Reesom Haile

Reesom Haile: Eritrea’s Poet Laureate

I never met Reesom Haile. At least, we did not meet in person. Nevertheless, I have become acquainted with him through his poetry about his homeland, Eritrea. In an understated way, Reesom was a protest poet, speaking out about the wrongs inflicted upon Eritrea by those who subjugated her and robbed her of freedom and independence. Hear his voice in “Believe It or Not”:

Believe it or not,

They want to kill us.

Remember the Italians

Who invaded and said

Eat but don’t speak?

Remember the English

Who invaded and said

Speak but don’t eat?

Remember the Amharas

Who invaded and said

Don’t speak and don’t eat?

Still we’re shocked

The Weyanes invaded

And said You should be dead.

Believe it or not

They want to kill us…

And forced to choose

We’ll always stand

By our martyrs –

No way we’ll lose.

Reesom Haile was one of the G-13, a group of Eritrean intellectuals and professionals who wrote a long letter, the Berlin Manifesto, to President Isaias Afwerki, protesting his failure to deliver democracy to Eritrea. The G-13 are real people, whose dialogue, decisions and interrelationships are creatively reimagined in my book, The Eritrean Letter Writers: Dear Mr President. The book is firmly embedded in factual events and careful research; it is narrative nonfiction, imbuing each character with distinctive individual personality as memories are revisited and revised. I reconstruct events with the input of some of the letter writers. The story is grounded in Eritrean culture and everyday life and is read through a long, lively conversation narrated by Reesom, his country’s Poet Laureate.

Reesom: Performance Poet

This year Eritreans are reflecting upon thirty years of “independence” wrested from Ethiopia. The Eritrean Letter Writers questions if their country has reason to celebrate or mourn, despite the peace accord with Ethiopian leader, Abiy Ahmed, Nobel Peace Laureate in 2019. Both countries are again engaged in a bitter civil war. In the book, Afwerki is referred to as ‘The Leader’, a title taken from one of Reesom’s poems.

In another poem, “Peace Will Come”, Reesom wondered whether peace was ever attainable in Eritrea. He died in 2003. “Life” is a short but powerful statement:

I define life

As my country:

Birth, spirit,

Struggle, and death.

I define the afterlife

As everybody’s country:

Undiscovered,

And nobody’s come back yet.

More about my book: https://bit.ly/TheLetterWriters

Books by Reesom Haile

You may prefer to hear this post as a podcast: https://anchor.fm/dashboard/episode/e16nuv0

3 thoughts on “Reesom Haile”

  1. Noela Penberthy

    Well done Stephany … the contents are profound and the cover of your book enticing.

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