The following appears in:
Willhardt and Alan Michael Parker, eds.,
Cheney-Coker, Syl (Sierra Leone, b. 1945) Born to Christian Creole parents in Freetown, Cheney-Coker's family was thus part of the Sierra Leonean social and cultural elite of the country. He was educated in Sierra Leone prior to leaving for the United States in 1966 to pursue post-secondary studies. Cheney-Coker has since worked as a journalist, professor and, for a time in the late 1980s-early 1990s, as the publisher of the only independent newspaper in his native Sierra Leone.
An intensely personal and self-reflective work, Cheney-Coker's first published collection of poetry, Concerto for an Exile (1973), also reflects what might most charitably be called an ambivalence about his background: at once a celebration of an African essence which Cheney-Coker sees in the downtrodden of his homeland (and which owes much to the poetry of NÉGRITUDE) and an anger and despair about the colonial and Christian legacy which is part of his personal heritage and which is reflected in his poetic imagery.
Cheney-Coker's second collection, The Graveyard Also Has Teeth (1980), continues in the same vein although it focuses more on Cheney-Coker's feelings for Sierra Leone and the role of the artist in a developing country. It also anticipates the growing maturity of vision and outward looking poetic gaze that is evident in his third volume, The Blood in the Desert's Eyes (1990). While the subject matter of his poetry has increasingly concerned more general social and political issues, the form has remained constant: a loose metrical structure which relies more on images piled one on top of another than the focused poetic explication of a single motif.