciudad sobre una colina
no puede ser ocultada.
La ciudad de vientos salados, lágrimas saladas,
donde personas tercas todavía nos mantienen
como rehenes luego de que lo hiciera Charles Taylor.
Si quieres saber
cuán sagrado puede ser el dolor
deberías venir aquí.