The January Children

Univ. of Nebraska. (African Poetry). Mar. 2017. 90p. ISBN 9780803295988. pap. $15.95. ebk. ISBN 9781496200075. POETRY
Early in this piercing collection, Elhillo curtly explains, "they called our grandfathers the january children lined up by the colonizer & assigned birth/ years by height." She's describing Sudan under British occupation, and her poems unfold the ongoing consequences of colonization and Sudan's repressive culture today. "I hear prayer called by a voice thick with something hurting" says a brief but weighty poem that finally, fiercely declares "that/ my name is my/ name is my name is my name is," while the startling "a brief history of silence" guts readers with unadorned images of a singer killed for playing secular music and women forbidden to dance with men present. In one smart series, the speaker negotiates culture by entertaining the idea of becoming legendary musician Abdel Halim Hafez's girlfriend. In the end, Elhillo makes it clear that living on the knife's edge between cultures also means living between languages, at one point exclaiming "my mouth is my biggest wound."
VERDICT Crisp, beautiful writing of great import; a Sillerman First Book Prize winner.

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