Saturday, April 25, 2020


Title: World Poetry Almanac (2015 – 2016)
Authors (s): Various
Editor-in-Chief: Hadaa Sendoo (Mongolia)
Year of release:  2018
Format: Paperback
Reviewer: Alexander Nderitu

Author/critic Alexander Nderitu with WPA, in Kenya
I still remember the tingle of excitement I felt when I received my copy of this poetry volume through the post office. I was in Kenya and the package had been sent from Mongolia via Japan. I took the large brown envelope home, opened it and retrieved the glossy brown-black-covered paperback. The title was World Poetry Almanac 2015-2016. However, it was a special edition of the series, a 10th anniversary celebration. Founded in 2006, by Editor-in-Chief Hadaa Sendoo, the World Poetry Almanac (WPA) publishes a wide range of poetic styles and voices from all over the globe. Copies are also donated to the British Library, the UNESCO library, the American Library of Congress and the Swedish Academy.

World Poetry Almanac 2015-2016 contains the works of 116 poets from 77 countries. There’s a very smooth feel to the pages. Abstract art adorns the page margins. Page-size full-colour photos occasionally break up the textual pages. They mostly depict natural scenery from around the globe. There are three ‘featured poets’ on the front and back covers: Ko Un (Korea), Simin Behbahani (Iran) and Yves Bonnefoy (a Franz Kafka Prize winner who passed away in 2016). 

Simin Behbahani - سیمین_بهبهانی (Photo: Courtesy)
Never before have I read an anthology containing so many prominent poets! The work is well curated and the contributors range from Nobel Prize nominees to unknown but gifted scribes living thousands of miles from each other. One of the more recognizable names is Derek Walcott (Santa Lucia) whose poem After the Storm appears in the anthology. The author of many poetry books and over 30 plays, Walcott won the Queens Medal for Poetry in 1988 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. As an African, I am pleased to report that the continent is well represented. I was, in fact, pleased to see poems by two of my Facebook friends: Fondly and Amazon by Akor Emmanuel Oche (Nigeria) and Banana Republics by Mbizo Chirasha. The latter is a lengthy political poem, an African lament rich with metaphor, imagery and ethos. Other African poets included are: Warda Al Barbar (Algeria), Ashraf Amer (Egypt), Alexander Nderitu (Kenya), Jamal Eddine Benhayoun (Morocco), Breyten Breytenbach (South Africa) and Ines Al Ababasi (Tunisia). 

Prolific poet Mbizo Chirasha. (Photo: Courtesy)
Several verses stood out for me, including two untitled poems by Zakaria Mohammad (Palestine), Letter to My Sister by Warda Al Barbar (Algeria), Poetry and Religion by Les Murray (Australia), Another Life by Taslima Nasrin (Bangladesh), Chinese People by Yang Kel (China), Rings of Dew by Sun Xue (China), Remember That You Are The Poet by Dato Barbakadze (Georgia), Our Tears Are Sweet by Simin Behbahani (Iran), River by Tanikawa Shuntaro (Japan), Native Poems by Rakhim Karim (Kyrgystan), Love Objection by Sofia Naznim (Malysia), On This Lost Time by Enrique Gracia, Shadow Escaping Time by Antonia Capilla Loma (Spain), Dawn by Lam Thi My Da and Patricia Prime’s (New Zealand) very visual poem, Woman Reading a Letter (Vermeer).

As an art form, poetry is well known for its economy of words. What are Those Things and Freedom, short sweet poems by Humberto Akabal (Guatemala), demonstrate this, as do the three contributions by Hemante Divate from India.  Hemante’s Even Now I Don’t Understand sensually compares writing a poem to making love to a woman. He is a winner of the Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad Award (India) and the Maharashtra Foundation Award (USA).  WPA welcomes avant-garde poetry. One of the first verses to catch my attention when I first perused this book was a poem by Leonardo Melero Blanco (Venezuela) titled They Tried to Make Me Go to Rehab, I Said ‘No!No!No!’ Amy Winehouse. It’s a modernist tribute poem to troubled British singer Amy Winehouse who died of alcohol poisoning in 2011. 

Many of the poems in the collection appear in translation. As a consequence, the reader sometimes wonders what may have been lost in translation. For example, one wonders how much more impactful New Testament by Adonis (Syria) would be in the original, seeing as how it is a critique about the ‘burdens’ of ‘distant languages’. One might even say that its presentation in English translation is a case of Dramatic Irony! Born in Syria and considered ‘one of the Arab world’s greatest living poets’, Andonis who currently resides in Paris has been a Nobel Prize for Literature nominee. Every language has a political connotation – a certain reality or ‘baggage’ – associated with it. When languages are translated, some of the baggage is often left behind. 

Syrian poet Adonis (Photo: Press photo)
There are a few typographical errors in the book, especially in the author profiles. All things considered, however, World Poetry Almanac (2015 – 2016) would make a great coffee-table book in the English-speaking world.  

FULL DISCLOSURE: The author is one of the poets whose work appears in the WPA.

1 comment: