Blog / Texts

Delta Sounds

by Jordan Blanchard

POSTED: 29 April 2024

A new poetic response to Wilfred Ukpong’s exhibition, exploring oil extraction and environmental degradation in the Niger Delta

In this newly commissioned work, author Jordan Blanchard responds to our current exhibition Wilfred Ukpong: Niger-Delta / Future-Cosmos. Blanchard hails from the Mississippi River Delta and typically pays homage to what she describes as “the mess of the bayou” in her work. She was struck by the synergy between her writing and Ukpong’s work set in the Niger Delta, and the way it captures a sense of ecological urgency through Afrofuturist world-building.

Below, you can read Blanchard’s new ekphrastic poem Delta Sounds, a response to Ukpong’s video work Earth Sounds. While Afrofuturism relies deeply on the power of imagining the concept of Black existence, Ekphrasis comes from Greek, and refers to a written description of a visual work of art. In this way, Afrofuturist writing can be thought of as the ekphrastic work of afro-theory.

Delta Sounds is a sestina, meaning that it is a poem dictated by the repetition of its six end words and a loose syllabic structure. Blanchard speaks directly to us, the reader, and addresses Ukpong as well as his imagined successors. The section in italics, which forms the majority of the poem, is written from the perspective of the river delta itself.

You bargain, up from the gut and muffled
by oil slosh. The water shrieks with you,
cracks its veins further while you balance god
on your head. The two heralds march the waves
with their conduit. Prayers slick. Shore like palms.
wash me clean, wash me clean, wash me clean, wash—

Oxygenate me with your last breath. Wash
behind your ears. Imagine the muffled
mess your prayers become underneath your palms
as you’re condemned to the water bugs. You
toss your eyes across the duo-chrome waves.
Another will come to beg their last god.

I have taken to hoarding man’s slick gaud,
droplets in my veins. Gross transfusion. Washed
black with carbon. Wash me clean. Put my waves
in a jar to preserve them. The muffled
gasps from future visitors without you
to explain that I was a river. Palms

wet with their brushed tears. Look, come closer. Palms
meant to wash each other, wash me clean, god,
stretched. Dirged. Weatherbeaten. And then there’s you.
Drowned in the drink as one prayer washer.
There are scores of you in the deep with muffled
bubbles leaving your bodies to join waves.

There are sigils imprinted in these waves
for those with eyes keen enough to look. Palms
eager for each other. Knees thud, muffled,
into the marsh. Another beggar. God.
How many more? There aren’t enough to wash
me of my muck. And what about you?

The last harbinger of my death. Have you
come to succumb, soak up the oily waves
with your spent body? Give me your breath. Wash
me clean. Lay belly up under my palms.
I will come and carry you to your god.
But keep your last plea to yourself, muffled

You’ve given what you could, brandished your palms
for the sake of waves. Here. You’ve got your god,
knelt before you, worn, unwashed, and muffled.

about the writer

Jordan Blanchard

Jordan is a poet born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work is an homage to the mess of the bayou. After completing her term as the first intern at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, she went on to earn her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Westminster in 2021 and her first MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London in 2022.

She is currently studying for her second MA at the University for the Arts, London. Her work has been published in BRUISER Mag, Crashtest, the Kenyon College Anthology, Wired the Zine, UMBRA and the online companion, UMBRAT. Her self-published collection, river muck, baby is available in select stores. For more, visit her website.

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part of the exhibition

Wilfred Ukpong: Niger-Delta / Future-Cosmos

16 Feb – 1 Jun 2024
Free exhibition

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part of Autograph's 2024 Open Call

An Autograph Commission

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Images on page: stills from Wilfred Ukpong's film, Earth Sounds, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Blazing Century Studios.

Exhibition image: Wilfred Ukpong, Strongly, We Believe In the Power of this Motile Thing That Will Take Us There #2, 2017. From the series Blazing Century 1: Niger-Delta/Future-Cosmos. Courtesy of the artist and Blazing Century Studios.