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"To me poetry is an avenue of expression, a tool to fight social injustice by championing the cause of the voiceless"

POET HERO:
MARIAMA KHAN
by Seck from Dakar, Senegal

Mariama Khan (Courtesy of Mariama Khan)

The poet and Filmmaker Mariama Khan was born in 1977 in Gambia where she spent a peaceful childhood surrounded by a loving family. At the required age she started school. Here's her answer to my first question:

"My primary education was at Brikama Primary school. After sitting the Common entrance Examination, I was enrolled at an only girls’ Catholic High School called Saint Joseph’s High School in Banjul, the capital city of Gambia. On completing my GCE Ordinary Levels exams, I proceeded to Sixth Form at an only Boys-Catholic High school Saint Augustine’s High School in Banjul where a few girls were accepted into the sixth form every year. Following this, I went to college and completed my undergraduate degree in International Development Studies with a minor in English language with Saint Mary’s University (SMUEP), Halifax, Canada. Then I completed my Master of Arts degree with the University of Torino/ITCILO, Italy. The year I graduated from Italy, I went to Brandeis University for a Master of arts Degree in Sustainable International Development. While at Brandeis I pursued a one year course on one of my hobbies - film-making - and produced my first two directed films just before graduating from Brandeis in 2008."

I connected with Mariama Khan one morning in the Dakar Media Centre where she came to meet the director to discuss her third documentary film in progress entitled SUTURA and dealing with rape in the Senegalese community.

I was sitting in the lobby waiting for the media centre director to see me. Then Mariama came with two or three other people I do not exactly remember. I recall that they passionately discussed filmmaking issues in English, which made me think that they were Nigerians or Gambians. I was not sure. Mariama, the only girl in the group, was holding a Mac book laptop that was not opened yet. That's when Moussa Gueye, the director of the Media Centre, came out and introduced her to me. She turned towards me and flashed a beautiful smile. The discussion began and we eventually started talking about her unfinished film. After that I invited her to my place to show her the MY HERO resource centre and inform her about the objectives of the project. More than four hours later we were still discussing filmmaking issues and her film production company called DFI (Documentary Film Initiative) that she intends to use to inform, sensitize and raise consciousness and awareness in matters regarding social poverty, youth unemployment and economic development in Africa. I could not help marveling at her ambitions and the confidence, the commitment she displayed, the passion she showed when discussing those issues. That was about a year ago. I did not know about her talents as a poet then. I thought that she was just a filmmaker, freshly graduated from Brandeis University where her first film " The Journey Up The Hill" was produced.

A hiker and lover of nature (courtesy of Mariama Khan)

It was after several months and several trips to Senegal that I discovered Mariama Khan's talents as a poet. I don't know why but for some reason we had never talked about poetry until that very day she showed me a collection of her poems. I remember googling her later to find out more about her poems. They were monstrous in beauty and there were many of them. I could not help falling in love with the depth, the sincerity, the light and the humanity that came from her poems. I remember wondering whether she was the one writing them. In fact no one can readily believe that such beautiful poems are written by this 31 years old young lady.

As always one cannot help wondering where such great inspiration originates. I thought that she was the only one who could answer that question and many more I had in store for her.

"I came to write my first poem when my English-Literature teacher in Sixth Form, Mr. Louis Sarr, asked me to write a poem for reading during the annual Speech and Prize Giving ceremony at Saint Augustine’s High School. I insisted I could not write one, and even though I enjoyed poetry, I never wrote one before. He insisted, "I know you can write one, just go home and think. Write anything and bring it to class." I spent that night toying with words for inspiration, and guess what? My first poem was on Saint Augustine’ High School. When I took it to him, the following day, he praised it as a masterpiece. I read the poem to students and invited guests during the annual Speech and Prize Giving Ceremony. That was the beginning of my date with the muse."

To Mariama Khan, poetry is not only a way to express this inner beauty and light she has, but as she said, it is "an avenue of freedom of expression, a tool to fight social injustice by championing the course of the voiceless, the powerless, the oppressed and the hopeless. I protest justice for them through poetry. At a personal level, poetry helps me make peace with myself as I go through the vicissitudes of life. I could express my pain, my frustrations, my disappointments, my love and my hope freely, feeling towards the end of a poem that I derived emotional upliftment from it. Poetry is a confidante to me: I could say all that I want to say, in any way I want to say it, without the fear of someone letting down my words."

just like all the great poets of this world, Mariama Khan received some influence from other poets as she explained: "I have been influenced by the different generations of poets across the world. From post colonial or pre-independence African poets, to the protest poems of the Harlem renaissance, the counter-culture movement, the beats and the romantics."

Before all the beauty and her unique way of blending words to make them yield so much power I could not help asking her about the source of her inspiration:

"As a lover of nature, I draw lot of inspiration from the natural environment. As an abhorrer of injustice, I also draw inspiration from the plight of people and, of course, my own experiences during the lows and highs of sentiments."

Mariama Khan with friends at Brandeis University (courtesy of Mariama Khan)

Yet the best poets of Mariama Khan remain "The Gambian Poet and Surgeon Lenrie Peters. As someone fascinated by medical science, I am fascinated by the way he blends medical metaphors in his poems. A young Gambian poet in the United Kingdom, Bamba Khan, thrills me with the expressive beauty of his poems pregnant with religious and socio-cultural metaphors. Reading him always is like taking a crash course on my culture. The profoundness and beauty of his poems are so exciting to me. Also, I love Gabriel Okara, David Diop, Leopold Sedar Senghor, some Romantic poets like Blake and Harlem Renaissance poets like Mckay..I have an extensive taste for poetry."

I cannot end this story without adding these beautiful lines of The Gambia website about this great inspiring poet.

"Great women have achieved great things and it makes one think of the Margaret Yourcenars, the Florence Mahoneys, the Aminata Sow Faals and the Mariama Bas. They have inscribed their names on the golden stone of literary art and lived through eternity. That's how one thinks of Ms. Mariama Khan. 

Mariama Khan is a God’s creation very hard to describe, for here is a lady that for the first time, left an indelible mark in the history of Gambian literature. If you meet Mariama Khan before reading her poems, you might honestly wonder if such a young, friendly and so quiet a lady could produce poems quite unique in style and monstrous in beauty and richness. If you read her poems before meeting her, you will wonder which genius has intricated such bewildering work of art in which all colours are extraordinarily represented. Mariama Khan has finally compiled all her poems into a collection that will please both the old and the young, the loving and the caring, the mother as well the father, the child and the adolescent, the rich aristocrat and the poor, the teacher and the student, the reader and the writer, the angered and the sad, and most of all, the questioner of human nature. 
Mariama Khan is a Gambian who has won several writing competitions. She published various works in newspapers and Magazines in Gambia. Some of her poems have also been published in Canada, in the Naswaak Review, a Canadian journal of literary works."

POEMS OF MARIAMA KHAN

FALLEN LEAVES

The moon heaves under a scarlet night
Sorrow on her chest
Yesterday’s song was hollow and grey
The leaves fall in slow silence
Like snow flakes
Spring mends the feud within the heart
The laborious hands of time
Will repaint the foot prints to re-awaken the soul.

Again like broken /glasses/ dreams life stumbles apart
The ghosts shadow the walk way
Evenings return in their shroud of melancholy
My last tears will quench the thirst of a desert flower
If the sun is not tired of its west ward journey
The phoenix will rise again
The caravan will meet the oasis
Make a new home of green trees and sunny skies.

Life stumbles apart like broken glasses
The ghosts shadow the walk way
Evenings return with a shroud of melancholy
Last tears quench the thirst of a desert flower
If the sun is not tired of its west ward journey
“The phoenix will rise again”
The oasis meets the caravan to make a new home
Of green trees and sunny skies.

BORN AGAIN

Life stumbles apart like broken glasses
The ghosts shadow the walk way
Evenings return with a shroud of melancholy
Last tears quench the thirst of a desert flower
If the sun is not tired of its west ward journey
“The phoenix will rise again”
The oasis meets the caravan to make a new home
Of green trees and sunny skies

WALTHAM WORRIES

This back hurts like a curse seeping through the skin to the last nerve of my feelings
This pain is like septic needles through my back into my heart
I yield to a lapse and like a lazy weakling, I indulge my pain with thoughts of home
Here I lay like a friendless soul in the wilderness
My whines lost to the shores of the Atlantic

Raw longings stare at me; the ice cubes within me refuse to melt
Like the child nourishing from her mother’s breasts
I pain, I pain, I pain to be at home
O in the darkest of night, I felt my way through room to room to her bedroom
To give her part of my pain to carry for me
In her maternal bed, I slept in warmth
When the morning comes, like her newborn infant

She would nurse me all over again.
With the sunrise my pain vanishes like the dew



Written by Seck from Dakar, Senegal
Last changed on: 6/8/2009 7:24:35 AM

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