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Eric Ngalle Charles
Publication Date: 
Monday, April 11, 2022
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In Homelands, his debut collection, Eric Ngalle Charles draws on his early life raised by the matriarchs of Cameroon, being sent to Moscow by human traffickers, and finding a new home in Wales. Rich in tone, subject and emotion, Charles’ poetry moves between the present and the past, between Africa and Europe, and between despair and hope. It discovers that historical injustices now play out in new forms, and that family tensions are as strong as the love within a family. Despite the difficulties Charles has faced, Homelands contains poems of fondness, warmth and humour and, as he returns to Cameroon to confront old ghosts, forgiveness. 

“Eric has indeed sung the world alive and these poems bear witness to many lives being lived.” – Menna Elfyn


Eric Ngalle Charles reads ‘The Grey Book’



Review by Caroline Bracken, Nation Cymru

Sunday, September 4, 2022

The debut collection Homelands by Eric Ngalle Charles is a joy to read. It is a love letter to language. The book begins in Cameroon, his birthplace, we see a vivid picture of childhood:

‘We shall mash-up hibiscus plants,
lubricants for our car wheels,’ (Child’s Eyes)

The poems in this section are filled with Bakweri words, translated underneath, or sometimes within the poem:

‘Even before I was three months
old, I ate Matambu, food my
mother chewed before putting
in my mouth. (Kitchen)

The most ambitious poem is ‘If Heaven Is Her Father’s Land, Her Father Can Keep It’, written for the poet’s sister, punctuated throughout with the refrain ‘Let the rains come in June not August.’ This works as a prayer-like incantation holding the poem together as he charts all the things his sister wants to do. The poem is brilliantly executed because the poet is in control and never lets the poem run away from him.

In the second section of the book ‘Displacements’ the poems are a bit all over the place and I mean this in a good way. The reader is never sure from one poem to the next where they are and what is going on. This mirrors what I imagine must be the experience of a person trafficked from their home into a world where the language and surroundings make no sense.

‘I was not destined to leave my bones on
the snow-filled terrains of Vladivostok.
Memories are my hiding place, dreams
of hell and heaven intertwine, from here,
I saw the green fields of my distant home.’

The final section ‘Cymru’ speaks of Wales where he now lives:

                         ‘Wry smile, her garment clear
as light reaching a

closed eye. That is how she greeted me.’ (Cymru)

‘Today the clouds of Cymru are heavy.
In Cameroon there were no watering holes
in the summer.’ (South)

Review by Diego Bàez, Harriet Books

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

A simmering anxiety underpins Homelands, the quietly arresting debut collection by Eric Ngalle Charles, a Cameroonian poet who now resides in Wales. One poem that captures this sense of uneasy displacement is “Zugunruhe,” which takes its title from the German word for “migration restlessness.” The poem opens with the image of a bird, whose “black feathers glitter” as “[s]he smiles despite wounds / on her left ankle.” For Charles, the migratory bird is a metaphor of sorts for all migrants, and its instincts are similar to those of human beings driven to fight or flight by circumstances beyond their control: “Flexing plumes as if with an Au revoir, / a goldfinch stretches, a seasoned boxer.”

German and French words and phrases are interwoven through these poems, reflecting the imperial legacies of Cameroon, a country that, as the poet explains in an endnote, “stands divided today along old colonial lines, between the English and the French spheres of influence,” and where the “average Cameroonian speaks at least four languages.” Charles leaves many terms untranslated in-text, such that the poetic voice retains its authenticity, while copious footnotes render the poems comprehensible to a broader audience. The most enchanting examples occur in poems that draw on stories and figures from Bakweri folklore. These include Mokele Mbembe, often depicted, erroneously, as a surviving dinosaur (“river deity, you alone know / where our dreams have gone, / why we wander”) and Ndondondume, a mythical creature that seduces people to ruin who appears in the chilling poem “When They Came”:

Ndondondume, the beast, you left the
village gates open, you guided soldiers
onto her bed. They found her stiff at
dawn, mouth agape, lips blackened,
veins on her face popping, eyes
shouting, “Ndondondume”, the beast,
you left open the village gate, you
guided soldiers onto her bed. 

Throughout this collection, Charles wrestles with the complexities of language, geography, and identity, but the central question of this book may be the one raised by the speaker in one poem, who, when asked “where are you from?” can only wonder: “How long must one stay in a place to become it?”

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