Poetry Express: Afua Cooper + Black Matters
Poetry Express kicks off with Afua Cooper, Halifax’s seventh Poet Laureate, whose collection Black Matters (Roseway Publishing) was developed in collaboration with photographer Wilfried Raussert to showcase everyday Black experiences. Winner of the Portia White Prize in 2020 and longlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award in 2021, Black Matters is a visual and textual conversation that amplifies and honours Black beauty and the layers of Blackness in the African diaspora around North America and Europe.
Read on for our Q&A with Afua in which she tells us how her idea of poetry has changed, what she's in the mood to read these days, and what household chores have to do with writing. Plus, read the poem "Jupiter Wise" from her collection, below.See more details below
During the month of April, you can buy any of our featured Poetry Express books for 20% off + free shipping in Canada. Just use promo code NPMexpress at checkout.
All Lit Up: Can you tell us a bit about your collection and how it came to be?
Afua Cooper: The collection came about as a result of conversations I had with Wilfried Raussert on art, photography, and poetry. We then hit upon a collaboration—my poems coupled with his images.
Photo of Afua Cooper
[Image Description: A front-facing picture of the author giving a speech behind a podium at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. She is Black and is wearing a blue and Ankara on her right shoulder, an orange headscarf and black top.
ALU: What has been your most unlikely source of writing inspiration?
AC: I get inspiration from riding the city transit. I watch the people (passengers), and I try to imagine what they are thinking. In the winter people on the bus seem unhappy, but much happier in the spring and summer. I imagine stories of beauty about their lives. Another unlikely source of inspiration comes from washing the dishes and cleaning the house. I feel liberated doing these chores, because it is an unburdening, and poems just flow from the process.
ALU: Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poems?
AC: Yes. In a simple but profound way. I used to think that a poet had to have a specific topic to write on. But now I know that poetry can be made up of just nouns, or verbs, or gerunds, simply letters across a page. Poetry can be a laugh the poet tries to capture on the page. Poetry can be orderly on the page or disorderly. Poetry can jump around, make sense or not make sense.
ALU: What are you most in the mood to read these days? Any poets you’re especially enjoying?
AC: I go back always to my old poets: Rumi, Nazim Hikmet, Kamau Brathwaite, Lorna Crozier, Sue Goyette, Rita Dove, Pablo Neruda. There are others.
ALU: Describe your ideal escape.
AC: A place in the Caribbean. Either in the mountains or by the sea. If it is in the mountains, then I sit on the porch gazing at the trees and watch the hills unfolding. If it is by the sea, then I walk every morning on the sand listening to the sea, conversing with the wind.
A poem from Black Matters
Tell your story
chant your psalm
iqra your chronicle
that of hostile winters
and long sea journeys
read your DNA inscription
Middle Passage survivor
Jupiter Wise *
speak of your odyssey
from Boston to Charlottetown
in the sloop that nearly went down
off the coast of Maine
You had no fear
but felt a secret glee
in your heart
as you saw the whites panic
Let them feel the fear of death, for once
And in Charlottetown
you slaved for a master
who called you Jupiter
with full knowledge
that the god was powerful
and you, oh so pitiful
let me see your disguise
play fool fi ketch wise
you with the patoo eyes **
that you use fi hypnotize
white mask, Black skin
tink seh you a jinn
planned a slave escape
across di Northumberland Strait
when dem reach the sea,
dem shout “jubilee”
But they found you
slave master and his crew
took you to the hanging tree
and you plead the benefit of clergy
The judges spared your life
warned you about causing strife
sentenced you to West Indian slavery
but you escaped to Nova Scarcity
lived there as a Maroon with your wife
A fighting slave
you quested for your freedom
in your head you heard the jubilee drum
don your disguise
white mask, Black skin
rock and come in
* Jupiter Wise was an enslaved man who in 1785 sought to free
himself from Prince Edward Island slavery
** Patoo in African Jamaican language is an owl
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Afua Cooper, Halifax’s seventh Poet Laureate, is the author of five books of poetry, including the critically acclaimed Copper Woman and Other Poems and two novels, The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Slavery in Canada and the Burning of Old Montreal, and My Name is Phillis Wheatley. She has also recorded two poetry CDs, including the forthcoming Love and Revolution. A founder of the Canadian Dub poetry movement, Afua Cooper was instrumental in organizing between 2004 and 2009, three international dub poetry festivals.
Dr. Wilfried Raussert is a multidisciplinary artist and scholar. He works across the boundaries of music, literature, photography, art, and literary criticism. He is Chair of North American and Inter-American Studies at Bielefeld University, Germany. He is director of the International Association of InterAmerican Studies, author and editor of 20 scholarly books, including Art Begins in Streets Art Lives in Streets, Cultural Memory and Multiple Identities, and Traveling Sounds: Music, Migration and Identity in the U.S. and Beyond.
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During the month of April, you can buy Black Matters and any one of our other featured Poetry Express books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada with promo code NPMexpress. Or find them at your local independent bookstore!
Keep up with us all month on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with the hashtag #ALUPoetryExpress.
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