In October 2011, writer and political activist Enoh Meyomesse unsuccessfully ran for the presidency of Cameroon. A month later, while Meyomesse was abroad, gendarmes broke into his home without a warrant and confiscated documents, photographs and other personal property. On returning to Cameroon in November 2011, Meyomesse was arrested and charged with attempting to organise a coup, possessing a firearm and aggravated theft. He vehemently denied all charges, maintaining that he had been arrested because of views expressed in his writings and for his political activism.
In late January 2012, the coup charges against the writer were dropped; and in the intervening months the other charges against Meyomesse began to crumble. By June 2012 no charges remained. Despite this, a judge ordered an extension of his detention, ostensibly to allow the prosecutor to search for evidence against him. In December 2012, after more than thirteen months in prison, Meyomesse was found guilty of the theft and illegal sale of gold, and sentenced to seven years in prison. No witnesses or evidence were presented during the trial, and Meyomesse was not allowed to testify in his own defence.
Throughout his time in jail, Meyomesse has continued to write prolifically, and in November 2012 self published a powerful collection of poetry, Poème carcéral: Poésie du pénitencier de Kondengui (Les Editions de Kamerun, November 2012). To show our support for Meyomesse, English PEN put out a call on our website and via social media, asking our network of supporters to join us in working on a crowd-sourced translation of his writing. The resulting anthology Jail Verse: Poems from Kondengui Prison is now available as an e-book and to print-on-demand. As well as amplifying a voice that the Cameroonian government has sought to silence, we are using the collection to raise much-needed funds for Meyomesse and his family.
We are now looking for supporters to help us translate Meyomesse’s work into as many different languages as possible to help us ensure that his voice is heard as widely as possible. If you’re interested in getting involved, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Cat Lucas [End Page 137]
it hung around my neckthe damned placardit hung heavilyand the television camerasand the gawping bystandersand the gazing eyes of people across the whole world were reading my nameacross itdumbfounded
it straddled my neckthe damned placardit straddled it heavily
they’d stuck it therethey’d hung it therethey’d tied it there and under my name there was inscribed an abomination oh supreme humiliation
Translated by Dick Jones [End Page 138]
Why do you treat me like this
why do you treat me like thissimply because I don’t see things your way
have you not freed wordshave you not freed spiritshave you not freed soulshave you not freed tongues
oh leaders of this regimecustodians of my people’s destinywhy do you treat me like thissimply because I don’t see things your way
Translated by Dick Jones [End Page 139]
écrivainelsewhere you are treasured and on your bulging breast sparkle medals and medals from your heroic fights against darkness
écrivainelsewhere you are revered and atop your fragile yet also powerful body sparkles a halo of wisdom that brings glory to the nation
BUT here your pen is loathed it is hated it is abhorred like the bird of death
AND the people say at last we shut his fat mouth at last we shut his fat throat at last we shut his fat baritone voice that wakes the sleeping souls
AND NOW he will no longer insult us he will no longer shout at us he will no longer abuse us L’E CRI VAIN
Translated by Katerina Thomas [End Page 140]