The Poetry of Candace Wiley

Claire Bateman Weekly Hubris Banner 2017

“The excerpt of the poetry project featured here uses science fiction and fantasy to weave narratives that stem from the historic moments of Igbo Landing. In May 1803, 75 Africans from the Igbo ethnicity were brought from Africa, took over and grounded a slave ship, and then walked into Georgia sea island waters singing, ‘The water spirit brought us. The water spirit will take us home.’”—By Candace Wiley

Speculative Friction

By Claire Bateman

Candace Wiley.

Claire Bateman

GREENVILLE South Carolina—(Weekly Hubris)—June 2019—The poet Candace Wiley was born in South Carolina, graduated with a BA from Bowie State University, an HBCU in MD, an MA from Clemson University, and an MFA from the University of South Carolina. She is the Co-founding Director of The Watering Hole, a non-profit that creates Harlem Renaissance-style spaces in the contemporary South, and she often writes in the mode of Afrofuturism, covering topics from Black aliens, to mutants, to mermaids.

She is a Vermont Studio Center Fellow, a Lighthouse Works Center Fellow, a Fine Arts Work Center Fellow, a Callaloo Fellow and a former Fulbright Fellow to San Basilio de Palenque, Colombia, a town that was founded by West Africans who had escaped from Cartagena slavery. (The people have their own language and customs that trace back to the Bantu and Kikongo in West Africa.)

Her work has been featured in Best American Poetry 2015, Prairie Schooner, The Texas Review, and Jasper Magazine, among other periodicals. She has recently left a teaching position at Clemson University to begin the Tulsa Artist Fellowship. Wiley is now living, writing, and helping direct The Watering Hole from her new home in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For more, visit the poet’s website.

Igbo Landing: Afro Atlantan Ornithology

By Candace Wiley

It must’ve been the blood of a willing soul that activated the prayer.
All three white men flew to the water. The goddess snagged them
from the air and dunked them into the deep.      We sang the song of return.
                           Omambala brought us.
                                                                       Omambala will take us home.
Climbed out that side-leaning boat and waded to her. She shimmered
some explanation for forgiveness, my young one heavy in my arms.
Fuzzy moss and slick algae muddied their way between my toes.
Curious fish nipped my calf. The cold water spirit patted
the backs of our thighs, our behinds, our backs with come-hither hands.
                           Omambala brought us.
                                                                       Omambala will take us home.
The song of return bounced off the glass to the sky. The spirit
lifted the child against my chest. Her chin pecked my shoulder.
Something like stubble scratched my neck. Hairs spread down her cheek
to her balled up fists. She peeped out a high chirp. I dropped her.
But she fell up. Sprouted brown feathers and flew. I went after her.
                           Omambala brought us.
                                                                       Omambala will take us home.
Was right behind her before I realized that my neck had lengthened
and coiled into hunched clavicles. I was racing to meet that line
on the horizon with a flock of vultures birthed from the sea.

Igbo Landing: Afro Atlantan Huntsfolk

By Candace Wiley

They didn’t know they’d hit the water. They just kept running or leaping
or whatever it was that kept their legs moving on the meniscus
past Omambala. Tromping over glass, heel toe, trampolining
eastward against the sun. One wave pops buoyant skin to the next.
Thirteen shadows draw monstrous curiosities which surface, spray,
mosey away. Clouds throw down shade trees in day. Moonbeams drop
a net of fire at night. A fish offered himself on the first day
and multiplies each meal. They babybird their mouths for midday
and evening rains.

                                                Sun broiled Jesuses chasing down westbound
Guinea ships to Booga Booga their best ghost impression, send heart attacks
or repentance through the crew, bring the cargo into their ranks. Still eastward
tramping, glass echoing We came by Omambala’s ocean. We go by Omambala’s ocean.

Igbo Landing: Afro Atlantan Merfolk
              disambiguation: Merpeople, Afro Atlantic, Sea Zombies

 By Candace Wiley

Salt-water creatures unliving in strip towns
along the Atlantic floor between Africa and Americas.  

As when warrior goddess of the hurricane slapped
storms against thick planted cargo ship masts, moored,
sunk both strange and familiar men and still more came

As when god of disease sent rats to bite the soft beige
of shipmate cheeks, urinate on their food rations, release
fleas into matted slicks of oily hair and still more came

As when god of war descended incarnate and slit throats
into revolt, sometimes with no survivors on either side,
and still more came

 As when god of disease blew foul air on sweaty faces
in the cargo hold, waited off portside for that shipment
to stagger to the deck, inhale a first chest-full of fresh air,

be lowered to the sea, delivered into the arms of god
of crossroads, and rushed back to healers on the continent
(instead, they were tossed stiff, breathless into the deep)  

and still more came as when the Huntsfolk, guards of the surface
and the Merfolk, guards of the deep, stood watch over each
wind-tossed, diseased, starving, and revolting ship,

called to each piece of cargo by name, welcomed the overboard
souls into the waters, the portal to the next life.

To order copies of Claire Bateman’s books Scape or Coronolgy from Amazon, click on the book covers below.

Bateman Scape

Bateman Coronology

About Claire Bateman

Claire Bateman’s books include Scape (New Issues Poetry & Prose); Locals (Serving House Books), The Bicycle Slow Race (Wesleyan University Press), Friction (Eighth Mountain Poetry Prize), At The Funeral Of The Ether (Ninety-Six Press, Furman University), Clumsy (New Issues Poetry & Prose), Leap (New Issues), and Coronolgy (Etruscan Press). She has been awarded Individual Artist Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the Surdna Foundation, as well as two Pushcart Prizes and the New Millennium Writings 40th Anniversary Poetry Prize. She has taught at Clemson University, the Greenville Fine Arts Center, and various workshops and conferences such as Bread Loaf and Mount Holyoke. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina. (Please see Bateman’s Author’s Page for links to all her publications.)
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