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Hope Was Always the Thing

Efe Paul-Azino



When Rachel Humphries and I envisioned the Here and Now residency in 2021, it was hope we had in mind. Enshrouded in anxiety and cautiously coming out of a global lockdown, the future seemed more inscrutable than ever. Eternal believers that we were in the essential voice of literature and art, we sought to create a space for nuanced reflection and witness, glimpses beyond the fog through the trusted seeing of writers.


The goal was to select six mid-career poets and writers from across West Africa and Scotland, have them spend one month of residency and fellowship in the Scottish Highlands, another month in Accra, Ghana, produce a body of work, and cap it off in Lagos, Nigeria, with readings, conversation, and a public presentation of the work at the Lagos International Poetry Festival in October. Well, the Here and Now anthology, a special feature in the second issue of our annual print and digital journal, Márọkọ́, is a product of this profound ambition.

 

Through a shared journey of discovery across Scotland, Ghana, and Nigeria, we arrive at a tender body of work that powerfully reinforces everything we know about the texture of empathy, and how the road that hope points us towards can only be reached through love.

 

The grace and care with which these writers have held each other, and the support, collaboration, and genuine respect that has marked their time together, is a thing of beauty matched only by the poems and essays that have rendered their experiences. We have suites of nine poems from Alycia Pirmohamed, Chika Jones, and Tolu Agbelusi, and three essays from Amanda Thomson, Edwige-Renée Dro, and Heather Parry.


In "Passing Place," Chika Jones expertly guides us along the Highland’s narrow roads, mirroring the complexities of human interactions and the power of compromise. In "What I Know and Don't," Amanda Thomson’s stunning and insightful observations of migration patterns in the natural world intersect thoughtfully with notions of agency, complicity, and colonial history. Tolu and Alycia offer us meditations on gender, democracy, and the disjointed process of adapting to place and time, experimenting with form in ways that reflect our endless capacity for fluidity and invention.  


I have had the pleasure of reading these poems and essays over and again as they passed through the assembly line of literary production, and I am Moses beholding the naked nature of light and being transformed by it. From stalwart literary activist and writer, Edwige-Renée Dro’s evocative personal essay on the fragility of peace at a time when a troubling wave of coups was sweeping through West Africa (in 2023!), to Heather Parry’s lyrical take on the writer’s elusive and weighty role in bearing witness and resisting silence, we owe a profound debt of gratitude to these extraordinary writers for the gift of their work, and also extend our heartfelt thanks to the small village that supported this remarkable journey.


Our sincere appreciations go to the British Council for their generous funding through the 2021 International Collaboration Grant, the extraordinary residency teams at Moniack Mhor, and the Library Of Africa and The African Diaspora (LOATAD), for their unwavering care and support throughout the two-month residencies. Special acknowledgements to Kirsteen Bell and Seth Avusuglo for their inspiring dedication tending to the logistics without which a project like this will be impossible to execute. The nurturing spaces both residencies have lovingly built will forever hold a cherished place in our hearts.


We thank all the writers from Nigeria, Morocco, Uganda, Portugal, the UK, and the global black diaspora, who graciously shared their work with us for this edition of Márọkọ́, and remain in awe of the generosity of the incredible beer parlour poet and dearest friend, Dami Ajayi, who returns for another year as editor.




Images by Seth Avusuglo

 

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