cover image The Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems

The Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems

Kofi Awoonor. Univ. of Nebraska, $19.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0803249899

In effect the national poet of Ghana, Awoonor (1935-2013) belongs to the first generation of African writers who grew up along with their countries; his verse from the 1960s integrates modernist sparseness with traditional icons and ceremonial forms, as in "A Dirge": "Our fathers, the hippo has overturned our canoe./ We come home/ Our guns point to the earth." Awoonor became a professor of literature in Long Island; in 1975 returned to Ghana, where he was incarcerated for political reasons; and from 1984 to 1994 served as Ghana's ambassador to Brazil, to Cuba, and to the United Nations. His later verse (along with his prose, sparsely excerpted here) reflects all that experience, folding into its lines disillusion with the U.S.; determination and resistance in jail; and enthusiasm for an international revolutionary left, for "commitments that will not wait." Awoonor's sudden death%E2%80%94killed by terrorists who attacked the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi%E2%80%94prompted tributes from across Africa and the African diaspora. His place in a tradition seems secure; the later poems may sound like public speeches, but the earlier work, towards the end of this big selection, remains valuable for its vivid attempts to make new, locally rooted forms. (Mar.)