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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.

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