A Feast of Gambian poetry and prose

Friday, September 28, 2018

Hassoum Ceesay,(ed.)Bold Voices: a selection of Gambian Poems, Prose and Plays,  Writers’ Association of The Gambia Publication, Unique Graphics Printers, 67 pages, 2018.

Gambian literature is waxing stronger by the day. In the New Gambia, writers are increasingly getting their voices out of the whispers into the mainstream. This is obvious in this anthology of poetry and prose published by Writers’ Association of The Gambia (WAG) and edited by one of our foremost men of letters, Hassoum Ceesay.

This fresh harvest of bright and juicy Gambian prose, poetry and play written by young literary talents comprises two sections: the first section comprises a selection from the winning entries of a national school writing contest organised in May-June 2018 by WAG and funded by UNESCO as part of the activities marking of World Book and Copyright Day 2018. Dozens of schools from all the parts of the country took part; enthusiastic budding student writers sent in samples of their writings. A panel of judges was formed by WAG and they methodically and meticulously went through all the entries and chose the best. A team of editors empanelled by WAG trawled through the winning entries to make them fit for publication. Part two consists of poems contributed by WAG members and other experienced published Gambian writers including Lenrie Peters (1932-2009).

What you have in this book therefore is a melange of raw and upcoming talent such as the school boy poet Bakary J Janneh (p.17) and Adama Mbodge (p.18) and accomplished writers such as Nana Grey Johnson (p.41); Hassoum Ceesay (1944-2010) (p.35);  and Swaebou Conateh (p.37). This is one of the great strengths of this book: how the editor has ably juxtaposed the new and the experienced.

The poems, prose and plays in this anthology speak to Gambia, Africa and the whole world on many issues: tyranny, travel troubles (migration), even romance. The themes may differ, but the works share the commonality of astringency in diction and urgency in theme and solvency in imagery. The poets here presented are in a decent hurry to see things done in this country, especially, and in other places afar. For them the world is small such that what makes us laugh here will make others laugh in other climes. This is the power of literature.

Besides the apt themes, the poets and story writers also exhibit a canny use of diction and imagery in their works. Alliteration, assonance abound in the various poems and plays; there is stark imagery as in the lone poem contributed by the editor himself, titled ‘Reading a Map of Gambia and Senegal’:  ‘If Senegal were a sandwich/Gambia is its filling/Neither can go without the other..’ (p.36).

The book is indeed a festive celebration of New Gambian writings. The pains, stains, hopes and slopes of the lives of our peoples are well encapsulated. Kudos to the editor and contributors!

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