Portrait of Colossus is a searingly forthright début that navigates parenting, masculinity, racism and ambiguities of identity. It articulates, with skill and sly humour, the migrant experience from the perspective of the second generation, the ones who “know [England]/ more than everywhere else/ put together”. Brimming with vulnerability and pitched between the lilt of hooyo’s admonitions and Ted Hughes’ eye for the natural world, many of the poems reconcile disparate worlds, cultures and identities, firing them with the lyricism of Dawud’s Psalms. Samatar seamlessly blends influences from Somali oral history, Ovidian tales and Homer’s Odyssey into a poetics that makes Portrait of Colossus cathartic, musical, emotionally satisfying as well as erudite.
“Samatar Elmi’s Portrait of Colossus is characterised by a linguistic acuity and philosophical depth which belies its status as the author’s first solo publication. It is the work of a hybrid sensibility taking its cues equally from the rhythms and narrative drive of the Hip Hop emcee and the wisdom of a true historian; one who looks at the world and sees not just the world as it is but as it has been, as it might yet be. In that crucial sense Samatar Elmi is engaged in the timeless project that is at poetry’s root; that of bringing disparate consciousnesses into dynamic, thrilling, relation across boundaries of time and space.” – Kayo Chingonyi