In a recent article on theconversation.com, professor of Creative Writing Ian Gregson bemoans the current state of poetry as a marginalized art form, stating “Poetry is well and truly in the margins. Will it ever get out?”
Well, the Badilisha Poetry X-change has an answer for that—for African poets, at least. Founded in 2008 as an annual poetry festival, Badilisha moved online in 2012 and has since become the largest online archive of African poets on the planet. Badilisha attributes the move to a desire to do away with geographical borders and open the project to a wider Pan-African audience. And it appears to be working. To date the project has collected the works of 350 African poets from 31 countries in Africa and throughout the diaspora, in 14 different languages.
In 2014, Badilisha took its boldest step on the path to accessibility when they overhauled the website and relaunched it as a mobile-first site aimed at capturing the attention of a larger international audience. It was a shrewd move as, unlike Americans or Europeans, Africans tend to experience the Internet for the first time on cell-phones rather than computers and tablets. In fact, according to Toby Shapsnak (CNN), in Africa, “more people have mobile phones than access to electricity.” At any rate, the move is paying off—the Badilisha project boasts 3,000 visits to the site every month.
A quick tour of the site on my cell phone proved that it is simple and easy to navigate. Two poets are featured on the website every week by way of a profile that includes a brief bio, two poems, a headshot, and audio podcast recordings of the poet reading his or her work. Badilisha offers users the following categories to explore the archive: theme, emotion, name, language, latest uploads, country, and a Top Ten List curated monthly by a guest poet. This month’s Top Ten was curated by Kobus Moolman— Mellon Writer in Residence at Rhodes University and 2013 Sol Plaatje European Union poetry award-winner—I definitely suggest you check it out.
Poets who wish to submit to the archive can do so directly through the Project Submissions page. The submission is then evaluated by a panel of judges. If they think you’re a good fit, you’re in!
It’s no secret that the publishing industry is struggling in the digital age and the reluctance of publishers when it comes to printing poetry can be particularly discouraging. In what sometimes feels like an irreversibly inhospitable literary climate, the Badilisha Poetry X-change is a breath of fresh air. In a world obsessed with technology, the project offers African poets a new, contemporary, and relevant platform on which to showcase their work.
What do you say, Canada? Are we next?