Ahead of the release of the speculative poetry collection NOMBONO: Speculative Poetry by BIPOC Poets, Akua Lezli Hope spoke with Sundress Publications editorial intern Stephi Cham about how the meaning of “nombono,” the number 10, and the roots of speculative poetry influenced her editorial approach to the collection.
Stephi Cham: What was your primary thought process as you put this collection together? Is there a larger narrative you hoped to achieve?
Akua Lezli Hope: I envisioned a collection of BIPOC speculative poetry last fall, when I entered the competition to create an anthology. I was privileged to be included in a number of speculative poetry readings and panels at SF/F conventions last year. I was inspired by both the presence and absence of BIPOC creators. I committed myself to remedy the twin absences of speculative poetry and of BIPOC creators of speculative poetry. I created Speculative Sundays Poetry Reading Series and conceived my idea for this anthology.
SC: How did you choose the title? How did the word “nombono” speak to you?
ALH: I went in search of a title. One of my favorites was already taken, so then I went in search of non-English words. “Nombono” means vision. It is lovely in the mouth and it’s a “false friend” as it resembles “name good” (“bono” is used in English pro bono—for the public good and “nom” means name in French). So the Zulu has all these western evocations as well as the wonderful meaning. Vision speaks to the ability to invent, imagine, intuit. NOMBONO.
SC: You write that speculative poetry started as “humanity’s first literature.” How do its roots influence the writings in NOMBONO?
ALH: I can’t speak for or to each writer’s influences, having only read a few poems by each. That would be most presumptuous of me. There is myth making and myth telling and retellings among the poems in the collection. Encoding myth/beliefs and folkways was the role of humanity’s first literature—which was in verse. These poets are performing the role of humanity’s first poets, creating art that encodes and reports their experiences, ideas and vision.
SC: Can you talk about your process in dividing this collection into 10 sections? What is its significance?
ALH: There were more sections. I sought to have poems be in conversation with each other, to create a flow, to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. 10 means a return to unity, the fusion of being and non-being, it is a divine number.
SC: What role does the recurring theme of societal denial play in these works?
ALH: There are many roles that societal denial plays — it is propulsive, introspective, motivating, meditative, informing, deconstructive, instructive, inspiring, underpinning, undergirding, catalytic. It spawns the affirmation, avowal, achievement. It is the sad stage setting that is shred, overturned, overcome, repudiated. It is that which is overcome.
SC: In “Mmádu Si Àlà Putá,” Ogbuji writes, “It’s time to push away the teat and forage / the void, to answer scarcity with courage—” How can we answer scarcity with courage in our lives?
ALH: We answer scarcity with courage by being undaunted and undeterred in our creating, by making good and peace manifest, by loving fully both ourselves and the world we inhabit. There is no scarcity, there is only the lack of will and imagination.
Akua Lezli Hope is a creator and wisdom seeker who uses sound, words, fiber, glass, metal, and wire to create poems, patterns, stories, music, sculpture, adornments, and peace. Her honors include the NEA, two NYFAs, an Elgin and SFPA Award, and Rhysling and Pushcart Prize nominations. Her first collection, EMBOUCHURE, Poems on Jazz and Other Musics, won the Writer’s Digest Book Award. She is the editor of Eye To The Telescope #42 on The Sea.
Stephi Cham holds a BM in Music Therapy with a Minor in Psychology from Southern Methodist University. She is currently working toward her MA in Publishing at Rosemont College, and she is the Fiction Editor at Rathalla review. She is a freelance editor and the author of the Great Asian-Americans series published by Capstone Press, and her work has appeared in Strange Horizons.