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’.
Read a poem from this collection
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.