I’ve been sitting at the dinner table in Jack Mapanje’s lounge for more than an hour. The mug of tea his wife brought in is cold, the plate of biscuits half gone, but my list of questions is growing rather than shrinking. I explain that we’ll have to stop for a moment while I change over the tape recorder, and the exiled Malawian poet throws his head back and lets out a booming laugh. “It’s very boring to answer yes or no,” he says.

There’s been little as straightforward as that so far today. A conversation with Mapanje loops around like one of the poems from his Forward-prize-nominated collection, Beasts of Nalunga, full of colourful stories, brisk changes of tone, and laughter. Every now and then he picks up a book from the table in front of him to refer back to one of his poems. “I think I put it better here,” he says, peering through glasses perched on the end of his nose as he searches for the required passage.

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