Reviews for Collected Poems
Booklist Reviews 2004 August #1
The dean of the modern African novel in English (Things Fall Apart  and several others), Achebe is also a powerful poet. In the introductory "parable" in this book, he suggests that, compared to his fiction, his poems have been nigh unpublishable. Yet their quality is high enough that they should never go out of print after this fine collected edition. There aren't many of them, and not many fill even three pages. But--contemplating, with remarkable restraint, the cultural effects of imperialism; reeling, seemingly forever, from the horrors of postcolonial wars; striving to understand the present and modernity by means of traditional wisdom, story, and ceremony--they trenchantly make their points about contemporary African life. They are often pungently humorous and ironic, as when telling the case of a modern-day Nigerian "Lazarus" or considering lovemaking "Vultures." Elsewhere they can be rueful as the blues about the human condition; see "Knowing Robs Us," in which, when it comes to joy, we humans don't measure up to mere birds. ((Reviewed August 2004)) Copyright 2004 Booklist Reviews.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2004 June #3
One of the world's most admired novelists, Achebe (Things Fall Apart; Anthills of the Savannah) has maintained a separate (and much less prolific) career as a poet: this slender volume shows American readers that work. Achebe was forced out of his native Nigeria in 1966, just before the grisly and devastating Biafran War of 1967-1970. Some of his most authoritative poems respond to those, and to later, public events. "A Mother in a Refugee Camp" shows its title character combing "the rust-colored hair left" on her son's "skull," "Like putting flowers on a tiny grave." Achebe's other poems include lyrics of hope and resolve, "tearful songs/ Of joy," and responses to ceremonial occasions: "Beware, Soul Brother" advises its listener to "protect this patrimony to which/ you must return when the song/ is finished." "Dereliction" (a good candidate for anthologies) denounces those who abandon local traditions. Some of his language is now dated, or sounds awkward, at least to American ears ("evil forests of Soviet technology"), but other, stronger work shows Achebe's narrative gifts, retelling New Testament stories ("Lazarus") or animating Nigerian legends and myths ("Lament of the Sacred Python"). These and scattered other poems are "Clear-signed with a clarity/ rarely encountered in dreams." (Aug.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.