BUDUBURAM Refugee Camp & My Journey Home to Liberia:The Past Still Holds On to the Present Despite the Untold Stories of Ruin and Hope

Visiting One’s Original Homeland for Research is Not Easy: Part I- Buduburam & Accra, Ghana

MY Journey back home to Liberia began on June 14. I arrived in Accra, Ghana on June 15, 2011, where I revisited the infamous Liberian Buduburam Refugee Camp, now with only an estimated 11,000 refugees still living. Three years ago, I visited the Buduburam camp and interviewed Liberian women. This year, I interviewed women and was fortunate when the UN Manager of Settlement, Mr. Gavivina Yao Tamakloe granted me a lengthy interview on the state of the refugees and the camp. His generous decision to allow me into his office and to be interviewed on his perspectives about working with Liberian and other African refugees and the camp has contributed immensely to my on-going research.

(Left: Liberian refugee lady who has been in exile since 1990, lost to her children until recently. She told me she’s all set to return home, and was negotiating assistance with the UN refugee office.)

LIBERIA stands once more at the crossroads as the Presidential elections campaign begins, and if you’re not paying attention, please begin to. As I write, there are still thousands of Liberian refugees in camps in Ghana, in Nigeria, and in other parts of the world, who still need to return home. But Monrovia has become Liberia, exploding with people who have no reason to live in the overwhelming city.

Buduburam:

Human beings are not animals that are kept in a cage until we can end our wars. This is why keeping people or allowing human beings to remain in a refugee camp for five, ten, twenty years is not good.

Two Women-Two Directions and Decisions: Comfort Roberts (L) undecided about returning to Liberia while Marie Mapu Gpabo ( R) showed me her papers for her return home to Liberia by the end of the month. She is excited to hopefully reunite with her lost children she has not seen for more than 20 years while Comfort, originally from Maryland County, Liberia, a woman who still knows Grebo will remain with grandchild and one daughter, working with the UN office. She introduced me to the Camp Manager and helped me get a an audio/video interview with the manager. These women do not only need their stories heard. They need the UN to change its policy on the kind of assistance refugees are given in the repatriation process and how they are received in Liberian upon arrival.

According to them, the UN gives each family a hundred dollars, no pots or pans, nothing for resettling back home. The United Nations has to do more in order to encourage refugees to return home.  As for Liberians who  have been in Buduburam and other smaller camps in Ghana for many years, the need to return home or be returned home should be the priority of both the United Nations and the Liberian government. These women above have lived at Buduburam for at least fifteen years each. The lady in the blue, Ms. Comfort Roberts, fled to Ghana in the heat of the war when her husband and two daughters were killed. He story is too graphic to tell. Now with one grandchild, she works in the UN office at the camp. She does not know when she will ever return home or if there is something to return home to.

Above are photos of the Buduburam Refugee camp that thousands of Liberian refugees have lived in for up to 15 or more years. Many have died naturally in this camp, had children and grandchildren, yet others have returned home over the past five years. My sister-in-law, Ora Wesley, a lovely and hardworking young woman died here in Buduburam in July of 2008. This time around, I walked around trying to find someone who remembered her, but found none. That is how sad the life of a refugees is. Refugees are people without a home, and often, forgotten as soon as they die.

Over the years, there have been numerous incidents with Liberian refugees in Ghana. Most recently, a few months ago, there was an incident of rioting and a police raid by the Ghanaian government, and it was alleged that several Liberians were killed by the government crackdown. My question on this research mission to refugees I spoke to, both men and women was: Why can’t you just return home to Liberia?    

Liberian Attitude and the Liberian Refugee:

After my five day research trip in Ghana, I boarded the Delta flight to Monrovia, Liberia, on June 19, 2011. The plane had just arrived with hundreds of Africans from the United States. As I made my way to my seat that afternoon, a Liberian man, about my age or older looked at me as I struggled to fit my overnight baggage into the overhead bin. Instead of assisting me as any gentleman would, he wanted to know what I had been doing in Accra, whether I was leaving the refugee camp or whether I had simply stopped over from America for a short visit. I did not answer him until I was seated. Then I told him that I had stopped over to visit Buduburam Camp. He quickly began to laugh at me, looking at me with the kind of cynicism one would to put another down. “So, you living in America and keeping you children in the camp eh?” He asked, laughing. “You people sit in America and keep your children in the camp?” At first, I did not know what he was saying, but when it sank in, I was shocked. I was hurt. Did he think I was the kind of mother who would live in America and keep my children in a refugee camp? Did others do such a thing? And even if I was, why would he speak to me like this? I did not respond to his inquiry. I simply dismissed him because I felt too insulted for words, and if I said something to him on the plane as it lifted off the ground, they would have had to take me off that plane or throw me out the window.( Photos below are of my son and his friends at the party he held at the company house for me in Accra.)

Liberian attitude must change.


What the gentleman on the plane did not know is that I do have a son in Ghana, but my son is living and working as a computer consultant with a reputable company, independent, a young man who fell in love with Africa and moved to Accra on his own. In fact, it was his technical expertise that I depended on during my research trip. Above are photos taken at a welcome party my son, Mlen-Too Wesley II held for me, about forty of his friends in attendance that day. That was one day after he and I visited Buduburam, after we survived having our taxi cab taken off the road by police, taken to the police station in the scorching heat, waiting until the driver was clear. At Buduburam, my son, who was not a refugee,  recorded hours of video taping, took photos and helped me since of course, I am very unfamiliar with Accra.

(L-R- Aggie, Me, and Patricia, my son’s friends, posing with me.)

LIBERIAN ATTITUDE MUST CHANGE:

Liberian attitude to being a refugee, to refugees, to their homeland or returning home, and to what it means to move on after the war must be changed if we as a people will survive. During my one hour plus interviewing Mr. Gavivina Yao Tamakloe, the UN Manager of Buduburam, he said several things which support my belief. He indicated that his experience at the camp has taught him that Liberian women are some of the most hard working, dynamic and self initiative taking people in the world. He said that seven of the organizations on the camp were started and controlled by women. They are the care givers, the supporters of the families and that the men on the camp sit around all day and waste time. This attitude in the men must change. If they are refugees in such a horribly dirty camp, then how bad do they want life to be for them to get up and do something?

Another thing that must change is refugee refusal to return home to their own country even though many of them would be better off if they did. Those who do not want to return home also do not want to assimilate or become part of the Ghanaian society. They want to remain the camps or remain refugee all their lives unless they get a ticket to come to the United States. They know that there is no longer any resettlement of refugees to the western world, so many just want to remain in a camp and let life pass them by. There is nothing better than living in your own country if the alternative is living in the sort of refugee camp that I photographed above. Liberians who returned home have unfortunately settled in Monrovia, overcrowding the city while most of the countryside is empty, but that can change if refugees return to their original homelands where they were before the war.

More Photos of my better experience in Accra: My son’s friends.

The Liberian story of suffering and hardship is unending and must be told. One of the things that struck me about life in Buduburam or in any other refugee camp is that those who arrived in the camp nearly 20 years ago went on to have children who in turn had children. I wondered and was saddened by that. How can a refugee whose country is no longer at war explain passing on to their children the gift of a refugee status? That is what the refugees at Buduburam are doing to their children. They are leaving an inheritance of the status of refugee with their children. Why is this so? Is it because their home country does not have the suitable facilities the Buduburam camp provides?

I have documented Liberian women’s stories, collecting them for an anthology that I hope to publish someday. This quest to tell the Liberian woman’s trauma stories from the war has allowed me to interview dozens of women over five years, in Africa and in the US since 2006. Much of that research was supported by my university, the Pennsylvania State University. This year, the research mission to Africa was supported by two grants: Penn State’s AESADE grant, a collaborative grant that two of my colleagues, Dr. Lee Ann De Reus, Dr. Julia Hudson-Richards and I were awarded. I then applied for supplementary funding to augment the AESADE grant from the Penn State University’s Africana Research Center’s Faculty Grant, and obtained that grant. These two grants made it possible for me to travel to Ghana and to Liberia, where I conducted several workshops, trained teachers, recorded women’s stories and did radio and tv interviews and poetry readings. I am grateful to my university for this great opportunity to follow the stories of Liberian women and to be at Buduburam this year.

As I conclude this blog post, let me say that I know there are some who think I should go into refugee camps with gifts for refugees as my service to my country. But there are many who are already doing that, and our people are still stuck in that ugly camp after twenty years. Free handouts are not the solution to helping people recover. I believe that if someone is inspired by words and encouragement, by teaching and education, they can do everything they want to do for themselves. There was one objective I had besides collecting whatever stories I could get, and that was to inspire at least one woman about her worth. I wanted them to know that they can return home and live a better life. During my visit I did that. I walked them through my belief in them as the masters of their destiny. I was so glad when one of the women insisted on taking me to her shack to show me her papers and promised me she was returning home soon. Another woman told me that when she arrived at the camp, she was a young girl, and now, she’s old and needs to return home.

There was one young girl in her teens who had just returned to the camp from boarding school. I was saddened to see a child who went to boarding school where no one really feels like home and returned to the camp where not even her parents live. She, not photographed, came to me for advice. I told her that if she went to school and continued and obtained a good education, she would someday never live in a camp like this. Our people need the courage to move on, not condemnation. They need to return home, but the United Nations cannot give them $100.00 to return home to a land they may never have known or to a land they’ve lost.

My trip ended and I moved on to Liberia. Within a few days, I’ll be posting the stories of my time in Liberia. Come back and visit.

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:

http://www.univision.com/contentroot/wirefeeds/noticias/8256821.shtml

http://www.festivaldepoesiademedellin.org/pub.php/en/Festival/XX_Festival/Prensa/index.htm




When a Poem Stays With You Forever: Recalling Those Poets That Influenced Me. Post Your favorite poems in No Longer than 20 Lines in Response, Will You?

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Some poems stay with you forever. They are there when you need them- they nag you, inspire you, make you change your world, comfort you when you need comforting, help you climb your own hills as if you were a hill climber. Some poems manufacture other poems within your deepest guts, and make you walk on water. Some poets remain with you like the poems they carve, and as a poet, when that happens, you become what you were to be. You come across these poems in school, often as early as grade school, in college, during your search for your own poetry career, and are there when you need that extra push. They shape your philosophy about poetry, about the world and its people, and you go back to them again and again for solace. For me, the poets I am listing and many more that cannot fit this blog’s limited pages, these poets and poems have been with me forever. They have influenced me in some ways, often, helping me carve up my own career as a poet. Even though I have picked out just one poem from some of these poets, there are many more of their poems that have affected me positively. What I want my own poetry to do for my readers, lovers of my poetry and those who are eternally lovers of any poetry is that I affect you just as beautifully as these poets have affected me. I want to help you carve up the brushes along your own path, and find where you’re going. I am not saying that poetry is everything, that poetry is god; I am saying that poetry is essential to our lives, and that each of us is a poet inside, whether we know it or not, In any case, if I inspire you in any way, just find a moment and write a poem, read a poem, or just support a poet. Poets are not rich people. They work very hard and hardly ever get paid for helping to reshape the world. Enjoy my poets the way I enjoy them, and leave a note if you feel strongly about poetry.

John Pepper Clark

John Pepper Clark Bekederemo

(1935- Present)

Nigerian Poet and Playwright, John Pepper Clark Bekederemo was one of my first favorites. His use of African oral traditional images, the dirge, song, and music in his style intrigued me. His ability to capture the Nigerian civil war in “The Casualties” affected me decades before I could even imagine that I too, would be a victim of a civil war in my own country.

THE CASUALTIES

————-John Pepper Clark Bekederemo

The casualties are not only those who are dead;
They are well out of it.
The casualties are not only those who are wounded,
Thought they await burial by installment
The casualties are not only those who have lost
Person or property, hard as it is
To grape for a touch that some
May not know is not there
The casualties are not those led away by night;
The cell is a cruel place, sometimes a heaven,
No where as absolute as the grave
The casualties are not those who started
A fire and now cannot put to out. Thousands
Are burning that had no say in the matter.
The casualties are not only those who escaping
The shattered shell become prisoners in
A fortress of falling walls.

The casualties are many, and a good number well
Outside the scene of ravage and wreck;
They are the emissaries of rift,
So smug in smoke-room they haunt abroad,
They are wandering minstrels who, beating on
The drum of human heart, draw the world
Into a dance with rites it does not know

The drum overwhelm the guns…
Caught in the clash of counter claims and charges
When not in the niche others have left,
We fall.
All casualties of war,
Because we cannot hear other speak,
Because eyes have ceased to see the face from the crowd,
Because whether we know or
Do not know the extent of wrong on all sides,
We are characters now other than before
The war began, the stay- at- home unsettled
By taxes and rumor, the looter for office
And wares, fearful everyday the owners may return,
We are all casualties,
All sagging as are
The case celebrated for kwashiorkor,
The unforeseen camp-follower of not just our war.

soyinka1

Wole Soyinka

(July 13, 1934- Present)

Wole Soyinka, Nobel Prize winning poet in Literature, playwright and memoirist is one of my favorite. I admire his use of African oral tradition in his plays, but “Telephone Conversation’s” biting sarcasm and wit can knock anyone off their feet. I discovered the poem while I was still in high school, and have loved it since. I met the great one during the African Lit. Association conference in Burlington, VT last April, and of course, he was a great orator, literary critic and all during his keynote address to our conference.

Telephone Conversation

——————by Wole Soyinka


The price seemed reasonable, location
Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived
Off premises. Nothing remained
But self-confession. ‘Madam,’ I warned,
‘I hate a wasted journey – I am African.’
Silence. Silenced transmission of
Pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully.
‘HOW DARK?’ . . . I had not misheard. . . .
‘ARE YOU LIGHT OR VERY DARK?’
Button B. Button A. Stench
Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered
Omnibus squelching tar. It was real! Shamed
By ill-mannered silence, surrender
Pushed dumbfounded to beg simplification.
Considerate she was, varying the emphasis –
‘ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?’ Revelation came.
‘You mean – like plain or milk chocolate?’
Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light
Impersonality. Rapidly, wave-length adjusted,
I chose. ‘West African sepia’ – and as afterthought,
‘Down in my passport.’ Silence for spectroscopic
Flight of fancy, till truthfulness clanged her accent
Hard on the mouthpiece. ‘WHAT’S THAT?’ conceding
‘DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.’ ‘Like brunette.’
‘THAT’S DARK, ISN’T IT?’ ‘Not altogether.
Facially, I am brunette, but madam, you should see
The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet
Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused –
Foolishly madam – by sitting down, has turned
My bottom raven black – One moment madam!’ – sensing
Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
About my ears – ‘Madam,’ I pleaded, ‘wouldn’t you rather
See for yourself?’

Gwen

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000), one of my favorite poets that I met before she died. I was a part-time instructor of English, African  and African American Lit. at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids Michigan. She was a visiting poet at that Catholic college sometime in the middle 1990s. After her reading, I stood in line to meet her, and she noticed me in my African dress, and drew me close. I was of course, a part-time teacher, an insignificant person as far as my colleagues were concerned, and I was having the toughest time in my career that year. In fact, I had the worst experience of my teaching life at that college, so it was such a fresh blessing to be spoken to in such kind words by the famous Gwendolyn Brooks, whose work I was teaching in my African American Lit. classes there. I told her that I was a poet or at least I thought I was, unpublished in the US, and looking forward to putting together my first book of poems. She hugged me, smiling proudly, telling me that if I had made it out of the Liberian civil war then in 1995, I would make it to be the finest poet ever. Maybe she was right; maybe not, however. When I finally got a publisher in 1997, I sent my manuscript to the famous poet, asking her for a blurb. She wrote back immediately, telling me that she was not doing well, and was dealing with the pressure of finishing one last book before life could overtake her; cheering me on, she told me how proud she was of me, and that she wished me a great career as a poet. She also sent me a card, congratulating me on my publication. Her long letter, written in her fine handwriting even then, gave me more reason for my dream to be a poet. I knew then that it was not only my father, Moses C. Jabbeh, who could push me on. She also recalled meeting me years earlier, and that her hopes for me had been realized. Very rarely does one ever come across a sweetheart such as Gwendolyn Brooks.

Young Afrikans

by Gwendolyn Brooks
of the furious

Who take Today and jerk it out of joint
have made new underpinnings and a Head.

Blacktime is time for chimeful
poemhood
but they decree a
jagged chiming now.

If there are flowers flowers
must come out to the road. Rowdy!—
knowing where wheels and people are,
knowing where whips and screams are,
knowing where deaths are, where the kind kills are.

As for that other kind of kindness,
if there is milk it must be mindful.
The milkofhumankindness must be mindful
as wily wines.
Must be fine fury.
Must be mega, must be main.

Taking Today (to jerk it out of joint)
the hardheroic maim the
leechlike-as-usual who use,
adhere to, carp, and harm.

And they await,
across the Changes and the spiraling dead,
our Black revival, our Black vinegar

HousmanAE

(26 March 1859 – 30 April 1936)

A.E. Housman was one of my favorites when I was a grade school student. I loved his narrative style and his ability to create concrete images that made the storyline in his own violent world then, real. Most of all, I loved his ability to deal with real issues of life, dying, conflict of relationships and the world of youth.

Is My Team Plowing by A. E. Housman


“Is my team ploughing,
That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?”

Ay, the horses trample,
The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
The land you used to plough.

“Is football playing
Along the river shore,
With lads to chase the leather,
Now I stand up no more?”

Ay, the ball is flying,
The lads play heart and soul;
The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.

“Is my girl happy,
That I thought hard to leave,
And has she tired of weeping
As she lies down at eve?”

Ay, she lies down lightly,
She lies not down to weep,
Your girl is well contented.
Be still, my lad, and sleep.

“Is my friend hearty,
Now I am thin and pine,
And has he found to sleep in
A better bed than mine?”

Yes, lad, I lie easy,
I lie as lads would choose;
I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart,
Never ask me whose.

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Nikki Giovanni

(June 7, 1943-Present)
I have never met Nikki Giovanni, but she was one of my earliest influences as a young poet, writing in Monrovia, Liberia. I heard her read one of her most powerful poems about the connection between African Americans and Africa during the early 1980s. The Liberian Association of Writers (LAW) visited the United States Embassay to hear her read via satelite TV, and I was never the same after that. I wrote my poem, “Heritage” that is included in my first book of poems, Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa (New Issues Press, 1998). I rushed home that day and wrote the poem that also talks about another kind of connection, the one between myself and my place as a Grebo woman from the Tuobo Patton (Clan). Over the many years of my career since my twenties, I have enjoyed reading Nikki, and have come to adore her powerful lines, her ability to bring to life images that are truly about black people and the black experience. I continue to be her fan today.

Today, my colleague, friend and sister, fellow Penn State professor, Sandra Staton Taiwo sent me two photos of her meeting Nikki Giovanni at a literary event where she still is. I was intrigued and jealous of course, of my sweet friend. I thought, oh, my goodness, it should have been me. But I’m joking. Sandra deserves to meet the great one, Nikki Giovanni, whom so many of us adore. She continues to be a great inspiration today. Enjoy the two photos.

Nikki

Prof. Sandra Staton Taiwo and Nikki Giovanni (Nov. 2009), taken by Sandra’s Blackberry.

Sandra and Nikki

Nikki can reached an adult as well as a child. Here is my friend’s daughter, the intelligent one that she is, meeting this great mountain that is Nikki.

They Clapped
—————-by Nikki Giovanni

they clapped when we landed
thinking africa was just an extension
of the black world
they smiled as we taxied home to be met
black to black face not understanding africans lack
color prejudice
they rushed to declare
cigarettes, money, allegiance to the mother land
not knowing despite having read fanon and davenport
hearing all of j.h. clarke’s lectures, supporting
nkrumah in ghana and nigeria in the war that there was once
a tribe called afro-americans that populated the whole
of africa
they stopped running when they learned the packages
on the women’s heads were heavy and that babies didn’t
cry and disease is uncomfortable and that villages are fun
only because you knew the feel of good leather on good
pavement
they cried when they saw mercedes benz were as common
in lagos as volkswagens are in berlin
they shook their heads when they understood there was no
difference between the french and the english and the americans
and the afro-americans or the tribe next door or the country
across the border
they were exasperated when they heard sly and the family stone
in francophone africa and they finally smiled when little boys
who spoke no western tongue said “james brown” with reverence
they brought out their cameras and bought out africa’s drums
when they finally realized that they are strangers all over
and love is only and always about the lover not the beloved
they marveled at the beauty of the people and the richness
of the land knowing they could never possess either

they clapped when they took off
for home despite the dead
dream they saw a free future

Auden

W. H. Auden (1907-1973), powerful poet writing  during times of war. I mostly have been influenced since grade school, by his ability to articulate the angry feelings that war evokes. His poem below has been used by everyone in times of adversity.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone

W. H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

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Kofi Anyidoho

(1947-Present)

Renowned Ewe and African poet, Kofi Anyidoho of Ghana is one of those poets who has contributed much to many of us newer African writers in so many ways. He is able to bring the African oral tradition to life in every line, whether that line is in English or in Ewe. I was a fan of his poetry and his writing prior to meeting him. In fact, I used his writing to reference the scholarly section of my Ph.D. defense in preparation for my Creative Writing (Poetry) dissertation. I was very blessed to meet him first, finally, in Illinois at the ALA conference. But when I met him in Accra, Ghana, at the PALF writing residency I had summer of 2008, he was a great inspiration to me. He gave me a tour of the University of Ghana, introducing me to university officials, giving me a tour of the English Dept. at Legon, the other name of the university, and gave me a cd of his beautiful poetry. Then I heard him recite his poetry at one of the evening readings at the Pan African Literary Forum. He is a brother, a mentor, and an African poet, who has helped many of us newer poets see that one can certainly be an African writer even while writing away from home. Below is one of his beautiful poems. Enjoy.

photos-for-mom-112This is me with Poet and Professor, Kofi Anyidoho

My Song

Kofi Anyidoho

Here
on
this
Public
Square
I
Stand

I sell My Song for those with ears to buy
It is to a tree that a bull is tied
You do not bypass the palm’s branches
to tap its wine

The things I have to say

I say them now
I shall stand aside
from those who care
to clear their throat and
dress their shame in lies

When you meet a poorly-dressed neighbour
at a great durbar
you do not spit on the ground
and roll your eyes to the skies

The umbrella I bought
You stole from my rooms at dawn
Now I walk in the early morning rain

You point at me to our young maidens
And they join you in laughter

Think
My People
Think
Think well before you laugh at those who walk in the rain.

The gifts that bestows at birth
Some had some splendid things
What was mine?
I sing. They laugh.
Still I sell My Song
for those with ears to buy

My cloth is torn, I know
But I shall learn to wear it well

My voice is hoarse, I know
But I shall learn to wear it well.

langston_hughes

Langston Hughes

Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967), one of those poets whose mark remains with you forever. I discovered him early, probably as late back as in high school, and then in college, where I drank every bit of his poetry with hopes of following after his footsteps. I thought him in the 1990s and currently in African American lit classes and in any literature course about the world. As a poet writing in the 1960s, his voice joined the many voices of African poets seeking to bring Africa out of Colonialism. He was the Negritude poet for me just as poet, Aime Cesaire was in Martinique or Leopold Sedar Singhor was in Guinea. His poem below is one of my favorite.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

———by Langston Hughes

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

herbglasses

Herb Scott

Herb Scott, (Feb. 8, 1931-Feb. 12, 2006) of Michigan, founded the New Issues Press that has published some of the finest poets in America today. He was my professor, mentor, friend and publisher, and without his influence, my career would not be where it is today. Herb was one of those who believed in you no matter where you come from, and worked with you no matter your race, class, educational level, etc. His life was lived as if he had not time to left, and when you walked into his life, he was there for you. Of all my influences, he remains a living monument in my life and poetry. He was as personal as a father could be. Love you Herb, and blessings to your beautiful family who shared you with the world. Enjoy the poem below. I recall reading it in tears at Herb’s memorial service in March of 2006.

Invocation

By Herb Scott

Skin, and bone, and weed
flower in the flesh.
Do not go to sleep.

Love is a dust we keep,
silt of the body’s dreaming.
Do not go to sleep.

If I were the speech of leaves
I’d let my body sing.
Do not go to sleep.

Words like willow branches
bend to the earth’s reach.
Do not go to sleep.

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Marie Howe

(1950-Present)

One of my favorite poets, Marie Howe is a great American poet. I was influenced by her couplets, her ability to bring images to life, and her love of life. My favorite of her books, What the Living Do remains a lasting impression on me. I met her last spring at the AWP conference, and wasn’t it wonderful? She and I communicated by e-mail briefly after that, and despite my inability to meet with her this summer, I plan to reopen our dialogue and meet with her next summer for coffee. She is a great poet and I am her fan. Love you, Marie, and never told you that Marie is my middle name that got lost in the long list of names my parents gave me. My childhood friends still call me Marie, however.
The Star Market
by Marie Howe January 14, 2008

The people Jesus loved were shopping at the Star Market yesterday.
An old lead-colored man standing next to me at the checkout
breathed so heavily I had to step back a few steps.

Even after his bags were packed he still stood, breathing hard and
hawking into his hand. The feeble, the lame, I could hardly look at them:
shuffling through the aisles, they smelled of decay, as if the Star Market

had declared a day off for the able-bodied, and I had wandered in
with the rest of them—sour milk, bad meat—
looking for cereal and spring water.

Jesus must have been a saint, I said to myself, looking for my lost car
in the parking lot later, stumbling among the people who would have
been lowered into rooms by ropes, who would have crept

out of caves or crawled from the corners of public baths on their hands
and knees begging for mercy.

If I touch only the hem of his garment, one woman thought,
could I bear the look on his face when he wheels around?

looking for cereal and spring water.

Jesus must have been a saint, I said to myself, looking for my lost car

in the parking lot later, stumbling among the people who would have

been lowered into rooms by ropes, who would have crept

out of caves or crawled from the corners of public baths on their hands

and knees begging for mercy.

If I touch only the hem of his garment, one woman thought,

could I bear the look on his face when he wheels around?

FINALLY

There are numerous more influences that I cannot include in these brief pages. Some of these great authors are short story writers or have no poetry online to post. Writers like Ama Ata Aidoo of Ghana, whose story telling style reminds me of how my Iyeeh and my mother told the ancient Grebo tales to me, Buchi Emecheta’s feminist drive for bringing out the stories of women, Kojo Laing and his humor, and Kwesi Brew and his oral traditional wit have all left their mark on me. Others like Bai T. Moore of Liberia, whose poem, “Monrovia Market Women,” remains embedded in my mind, S. Henry Cordor, who was one of my first writing mentors, Robert H. Brown of Liberia, and Althea Romeo Mark, fellow writers, former professors, friends and mentors  have all left their mark on my own career, and there would be no space on the Internet were I to recall all of these great writers. If you are like me, maybe all you can do is to continue to write and publish, continue to pass on your skills to other students of writing, continue to cry out against injustices through your own poetry, just continue to be you. It is a privilege to be able to say that someone touched my life and maybe I, too, can touch another person’s life. Maybe you too can touch someone’s life. Life is too short to live forgetting those who have given more than their share to you directly or indirectly.

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

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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.

THE FESTIVAL

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.

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GABEBA BADAROON– POET

Our Published Books:

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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.

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

Our Published Books:

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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:

http://www.fallforthebook.org/participants.php

http://www.fallforthebook.org/2009_FFTB_program.pd

———————-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

Russian
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

Arabic
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.

image

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!

Poets, Poetry Readings and the Adventures of Literary Connections

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.”

HERE ARE THE POETS:

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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.