Taban Lo Lyong, Another Nigger Dead (Heinemann, 1972)
I am a big, big fan of Heinemann's wonderful African Writers Series. The west wouldn't know about 90% of the writing that came out of Africa from the fifties through the eighties were it not for Heinemann. It's not all great, of course, but I'm thrilled to at least be able to read a good deal of it.
Taban Lo Liyong is a pretty good example of "not great." He's good, when he's on his game, which is not surprising for a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. And when he does prose (the final piece in the book), he's got a good wit and an eye for satire. Unfortunately, though, most of his poetry treads a boundary that lies between confessional and socially conscious, and he's too busy trying to get his message across to so things like give us images to work with. The majority of the poems here are two- to six-line pieces, three to a page, and one would think that an author working in such compact forms would understand the power of image. He doesn't, though, and so his poems come off as aphorisms most of the time, rather than actual poems.
Still, there's enough good here to give this a slight recommend. Save it for a rainy day, though, when you don't have anything better on the nightstand waiting for you. ** ½