Regular Features Pages
Free Verse with Vera Ignatowitsch
The Interview with Tendai Rinos Mwanaka
by Anthony Watkins
Four Featured Poems
African Poetry Editor Tendai Rinos Mwanaka is a leading poet and writer of the new generation of African writers. He works hard to promote African writing through anthologies he has curated and co-edited. He has won several writing awards, and has also been shortlisted a record seven times for the UK based Erbacce poetry award, nominated three times for the Pushcart, nominated for The Caine Prize for African Writing, and more.
Editor’s Choice - Formal Poetry
Sometime After Today
Sometime after today, the snow will come
and fill this stand of cedar shoulder deep,
the cottage roof and woodpile weighted down,
the turtle buried in her winter sleep.
I have imagined coming here to see
the lake iced over, and the landscape changed
to a white canvas sketched in brown and green,
the shoreline shifted, landmarks rearranged,
no living sound, the solitude complete.
And would I love it then? I might discern
indifference whether I am here or not,
cold lesson I am hesitant to learn.
Barbara Loots has been published over five decades in many poetry places. Her collections are Road Trip and Windshift, a finalist for the 2019 Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence.
AW: First, welcome back to the pages of Better Than Starbucks. We appreciate what you shared with our readers while you were our African Poetry Editor. Vera keeps the section going, but it was a delight when you were here. We also appreciate the occasional informal advice you offer when requested. Before your time at Better Than Starbucks, and especially since, you have been a poetry publishing giant for the whole continent of Africa, as well as some intercontinental collections. Where did you start?
TRM: Hahaha thanks Anthony, but I don’t feel I have done much, not as much as I would want to . . . but I still have a lifetime to achieve that, maybe? Thank you for the wonderful year I spent working with you Anthony, and with Vera. My journey is a bit different from that of most writers I know . . . I started from the outside and then moved inwards. I started being published in literary journals and anthologies in the West. My first two books were published in the UK and USA, and then I moved into African publishing, and later Zimbabwe specifically. I think I have yet to become a household name in my own motherland, but yes, I am well known in Africa. I started on the outside because the literary space in Zimbabwe is congested and controlled by a few. I am sorry to have to say this, in this age, but it seems to be the African problem as well; it’s like a monarchy system, which is controlled by the western donor organizations and institutions and, frankly, their chosen writing. So the feeding trough is a vicious place here and I don’t have the stamina for it. That’s why I decided to create open avenues for writers, especially beginning writers. Our writing scene was not open to someone coming from nowhere and this main writing scene is still difficult to break into. The gatekeepers won’t allow you in. I really tried to start from home but then I realized that either I had to find my own way or give up. I began publishing anthologies in 2015. I got connected to Professor Munyaradzi Mawere through Langaa RPCIG (my previous African publisher) when he was editing one of my books, Zimbabwe: The Urgency of Now. He was impressed with my essays and asked me to conceive a topic we could work on together as editors, so we did an anthology of essayists and scholars from Africa, Democracy, Good Governance and Development in Africa. In the process I realized there was not much being done in African poetry, so that same year I contacted a friend, Daniel Da Purificacao, with the intention of doing an Africa-wide anthology of poetry in major African languages, i.e. Portuguese, English, French, and indigenous African languages. Daniel covered Portuguese- and French-speaking Africa and I covered English and Indigenous languages, and together, to the surprise of many, we managed to create and publish, Best New African Poets 2015 Anthology. Now we are doing the fifth one in this series, Best New African Poets 2019 Anthology. Just through these BNAP anthologies we have published in excess of 500 African poets. This anthology is the only one I know of that really covers the whole of Africa. We have published poets from pretty much every country in Africa, from every region, from thousands of language cultures. I encourage BTS readers to collect this anthology and get wowed by the beautiful African poetry they never get a chance to sample out there. I expanded these anthologies and started doing the Zimbolicious series; we are on the fourth volume of these anthologies, focused on Zimbabwean writers only.
Editor’s Choice - Prose Poetry
. . . In the childhood of time, they lived their separate lives, the sea, damp and cool, and the land, dry and warm; and they loved each other in silence. And once, in the brightness of the moonlight, the sea cradled the waves, and rocked them gently to shore, whispering: “There are secrets”; and the shore replied: “I know them all.”
Thus the night passed; and in the morning’s sun the shore held to its breast the risen tide and said to it “You may go; but always, always, you must take me with you and we shall, in time, become as the day and the night, forever changing, forever becoming one.”
And so, by the sun, did the tide go out, carrying with it grains of the shore, and laid them, softly, to rest (as lovers shall) beneath its rising and falling; by the moon, the tide returned to caress again the shore’s sweeping body and, lapping gently, drew to its coolness the warmth of the heated land; until, at last, time became old and the sea and the shore became one.
Evan Guilford-Blake’s work has appeared in roughly 100 publications, winning 27 awards. His plays have been performed internationally. He and his wife (and inspiration) Roxanna live in the southeastern US.
Publisher’s Choice - International Poetry
From Rooftops to Rooftops
I jump from rooftops to rooftops
With a cigarette in my left hand.
As if the smoke
Is coming out of those chimneys;
As if I once again
Lit up the kitchen fire.
I jump from rooftops to rooftops
With a flashlight in my right hand.
As if the lights
Are coming out of those windows;
As if I once again
Light up the yellow bedroom.
When I get tired,
I put out my cigarette,
Turn off my yellow flashlight.
And that’s when I see
A big blue moon
Hanging in the living room.
Xuanjie Huang is a fifteen-year-old Chinese girl who dreams of being a writer. She is only being herself when she’s writing.