“A lot of my work tries to decolonize time and tries to root it back in more indigenous West African cosmologies.”
Kweku Abimbola was one of our guests to our first Lab roundtable. For the conversation, he shared “Libation,” a poem from his debut collection, Saltwater Demands a Psalm, which was published by Graywolf in April 2023.
Transcript: A lot of my work tries to decolonize time and tries to root it back in more indigenous West African cosmologies. So the process of pouring libation is usually done before important ceremonies like naming ceremonies, funerals, even birthdays, right? And its purpose is to conjure the spirits of ancestors to also join in with the merriment of those who are gathered, to ensure that the ceremony is successful or to ensure that the ceremony has their blessing. So when I'm engaging with time in that poem, it’s this idea of black eternity. Like everyone gathered is present, right? But we're also able to conjure those who came before us. To also continue this culture, these traditions, et cetera. And it was also sparked by this idea of malleable time. Like the various portals in which we in our present worlds can conjure and also manipulate time. And many of the names that I mention in the poem itself, they also come from my tribe’s practice of Kradin or “soul names,” which are names given to children based on their day of birth. So like my name Kweku——it signifies that I’m born on Wednesday and every day of the week has its own deity or god. Think of it almost like star signs, right? Sagittarius, Scorpio, et cetera. But for us it's based on the day of the week. When I was writing the collection I’m like, okay, like what would it mean for us who come from this system of naming that is so bound in time to also be impacted by something as earth-shattering and traumatic as colonization or enslavement? If you come from a place where your children are days of the week, if you lose a child, you've lost a day of the week. And how does that then render your experience of time? Does it make your time go faster? Does it slow down your time? So those are all kind of questions that I was trying to answer through the collection as well.
Born in the Gambia, Kweku Abimbola earned his MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program. He is of Gambian, Ghanaian, Sierra Leonean, and Nigerian descent. Abimbola’s first full-length poetry collection, Saltwater Demands a Psalm, was published by Graywolf Press in April of 2023. The debut collection received the First Book Award from the Academy of American Poets in 2022. He has work published and forthcoming in Shade Literary Arts, 20.35 Africa, The Common, Obsidian, SUNU Journal, and elsewhere. Abimbola’s writing primarily investigates colonization, Black mourning, Black boyhood, gender politics, and the spiritual consequences of climate change in West Africa.