Syl Cheney-Coker (born 1945) is a poet, novelist, and journalist from Freetown, Sierra Leone. Educated in the United States, he has a global sense of literary history, and has introduced styles and techniques from French and Latin American literatures to Sierra Leone. He has spent much of his life in exile from his native country, and has written extensively (in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction) about the condition of exile and the view of Africa from an African abroad.
Cheney-Coker’s poetry is tinged with the anxiety of his perennially uncertain status, dealing both with exile (he has spent the majority of his adult life outside of his country) and with the precariousness of living as an intellectual in Sierra Leone. At the same time, he is concerned always with how he will be read; his poems are radical and ardent, but also erudite and allusive, which can distract a reader from Cheney-Coker’s ideological project. He has been called one of the more western-influenced African poets. In his “On Being a Poet in Sierra Leone” (from his The Graveyard Also Has Teeth, 1980) he writes:
at the university the professors talk about the poetry
of Syl Cheney-Coker condemning students
to read me in the English honours class
my country I do not want that!
do not want to be cloistered in books alone
Syl is one of the poets taking part in the Southbank Centre’s Poetry Parnassus event and her residency brings three organisations together in partnership: Cove Park, the Southbank Centre and Creative Futures. While on residency with us, Syl will be giving a podcast to the Scottish Poetry Library.