Tuesday, May 4, 2021

"Vita, Babel, Cauliflower" (Sarah B. Kamsin)

Vita, Babel, Cauliflower

(Poems by Sarah B. Kamsin)

Vita, Babel, Cauliflower is a collection of poems by Sarah Kamsin, a daughter of South Sudanese immigrants to the USA. The poems present experiences, memories, reflections, prescriptions, admonitions, fantasies, and dreams. It is neither possible nor wise to make generalizations about them, for each is unique, arising from an adventurous imagination.

Some poems reflect on the American experience, including the 2020 civil unrest in Minneapolis, but some hark back to Africa. In the latter category belongs “The Blue,” with these opening lines:

She told me once that she’d seen an old picture of her father in bell bottoms with hems torn, against mango trees, yellow dust of Africa beneath his feet.

 “Mama Picked Black Eyed Peas Leaves” alludes to Africa in the way it begins:

Mama picked black eyed pea leaves just like the ancestors did
to make stew mixed with all the old ways; these are the best of days.


The theme of the mother comes up again in “From the Remnants of War,” a poem that appears to refer to the wars that have ravaged Sudan for decades. With powerful imagery, it pays tribute to the inner strength and resourcefulness of the mother:

From the remnants of war you made a home for your children.
Sticks and stones that should have broken your bones instead became our homestead…


In some of the poems, there are touching reflections or fleeting comments on the meaning and dilemmas of life. “Self is Myth” is a good example of this, meditating on an individual’s identity, existence, and destiny. I found its opening line intriguing:

Self is myth. Memory, sentiment.

Later in the poem came these haunting statements:

Sojourner, traverse. Only if lucky, not if cursed, will you die in the place of your birth…


The theme of life as mysterious and intriguing appears as well in “Myriad Dreams” which starts this way:

As I lay in the hay on colorful tapestries,
I tried to conceive of the magnitude of life, inherent to this place.
If to be alive is the meaning of life I hold the hope that
reincarnation is reality, so then my soul may be reborn as a
    magnolia tree.


Notions of the absurd occur frequently in these poems, sometimes hinted at and sometimes laid bare, as in “Tightrope Ambition.” This poem contemplates the futility of certain forms of human action, a predicament stated also by the woman in the poem titled “The Blue:”

We’re like two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl

Along the same lines, a section in “Zero Dark Thirty” reads:

The Farm Keepers gone, I can finally admit it. I’m waiting for a
rain that won’t come.


Some poems project hope but others express contrary sentiments, such as “The Purple of You,” which starts on a sad note:

Losing you hit me slow like salt in an aged wound, like May
spring snow.


Reading Vita, Babel, Cauliflower is like accompanying the poet on her journey and being a witness, if not an eavesdropper. There are poems addressed to some third party, and we readers are just eavesdroppers. As I have said, these poems spring from an adventurous imagination. Reading them in succession, I saw the images embedded in them fluttering on the pages like butterflies. These poems are by no means the work of a novice. I sensed this when I saw the epigraph, lines from T.S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday.” A remarkable accomplishment as it is, this collection bears the promise of Sarah Kamsin’s bright future as a poet.

Vita, Babel, Cauliflower
is published by Kamsin LLC, Minneapolis, 2020. www.sarahbkamsin.com

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Cultural Connections

 

Cultural Connections: Almost all of us trace ancestry to refugees 

Tani waa kuu muhiim adiga.  Fadlan aqri.

Ogeysiis!  Importante para Usted, por favor lĂ©alo. Please read!

Announcements brought to you by Cultural Bridges of St. Joseph, a committee of Central Minnesota Community Empowerment Organization. We are dedicated to ease your transition into our community.

•••

by Juliana Howard

The recent decision  to change the name of this column from Refugee/Immigrant News to Cultural Connections got me thinking and doing a little research. One definition of refugee is “a person forced to leave his or her country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster.” Unless we are Native American, we can all trace our roots back to immigrants and in many cases, refugees.

My heritage is Norwegian on my father’s side, and Scotch Irish on my mother’s. My father’s mother Anna came to America when she was 5 years old. Her mother died aboard the ship. Like many Norwegians, they were fleeing agricultural disasters that had led to famine. In other words, they were refugees. My maternal  great-grandparents were escaping from the potato famine and cholera epidemic in Ireland. They too would  qualify as refugees.

There were cultural differences my parents faced in their marriage. My mom learned to make lefse and lutefisk but she balked at going to the Lutheran church because they only spoke Norwegian! Thus, I grew up Methodist but became Catholic when I got married, to fit in with my husband’s heritage. He is half-Chinese and half-German so I have learned to make his favorite rice and smoked herring, as well as dumplings and sauerkraut. 

Because of my white skin, I have been  privileged in many, many ways I have taken for granted all these years. Waking up to this privilege is painful and embarrassing. How can I be racist when my children’s spouses are Jewish, Chinese, Venezuelan and (now divorced) East Indian? Sad to say, and hard to admit, but white privilege has kept me in denial. But recent events have forced my eyes open. For starters, I just ordered the highly recommended book “White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism” by Robin DiAngelo.

Cultural Bridges has as its mission to increase understanding and build relationships with our neighbors who have landed here from another country. Some are brown, some are Black, some are white. All are welcome! says Cultural Bridges. We hope that changing the column’s name to Cultural Connections will broaden our mission. Because many new arrivals come from Africa, I suggest reading the excellent book by Joseph Mbele, “Africans and Americans; Embracing Cultural Differences.” Mbele, a Tanzanian, is a professor of English at St. Olaf College in Northfield. The book is at Amazon and you can explore his website and see the work he is doing at www.africonexion.com.

contributed photo

Source:
Newsleaders, July 24, 2020

Friday, April 2, 2021

My Book Arrives in Abuja, Nigeria

March 2021 has ended on a pleasant note for me. My book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, landed in Nigeria. I had sent it to Jennifer Chinyelu Ikeaba-Obiasor, pictured here, who lives in Abuja. This could be the first copy to reach Nigeria.

Jennifer read the book and made the following observations at different times:

It is a great book with insight that will help both Africans and the Americans.

I identify with almost every aspect of the book. And it will be an eye opener to those from both cultures.

I recommend the book for every one to read because it is impactful.

Jennifer and I met online a few weeks ago as followers of Toyin Umesiri, a great promoter of trade between Africa and the USA, who interviewed me about my book and about cultural factors in business between Africans and Americans. Jennifer is an enterpreneur, founder and CEO of Chiblenders Green. Exploring global connections, she knows the importance of understanding other cultures. In the short time we have interacted, she has taught me much and I am grateful.