Beating the Graves

Beating the Graves

Beating the Graves

Beating the Graves


The poems in Tsitsi Ella Jaji's Beating the Graves meditate on the meaning of living in diaspora, an experience increasingly common among contemporary Zimbabweans. Vivid evocations of the landscape of Zimbabwe filter critiques of contemporary political conditions and ecological challenges, veiled in the multiple meanings of poetic metaphor. Many poems explore the genre of praise poetry, which in Shona culture is a form of social currency for greeting elders and peers with a recitation of the characteristics of one's clan. Others reflect on how diasporic life shapes family relations.

The praise songs in this volume pay particular homage to the powerful women and gender-queer ancestors of the poet's lineage and thought. Honoring influences ranging from Caribbean literature to classical music and engaging metaphors from rural Zimbabwe to the post-steel economy of Youngstown, Ohio, Jaji articulates her own ars poetica. These words revel in the utter ordinariness of living globally, of writing in the presence of all the languages of the world, at home everywhere, and never at rest.


Oyehe heeeeeeeh. MotherPoet! Your fatha taught you to be bold. If something is true, keep doing it. Ah, you, Doctor Patricia Jabbeh Wesley! You are the mother of four children. Mama Wesley, you have raised four black human beings in this thicket called America. You, Grebo woman. You have done well. You have raised four human beings in this thicket of words and wordless slights.

Ah, who can say you are timid? Who can say you do not know how to throw your voice into the air ? and who would have pushed that air aside, if not for you? Who has come to the door asking for Liberian womanspeak poetry? Hehnnnn, they want to know, who is listening-o ?

Ayi! Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, we are standing on your shadow. Forgive us, mother. We have been crowing like johnny-come-latelies: Maonaka? Ndasvikapanyika iyi nemakumbo angu, ndega. What ! We are saying what ? That we have arrived? Is it?

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