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Songs We Learn from Trees

An Anthology of Ethiopian Amharic Poetry

Edited by Chris Beckett and Alemu Tebeje

Cover of Songs We Learn From Trees Anthology
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Categories: 21st Century, African, Anthologies, British, Language
Imprint: Carcanet Classics
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Available as:
Paperback (304 pages)
(Pub. May 2020)
9781784109479
£18.99 £17.09
eBook (EPUB) Needs ADE!
(Pub. May 2020)
9781784109486
£15.19 £13.67
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  • Description
  • Editors
  • Awards
  • Reviews
  • Finalist for the 2021 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry

    This is the very first anthology of Ethiopian poetry in English, packed with all the energy, wit and heartache of a beautiful country and language. From folk and religious poems, warrior boasts, praises of women and kings and modern plumbing; through a flowering of literary poets in the twentieth century; right up to thirty of the most exciting contemporary Amharic poets working both inside and outside the country.

    These poems ask what it means to be Ethiopian today, part of a young fast-growing economy, heirs to the one African state which was never colonised, but beset by deep political, ethnic and moral problems.

    Join the #songfromtrees virtual launch tour on our YouTube channel, for new videos from contributors every day between 8th - 13th June 2020.
    Chris Beckett
    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 ... read more
    Alemu Tebeje
    Alemu Tebeje is an Ethiopian journalist, poet, lyric writer and human rights campaigner who left Ethiopia in the early 1990s and now lives next to Grenfell Tower in London. He runs the website www.debteraw.com and his poems have been published in Amharic, Chinese and English, as well as being projected on ... read more
    Awards won by Chris Beckett Short-listed, 2021 The Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry
    (Songs We Learn from Trees)
    'The range of styles and tones is impressive: from sorrowful love laments and witty socio-political satire to tense existentialist poems and sombre historical meditations...lovers of literature will delight in the aesthetic virtuosity of the poems...this anthology is a painstaking declaration of love for the poetic traditions of Ethiopia and its diaspora, and will likely make the reader fall in love with these traditions as well.' 
    Sara Marzagora, Wasafiri

    'This wide-ranging anthology is a pleasure to read. It opens a long overdue window into the way Ethiopians approach the craft of poetry.'
    Malika Booker
     'This book is a vital contribution to African letters, rendering into English and in one volume, a rare and vibrant diversity of voices from a country oft ignored in continental letters. It holds all the lyricism, haunted echoes, and lament and praise song that you know can only come from a people whose search for the sublime was not limited to mountain churches, but to churches carved deep into the search, the complete scale of the human, from the body to the highest soul. I am grateful for this work and cannot recommend it enough. I hope the voices held here find expressions in their own collections soon'

    Chris Abani, Judge, 2021 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry

    'Chris Beckett and Alemu Tebeje's anthology of Ethiopian Amharic poetry is wonderful - not only for the choice of poems - but for the fluency and energy of the translations. The editors are also to be congratulated for their cogent introduction and context to Ethiopian poetry.'

    Katrina Naomi, Modern Poetry in Translation

    Praise for Chris Beckett 'These poems are utterly distinctive, there is something at once proud and sad in them, as the reader senses that Tenderfoot loves but stands outside what he loves.'
    Sasha Dugdale
     '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.'
    Fred D'Aguiar
    'Chris Beckett's poetry is highly original in the way it works with two sharply distinctive traditions in a uniquely engaging style. The language is always fresh and surprising and the sentiments are always heartfelt but in a subtly complex way that raises serious political questions.'
    Daljit Nagra
    '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
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