Chris Beckett grew up in 1960s Ethiopia, a country he describes as a 'barefoot empire, home of black-maned lions...old priests decked out like butterflies and blazing young singers of Ethio-jazz'. Ethiopia Boy plunges the reader into praise poems that sing and boast and glory in the colours and textures of this extraordinary country. Here is a world of feasting on spicy kikwot and of famine sucking the water from rivers, of lion buses and a prayer child, where Earth sings greetings to the feet that walk on her.
Haunted by the memory of his friend Abebe, the cook's son, Beckett celebrates and laments a lost boyhood in poems of vivid immediacy.
COVER PAINTING Isao Miura, Crossing the Water (oil on canvas). Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.
Chris Beckett was born in London, but grew up in Ethiopia where his father worked in the British Embassy. He received a first class degree in modern languages from Oxford University. His poems have been widely published in magazines, and he won first prize in the Poetry London competition 2001. He has also translated Amharic poems by well-known contemporary Ethiopian poets such as Fekade Azeze and Bewketu Seyoum (Modern Poetry in Translation, 2008 and 2012; and a pamphlet, In Search of Fat (Flipped Eye, 2012). He is currently working on translations of later poems by Aim Csaire, the great French Martinican author of Cahier d'un retour au pays natal.
Since publishing Ethiopia Boy with Carcanet/Oxford poets in 2013 and receiving great reviews in Poetry Review, Poetry London, Ambit, on Ian McMillan's The Verb (BBC Radio 3) and online, he has been busy translating Ethiopian poets such as Alemu Tebeje, Gemoraw, Zewdu Milikit and Bedilu Waqjira (eg Modern Poetry in Translation, spring 2016 and upcoming summer 2016), as well as writing an editorial on Ethiopian poetry for The Missing Slate (http://themissingslate.com/2016/03/28/the-secret-world-of-ethiopian-poetry/), hosting Ethiopian poetry readings in London and appearing on Resonance FM to talk about Ethiopian poetry and music (Resonance FM). He has also written reviews of inter alia Aime Csaire (MPT), Maitreyabandhu (PN Review), and Shuntaro Tanikawa (Poetry London). In addition, he has been working with his partner, the Japanese painter and sculptor Isao Miura, on his project to "translate" Matsuo Basho's The Narrow Road to the Deep North into contemporary visual and textual images. Their book to accompany a show of drawings at the Poetry Caf in 2015, Sketches from the Poem Road (Hagi Press), was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award this year and they have just finished a much larger multi-media exhibition at the Glass Tank gallery in Oxford Brookes University, sponsored by the OBU Poetry Centre (more details on: Glass Tank and OBU Poetry Centre).
'There is a drive to these poems, a quality of song, a fresh simplicity that neatly sidesteps sentimentality though replete with longing, a feel for the past.'
'Chris Beckett's poetry is highly original in the way it works with twosharply distinctive traditions in a uniquely engaging style. Thelanguage is always fresh and surprising and the sentiments are alwaysheartfelt but in a subtly complex way that raises serious politicalquestions.'
'Beckett's poems [...] are full of nostalgia, direct and honest without being overly sentimental. [...] Anyone who reads these poems and is not very aware of Ethiopia and its realities can still enjoy them, since they transcend boundaries and also call for more than one reading to get the wax, the real message.
Langston Hughes lamented in his Afro-American Fragment: "So long, so far away, is Africa". For Beckett, Ethiopia is here and now, in his memory, alive in his versatile poems, not far away and distant but near and vibrant.'
Hama Tuma, Anglo-Ethiopian Society