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Refractive Africa by Will Alexander
PBS Spring Recommendation 2022

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Refractive Africa is a set of three poems ruminating on diasporic witness, colonialism, invasion, and political resistance. This ‘pas de trois’ of poems begins paying homage to Amos Tutuola, innovative Nigerian-Yoruban author, and ends with a speech towards modernist Malagasy poet Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo.

The collection turns around the long middle poem, using the geographical site of the Congo river as a lens for considering the pillaging and dislocation of societies through history, honing-in on the specific colonial and post-colonial histories of the area. He welds these to contemporary instances of ecological damage through mining for tin and cobalt.

Fierce, compelling, and full of astrological reckoning, this book is a ‘savage enunciation’:

‘this is the Congo
vertiginous with derangement
with its foul & delimited hygiene
with its “weaver bird nests”
with its sprawling grasslands
with its “ghostly voltage” as flares from old oil rigs

thus our intelligence forcibly blunted
our thought stream injured as culpable integument
within this compound negation
terror persists
snaking its way through interior suppression’

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