African poetry immortalised in beautiful box set

Xamissa: The Water Archives, by Henk Rossouw. Sculpture by Sokari Douglas Camp.
Xamissa: The Water Archives, by Henk Rossouw. Sculpture by Sokari Douglas Camp.

An exciting new collection of African poetry called New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set is scheduled to be launched early next month.

Chapbooks were popularised in the 16th century, when literature was produced cheaply on paper-covered booklets or pamphlets, however, this set of 12 chapbooks is state of the art.

Published by Akashic Books, the project has been brought to fruition by the African Poetry Book Fund, which is based in Nebraska in the US. The 300-page box set features an introductory essay by co-editors Kwame Dawes from Ghana and Chris Abani from Nigeria.

Armeika by Umniya Najaer. Sculpture by Sokari Douglas Camp.
Inside The Flower Room by Saddiq Dzukogi. Sculpture by Sokari Douglas Camp.
The Origin of Butterflies by Romeo Oriogun. Sculpture by Sokari Douglas Camp.

The African Poetry Book Fund’s website says: “The fund promotes and advances the development and publication of the poetic arts of Africa through its book series, contests, workshops and seminars, and through its collaborations with publishers, festivals, booking agents, colleges, universities, conferences and all other entities that share an interest in the poetic arts of Africa.”

South African Henk Rossouw’s book-length poem Xamissa: The Water Archives is featured in this limited edition box set.

Xamissa: The Water Archives, by Henk Rossouw. Sculpture by Sokari Douglas Camp.

The 10 other poets featured are Leila Chatti (Tunisian-American), Saddiq Dzukogi (Nigerian), Amanda Holiday (Sierra Leone), Omotara James (UK-born daughter of Nigerian and Trinidadian immigrants), Yalie Kamara (first generation Sierra Leonean-American), Rasaq Malik (Nigerian), Umniya Najaer, Kechi Nomu (Nigerian), Romeo Oriogun (Nigerian) and Alexis Teyie.

Daughter Tongue, by Omotara James. Sculpture by Sokari Douglas Camp.

Since last year, Rossouw has been a visiting assistant professor in The Honors College at the University of Houston. Fordham University Press will publish Xamissa later this year.

Rossouw obtained a BA in journalism from Wits University and went on to complete his master’s in fine arts in creative writing (poetry) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He then completed his PhD at the University of Houston in literature and creative writing (poetry).

His dissertation was titled Xamissa: A Book-Length Poem and its Critical Framework.

The striking covers of each book in the set are of jaw-dropping sculptures created by Nigerian-born and London-based sculptor Sokari Douglas Camp.

In this collaborative initiative between sculptor and poets, the poems tell stories of deep-rooted meaning.

Giving City Press some insight into his work, Rossouw responded via email from Houston, Texas, about his involvement in the book.

“Xamissa: The Water Archives is a long poem that sounds out the potential for justice and community in Cape Town, where I’m from, through a series of interconnected lyrics that interrogate the geohistory of the city – its social landscape.

“A key technique of my work is ekphrasis. In other words, using art as inspiration for my poetry. For instance, in Xamissa: The Water Archives, a key section meditates on a photograph I found in the Cape Town archives from before apartheid of the unsegregated beach that used to exist where the foreshore is today,” he said.

Rossouw said that being included in the chapbook was an honour.

“I came of age in the 1990s, right after apartheid ended – the transition generation, Nadine Gordimer called us – and my politics were shaped while hanging out in Cafe Camissa at the poetry reading series that the poet Sandile Dikeni started, and by magazines such as Chimurenga, which was edited by Jean Noel Ntone Edjabe in Cape Town.”

Speaking about the sculpture by Camp on the cover of his chapbook, Rossouw believes that is it perfect for his work and that it emphasises the text.

“If you read Xamissa: The Water Archives, you’ll see how apt the cover art is, especially in conversation with the section where I allude to Louis van Mauritius, the leader of the 1808 slave rebellion, and his partner Anna, by walking on Strand Street, where they used to live. It is the exact site of the unsegregated beach destroyed under apartheid – the beach that I talked about earlier.”

A key aspect, Rossouw said, was giving the reader a sense of what it’s like to be on the streets of Cape Town, “in the crowd, immersed in isiXhosa, street Afrikaans, the French of refugees, not just English”.

Buy a copy from for R435 including shipping

Avantika Seeth
Multimedia journalist
City Press
p:+27 11 713 9001  e:
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