Authors: Diamza, Delve, GM Nova, Sapphire, Poetic Vixen, Chiemeka, Thandolwethu, Trvze, Vintage Write, Jay Kophy, Mayor Mimi, Maira Wolfe, Jade Novelist.
Compilers: Jade Novelist & Maira Wolfe
South African poets Jade Novelist and Maira Wolfe team up again to bring us BLVCK INK, a compilation of poems from under dozen African poets excluding Jade & Maira. Poems about blackness in the modern day, in the new Africa. A book by Africans for Africans. It couldn’t be more relevant, or perhaps commonplace? It’s not so simple to tell, and here is why.
In the recent South Africa, and Africa at large, there has been a growing movement to assert and define African identity away from its colonial heritage, Western/Eastern culture, influence, religion and knowledge. A desperate attempt to connect with who the African people were before outside interference – African values, customs, knowledge and philosophies. There has been a huge sense that Western parties have and continue to distort and define “Africaness” in way that serves its own foreign interests, that they have stripped and eviscerated African identity, culture and freedom. Since this movement occurs in a world that is essentially modern, largely capitalist and Western it makes for what is a complex mix of philosophies, identities and values. It is a constant intermeshing, rejection and vetting of foreign ideas, coupled with a re-creation of who we are, what we are about, what we are entitled to and what we want. A huge part of this has been dealing with the adverse consequences of oppression, separation and exploitation in Africa. It is quite a tricky task. To what extent do we attribute certain societal issues to be mere results of current and universal circumstances instead of the history? Africa like any other part of the world is still subject to modern forces which shape and transform the world, forces which have little to do with Western economic, political, or hegemonic interests that may nonetheless result in some inequalities or situations. Things like the internet, free exchange of ideas and knowledge, crises, human behavior, developments in media technologies, the arts, technology and science. These are things that are realities if our world that can come from anywhere around the globe, even in Africa, and they have a transformative power. That is the tricky part, demarcating results of constant transformative forces and the legacy of oppression. Some adverse influences are influential to everyone, they aren’t unique to Africans but are rather universal and require universal human engagement to resolve them. Some influences have a history which has little to do with oppression, while some have a great deal to do with it. Despite all of this, the BLVCK Ink, and perhaps the movement itself, lacks nuance and meticulousness in dealing with a subject of such complexity.
BLVCK Ink delves into this, from a very limited perspective or worldview. The problem is that the issues explored in here are not substantially comprised, a large number of completing accounts are abandoned. A lot of the factors which belong in the story of the challenges and issues that plague black people today are simply non-existent. In simple words, BLVCK Ink is devoid of well-rounded explanations for the current situation of black people in Africa and the forces accountable. This is commenting on the content of the poems themselves and the positions they come from, which has little to do with the artistic strengths of the poems. One could argue the poem themselves are well constructed. But since BLVCK Ink is about its content above anything else, it seems fair to appraise it on those grounds. Is BLVCK Ink a sufficient account of the situation of black people in Africa? No. Is BLVCK Ink, no matter how limited, an experiential presentation of the thinking, the issues and the situation of a growing number of black people in Africa? Yes, an experiential exploration of a list issues such as colorism, feminism, corruption, the influence of Western media, crime, poverty, identity, racism, culture, trauma, views on ancient African history and oppression. And this is where its value lies, in its experience (phenomenology), not so much in its ideas, most of these ideas have been played out and fall short. For a book primarily about an idea that is bad business. It falls short of being wholesome.
This is not to say BLVCK Ink is a total failure, there are moments that truly shine in here. The artwork and the layout is also beautiful. It is a book that is comprised of highs and lows. But ultimately, in today’s context with all that is going on in the continent, BLVCK Ink is trite, relevant without being refreshing.
The authors have told me they have a big surprise. They haven’t told me what it is, so, like you, I’m curious.
Read the review of their smashing debut Beautiful Imperfections here.