The Makings of You
Nii Ayikwei Parkes’ début collection encompasses the story of a triangular trade in reverse – a family history that goes from the Caribbean back to Sierra Leone, and in his own life from London to Ghana, and back again.
His gift as a poet is for the most rewarding kind of story-telling, including those stories told with wit and an engaging ambivalence about himself. His narratives move unerringly to a perfect punch-line, but in the collection as a whole there is a refreshing lack of complacency in his willingness to move out of his comfort zone and explore areas of imaginative fantasy, as in his “Ballast” series, a tour de force of defamiliarisation, where he imagines how the slave trade would have gone had its mode of transport been the hot air balloon, rather than the slave ship.
There is much humour, but it comes from a family tradition of knowing that “our jokes weren’t really funny, they were just sad/ stories we learned to laugh at”. Like all poets with a largeness of heart, with no embarrassment about embracing the deepest feelings, Parkes has an especial sensitivity to the promise and acute sensitivities of childhood, both his own and others.There is much humour, but it comes from a family tradition of knowing that “our jokes weren’t really funny, they were just sad/ stories we learned to laugh at”. Like all poets with a largeness of heart, with no embarrassment about embracing the deepest feelings, Parkes has an especial sensitivity to the promise and acute sensitivities of childhood, both his own and others.
Nii Ayikwei Parkes’s poem Barter from The Makings of You (Peepal Tree) is featured on tube train posters throughout London as part of the fantastic ‘Poems on the Underground’, celebrating 150 Years of the London Underground.
Nii Ayikwei Parkes is an author and performance poet who has performed on major stages across the world, including at The Royal Festival Hall and at a reading for the London Mayor’s vigil on July 14, 2005 (in response to the London bombings).
He is the author of the poetry chapbooks: Eyes of a Boy, Lips of a Man (1999), M is for Madrigal (2004), a selection of seven jazz poems and Ballast (2009), an imagination of the slave trade by balloon. His poem, Tin Roof, was selected for the 'Poems on the Underground' initiative in 2007 and his novel, Tail of the Blue Bird (Jonathan Cape, 2009) has been hailed by the Financial Times as 'a beautifully written fable... simple in form, but grappling with urgent issues.'
Nii is the Senior Editor at flipped eye publishing, a contributing editor to The Liberal, a former poet in residence at The Poetry Café, a 2005 associate writer in residence on BBC Radio 3, and has held visiting positions at the University of Southampton and California State University.
As a socio-cultural commentator and advocate for African writing, Nii has led forums internationally, has sat on discussion panels for BBC Radio with literary heavyweights such as Booker winners, Margaret Atwood and A.S. Byatt, and he runs the African Writers’ Evening series, at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden.
In 2007 he was awarded Ghana’s National ACRAG award for poetry and literary advocacy.