I first heard for Abdourahman A. Waberi when I purchased The United States of Africa as a gift, though I hadn’t read anything by him until recently. A native of Djibouti, he’s a professor of writing and literature mainly in France, but also has taught in the USA, Germany, and other places. Several of his books have been translated into English, but he writes in French. Novels, poems, short stories, essays, and academic work all are tackled in his portfolio.
The collection of poems is titled The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper. Published in French in 2013 and translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson in 2015,
highlights writings over a span of twenty years, even though it is one of his later publications.. They don’t follow a particular set form, except to say they are each quite short and free verse–many are not longer than a stanza, some are as few as a couple of lines. He himself states in the preface that these poems are meant to be economic and, specifically, avoiding excess (page xiv).
Oftentimes, poets have a particular geography in which they write or select a set of poems around a place for which they have an affinity, for whatever reason. It is clear that though he hasn’t lived primarily in Djibouti in 30 years, he still loves and celebrates it. This collection is a definite homage to his homeland. Not only does he describe the landscape, but also includes the night sky, insight to the people there, the interplay between the three as well as the emotional landscape within and interpersonal relationships. Even if the physical place doesn’t show up in every poem, it’s still there.
He adores simplicity and economy of words and rejects excess in this collection – from the outset, as mentioned, he was intentional in this goal. Being able to revel in life without excess is evident throughout.The way he introduces the collection reveals a connection to the land of his ancestors and their migratory patterns – a life unencumbered by many of the material things many hoard in today’s age. He seems to find freedom in that kind of existence as well as beauty and wants to share it with readers as best he can.
In reading these poems, it is evident he is well-educated and is thus able to connect the imagery and spirit of Djibouti to western audiences. Even so, he is at times artistic and tangible in his renderings of the landscape and people (and his emotional connection to them or between them), and in others, very ethereal, metaphorical, and lofty in his descriptions. These are not poems to be read swiftly, one after the other, but instead to be read and then mentally and emotionally digested to grasp the whole of it. Some people prefer their poems plain and easily accessible; if you are one of them, this collection is not for you. For those who like working for your poetry reading, this is definitely for you to read immediately.