Recently I blogged about Bending the Bow, a surprising and engaging new anthology of African love poetry edited by Malawian poet and professor Frank Chipasula.
Since then I’ve learned that Chipasula is also the founder of Brown Turtle Press, whose motto is “Slow But Determined” and whose mission is “discovering new exciting voices that have been marginalized by the mainstream publishing houses and providing them a much-needed platform.”
Professor Chipasula sent me three of Brown Turtle’s first five titles. (Three more are listed as forthcoming.) The first thing I noticed was how well designed and typeset they were. Watering the Beloved Desert, for instance, features photos of the stunning sand dunes of Namibia on inside pages as well as the cover. Chipasula, who designs the books himself, writes, “Our goal is to publish beautiful books whose physical appearance itself will fill our readers with as much joy as it took us to produce the books.”
Though Brown Turtle also publishes fiction, each of these three was a collection of poetry. Watering the Beloved Desert is by Mvula ya Nangolo, a journalist and Namibian government official. The Rock at the Corner of My Heart is by Daniel P. Kunene, a retired South African professor who has taught at universities on three continents, while To Wreck the Whirlwind with a Glance is a bilingual Spanish-English edition by the Mexican poet Lina Zerón.
As a reader of poetry I am particularly hard to please. I was bothered, for instance, by the strained rhymes in some of Nangolo’s verse and by the overt feminist and anticolonialist messages in Zerón’s. But each book had its pleasures too: the ripe sensuality in Zerón (though best in small doses), the whimsy of Kunene (see his poem on taking out the trash) and the powerful direct expression in Nangolo (when he lets the rhymes alone).
This is from “Cassinga Song” by Nangolo, about the 1978 massacre of Namibian freedom fighters in southern Angola:
When a man, woman or child perishes
then an entire clan cries vengeance
When cold steel slaughters the masses
then an entire nation raises its spear
Cassinga is an open wound oozing pain
Geoff Wisner is the author of A Basket of Leaves: 99 Books That Capture the Spirit of Africa, which discusses books from every African country. He also blogs at www.geoffwisner.com.