A Blood Condition by Kayo Chingonyi review – deep, subtle grace

The Zambian-born British poet explores colonial history, the origin of HIV and survivor’s guilt with a quiet power

Kayo Chingonyi’s A Blood Condition has a dignity that honours the past without indulging in any overflow of personal feeling. Dignity is an interesting quality in a writer – it cannot be faked without presenting as pomposity. Chingonyi’s authentic, reined-in passions are stirring. His impressive first collection, Kumukanda (2017), showed a poet who already understood that you do not need to be attention-seeking to deserve attention. In this second collection, he takes quietness further. The “blood condition” remains unnamed, although even the most defective of detectives will know it to be HIV. Eastern and southern Africa have been ravaged by the disease and Chingonyi, born in Zambia, lost both parents to HIV-related illnesses. Many of his poems bless the departed (in the affecting Guy’s and St Thomas’s he cannot dissociate the memory of his mother from hospital buildings where she once worked). But the collection is about loss in a far wider sense and its precise devastations will find echos in this time of Covid.

The opening prose poem, Nyaminyami, is dedicated to the Zambezi River god and the whole collection runs like a river that keeps breaking its own banks. Chingonyi compresses Zambia’s troubled history into its flow. He describes the insult of colonial interventions: the building of a dam, the greed for copper, the indifference to the old stories:

Continue reading...


All the Flowers Kneeling by Paul Tran review – a confrontation of pain and poetic form

The aftermath of abuse is met head-on by subtle and delicate skill in the Vietnamese-American poet’...

Read More >

Lea Ypi: ‘Hope is a moral duty’

The Albanian author and academic on what she misses most about her homeland and how a communist chil...

Read More >

Music for the Dead and Resurrected by Valzhyna Mort review – a bright new voice from an endless winter

This exceptional collection from the Belarus-born poet digs into what happens when the self goes mis...

Read More >

Every Family Has a Story by Julia Samuel review – why we inherit our parents’ problems

The bestselling psychotherapist explores how trauma and anxiety can pass through generations in thes...

Read More >

Unexhausted Time by Emily Berry review – language that defies all limits

These strange, intimate poems blur the boundaries between waking and dreaming, past and futureIn Emi...

Read More >

C+nto & Othered Poems by Joelle Taylor review – punchy tales of lesbian life

The winner of the TS Eliot prize offers a rallying cry for gay unity amid prejudice and deathJoelle ...

Read More >