By Clifton Gachagua
University of Nebraska Press, $14.95, 60 pages
Clifton Gachagua with his book Madman at Kilifi was awarded the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, the first to receive the honor. Africa is not a continent; that fact is not the point of this poetry book, but a prerequisite. The facts of Gachagua’s poetry are personal history through sex, smoke and paper; and the sensuous display of locales including Kenya, his native country.
From “Principles of Variations, 2” by Clifton Gachagua
“Where the brewing coffee can reach your lips,
each raindrop is a word you learn to remember
with the levees of your sandals
as an act of love.
You blow up the carcass of an umbrella,
and I am glad to offer you a disguise.”
There is often a retrospective and psychological viewpoint piercing through the metaphors. From the springs under his bed to lost stones to a noisy latrine, the poems in this collection range through the day and night of human experience. The forms are also diverse, including prose poems, couplets and a found poem. Gachagua writes, “The veil in front of her face is a swinging bridge.” Likewise, Madman at Kilifi is a bridge that can open up the world of current African poetry to readers.
Reviewed by Sarah Alibabaie