Winner, Somerset Maugham Award 2021
Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice, Spring 2021
‘Hunger made me’, reveals one speaker in Ripe, and the desire to be satiated fills these poems. Desperate women hide grains of rice in their hair, baked beans evoke a strained father-daughter relationship, plantains endure the fire. Yet hunger takes many forms, as the risks and rewards of its satisfaction are weighed, and cravings for intimacy are charged with danger. ‘When we’re born, we’re someone else’s’, but in this daring exploration of identity and survival, we hear a thrilling new voice come into its own.
Baafi’s poems read as daring and inventive signifiers, interrogating a myriad of complex subjects, and immersing readers in a world fortified with wit, curiosity, and unapologetic beauty. Throughout the pamphlet, her poetry tussles with the paradoxes, uncertainties, and anxieties of our current social climate; employing new and arresting forms, and infusing originality into her lines. Her writing invokes a sharp hybrid register, working to ensure an impressive display of ideas at both the word and sentence level.
Praise for Ripe
“Ripe is a pamphlet which draws on the mundane to forge beauty, using sensual tones to deal with and address harsh subject matter. Baafi’s poems are great inventions in terms of their use of form. Throughout this book, her use of language is never laboured in its endeavour to draw the reader’s attention. […] Overall, Baafi’s poems often step outside the rational and waking consciousness in order to investigate other realms, be that paranoia, dream states etc. […] Through her lyric poems, prose poetry, erasures and much besides, Baafi offers us a complex world worth savouring, as she revels in language both sacred and profane. This is a pamphlet to enjoy and a poet to watch.”
—Nick Makoha and Mary Jean Chan, PBS Pamphlet Selectors
“Ripe, Baafi’s collection, is a viscerally challenging, at times harrowing, but deeply rewarding read. Her poems engage with the exterior and interior machinations of the female body, touching on what it is like to be a woman of colour, the price of intimacy, loss of innocence, heartbreak, faith and so much more. […] Baafi is masterful at implanting images of neo-realistic brutality through the most sumptuous combination of the mythical, mystical and mundane, and in a language that is ever so playful. These poems demonstrate, at times, a unique use of metre, both in the visual shape of the poems and in the poet’s distinctive feel for rhythm. This is simultaneously a daring and beautifully subtle exploration of modern human relationships. Isabelle Baafi is a unique new voice.”
—Taz Rahman, Poetry Wales
“With Ripe, we relocate to the gritty urban setting of London, with snapshots of home and everyday life illuminating the path to Baafi’s exploration of sexuality, race, desire, faith, and love, in all their messy materiality. The title, Ripe, catches the sense in which this pamphlet can also be read as the coming-of-age journey of a woman, with poems that take us to the range of emotional complexities that span childhood (‘Finding my dad in a can of baked beans’), puberty and sexual maturing (‘Ouroboros’), motherhood (‘PG Tips), and familial relationships (‘Sister Wives’). References to children and childhood populate the poems, a recurring motif that also carries Baafi’s intriguing exploration of the meeting points between psychoanalytical and Christian themes. […] The poet’s imagination presents vivid portraits of the bodily immediacy of the everyday, with subtle strokes that sketch in the histories and social context that frame individual experience.”
—Sara Kazmi, Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal
“Isabelle Baafi has a command of considerable linguistic athleticism, both in of her choice of themes and in her willingness to embrace an ambitious variety of forms in this, her first pamphlet. […] These are poems that are witty, unafraid and hungry for intimacy.”
—Vanessa Lampert, The Alchemy Spoon
“The poems in Ripe have been crafted with care. Thought has been given to the space they occupy on the page; some are shaped or use space so that it becomes part of the poem. They explore heritage and identity though relationships of mother to baby and ways in which a child negotiates its independence. Colours feature – particularly black and bruise colours like blue, purple and grey – which appear in ripe fruit or mould, or blue make-up or violet glitter. And the colours are reinforced by shades and shadows. White appears too, as rice, ash, dust, teeth, moonlight, snow, eyes and milk. This use of colour underlines the sense of marginalisation. Isabelle Baafi’s subjects may be those pushed to edges of society but her poems are multi-layered and reward re-reading, giving her marginalised subjects centre stage. The slenderness of the volume belies the weight of the words within.”
—Emma Lee, London Grip