POEMS FOR THE MOTHERLAND by Josephine Coker


“Poems for the Motherland” is a creative act of sharing and giving back by a poet who evidently values and appreciates what she received by way of a cultural education in the course of growing up in Sierra Leone in the 70s and 80s. Josephine Coker identifies her target audience as “the younger generation now living there”, which seems to me an excessively modest aspiration, as I have no doubt at all that a younger generation living not just “there” but ANYWHERE will find this an inspiring, enjoyable, educative and fascinating read. Not only that, but as someone who long since vacated that lobby inhabited by “the young generation” I nevertheless felt, as I read the poems in this collection, affinities with that referenced constituency that can only be the result of the poetry having a greater universality and appeal than perhaps the author herself acknowledges or realises. This is not itself an unusual happening with poetry; it speaks to that quality to which my favourite poet William Wordsworth alludes in the phrase – “we feel that we are greater than we know”. Dr Kayode Robin-CokerJosephine Coker is a gift to her generation. She is very academic, but being one to make up her own mind, she opted to leave the Science Stream for the Commercial Stream while at the Methodist Girls’ High School in Freetown, much to the chagrin of her devoted grandfather who she claims steered her ship and charted a course which she still by and large follows. She claims the decision to change course made her the all-rounder she is today.Her grandfather, being a firm believer in education, strived to ensure that she would be the best at whatever she wanted to do. On finishing secondary school, she enrolled at the Milton Margai Teachers’ College, the only tertiary institution in Sierra Leone at the time which offered commercial subjects. During Teaching Practice at her alma mater, the then principal, Mrs Fashu Collier turned up unannounced to observe one of her final classes. Little did she know that she was being assessed for a job which she was offered after the lesson. After teaching for two years she held a few jobs, including senior administrative positions at NGOs before leaving for the United Kingdom where she, among others studied for the Chartered Insurance Institute and Chartered Marketing Institute examinations. She also holds an LLB. She is a Marketing Consultant and mentors BAME businesses.While Josephine is no doubt a strong academic she also has a substantive creative side. She is good with her hands and messing about with hand-made fashion items got her noticed by the BBC and birthed her fashion business Beoku Designs. Poems For The Motherland is further evidence of that creative side. Josephine is also a mother and grandmother. She has a zest for life and does everything with passion. In her words, “the kids are growing up but that does not make me old”.This is neither an incidental nor an accidental publication; each poem sparkles with talent aforethought. An academically gifted alumna of the Methodist Girls High School (one of the oldest and most respected secondary schools in Sierra Leone where, as she recalls in a recent conversation, she was taught how to “understand, interpret and appreciate poetry”), Coker, perhaps not surprisingly, writes poetry that is metrically felicitous, with stylishly rhythmic effects and characterised by skilful, formal and competent use of rhyme. Assured expression and impressive precision come as second nature to a writer with an LLB degree in her toolkit, a writer whose “day job” has encompassed successful careers and formal academic qualifications in the demanding fields of insurance and marketing. Some of these poems read like the sort of accomplished broadside ballads that were popular in the 19th century English poetic tradition.

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