Our Spirits Carry Our Voices: West Oakland to West Africa Poetry Exchange
In 2016, a group of poets from Oakland embarked on a poetic exchange with poets from Accra, Ghana and Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire. The goal of the exchange was to create healing and reconnection between Africans and African Americans who have long been separated due to the calamity of slavery and many current socio-economic factors. Using the form of Renshi poetry, a Japanese form, also known as linked or chained poems, a door was opened. Renshi poetry includes the use of the last line of your partner's poem to start your own. Like in pen pals we assigned partners to exchange with for over a year. What happened was beyond anyone's expectations. Real friendships began to blossom and in 2018, the year before President declared the Year of the Return, we decided to take a journey to Ghana to meet our exchange partners. This book is a reflection of both the process and the journey.
The anthology is arranged into 12 sections and a story unfolds as to how complete strangers meet over writing poems. The first assignment was to write "where I am from" poems, next we wrote about "an ancestor" or a "dream" or "something in the news" or "death." The poem partners worked together for over a year exchanging poems that started with the last line of their partner's poem. In the book, these are highlighted in bold.
Most of the African poets are writing in their third language, and many had been only "oral" or "slam" poets before this project, thus the writing was part of the practice for them. Within the exchange one can feel the force of the Oral tradition in the spoken word poetry of our Ghanaian partners who sometimes wrote in their second or even third language. On our side, most of the American poets had never participated in a slam before. So it was even that way.
Many of the trip highlights include forging authentic friendships through art, as well as making the great return to the Motherland of Africa. The themes of the poems vary: self-love, African vs African American experience, religion, oppression, identity, slavery, food and culture.
With new works by: Emmanuel Akambo, Jr., Nora (Xorlarlie) Anyidoho, Dodzi Korsi Aveh, aka WhoIsDeydzi, Radhiyah Ayobami, Sara Biel, Wild-Flower Brashear, Tyrice Deane Brown, Karla Brundage, Zakiyyah G. E. Capehart, Azi Edoua, Noemi Rose Gonzalez-Barillas, Xiomara, Jewell King-Speaks, Joseph Chief Korgan, aka Wordrite, Makeda, aka Sandra Hooper Mayfield, Nathaniel Ogli, Etchian Jean Frédéric Orbeli, Woédem Afua Parku, aka Woé, aka Z. Afua, Marcus Lorenzo Penn, aka Adeshima, Wanda Sabir, Mariska Araba Taylor-Darko, Crystal Tettey, Kathryn Waddell Takara, PhD., Imani Todd, Tamaris Usher, Sir Black aka Yibor Kojo Yibor.