A narrator rails against racism and ignorance in this debut poetry volume.
Celly’s book contains hundreds of poems, most of them quite short, that describe a man who is living in a universe full of unenlightened individuals who cause destruction because of their lack of knowledge. In particular, they do not appreciate the contributions of people of African descent and confound the narrator with their bigotry, murderous ways, and inability to become edified. Nevertheless, he is self-assured and encourages others to follow him. “I am the maestro without the orchestra,” he writes in the volume’s opening poem, “A Maestro,” but notes that humans won’t have the privilege of discerning what’s in his mind “until they stop killing each other.” As the many poems in the volume progress, he begins to refer to himself as “The Negus,” an African emperor or king. He has the “noble blood of the Kongo Kingdom” in “Legendary Blood,” descended from warriors, geniuses, and visionaries. The tone of the poems overall seeks to be high-minded, with references to The Prince by Machiavelli and the French Revolution. There is also a call to emulate African rhythms, such as the Congolese rumba or the songs of Bob Marley, in “It Must Rhyme and Flow.” A mysterious “they” is often mentioned, though it is unclear if this is a reference to Western society, racists, or uneducated people. Yet the narrator, who has a commanding presence, does describe an overall war on Africa and encourages Africans to rise up. Moreover, he transcends race and the color barrier and desires something mystical. “I am not a Negro. I am renegade. I am the Negus straight from heaven,” he writes in “Defined by Color Only Not So Fast!” Celly’s expansive volume, which aspires to thoughtful and strong lines about humanity and its failings, is not hostile but uses grandiose language to ponder and decree. While there are hundreds of poems, many are quite vague and are just one line or a short paragraph. The work is not entirely an exercise in self-aggrandizement, but the collection’s message can get lost amid the numerous ambiguities and repeated proclamations.
An ambitious collection—which asks the world to stop its destructive ways and recognize the importance of Africans—that remains hampered by nebulous and unspecified pronouncements.