Refractive Africa | Granta

  • Published: 06/01/2022
  • ISBN: 9781783788309
  • Granta Books
  • 128 pages

Refractive Africa

Will Alexander

Refractive Africa is a set of three poems ruminating on diasporic witness, colonialism, invasion, and political resistance. This ‘pas de trois’ of poems begins paying homage to Amos Tutuola, innovative Nigerian-Yoruban author, and ends with a speech towards modernist Malagasy poet Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo.

The collection turns around the long middle poem, using the geographical site of the Congo river as a lens for considering the pillaging and dislocation of societies through history, honing-in on the specific colonial and post-colonial histories of the area. He welds these to contemporary instances of ecological damage through mining for tin and cobalt.

Fierce, compelling, and full of astrological reckoning, this book is a ‘savage enunciation’:

‘this is the Congo
vertiginous with derangement
with its foul & delimited hygiene
with its “weaver bird nests”
with its sprawling grasslands
with its “ghostly voltage” as flares from old oil rigs

thus our intelligence forcibly blunted
our thought stream injured as culpable integument
within this compound negation
terror persists
snaking its way through interior suppression’

Will Alexander's Refractive Africa is a diasporic invocation of world-historical and cosmological dimensions. Lumumba. Tutuola. Rabearivelo. Each long poem swelters, pulling a dense constellation of national heroes, ruptured worlds, hauntings, and sensory frequencies into its orbit. Through a glissade of luminous dexterity and precision, Alexander maps out a lexical cartography of Africas, real and imagined, lost and recovered.

Momtaza Mehri

Since the 1980s, the Los Angeles-based Alexander has mixed politics with mesmeric, oracular lines. Here, three long poems evoke colonial Africa

New York Times

Will Alexander on

Poetry | Granta 137

Enjaracon Sponaeda

Will Alexander

‘how can all the pressures of surveillance / fail to describe me?’