Archive for August, 2011

Today is World Blog day and it’s been 8months since I started work on this blog. I’ve totally enjoyed every single piece that I have put up here.

How did it start? I already have this blog, started exactly a year ago today, that is solely devoted to Ghanaians and our peculiarities. It’s the place where I like to write the informal stuff and divert reader attention from all the stressful news that the world throws at us now.

I attended Barcamp Ghana last year and met a host of exciting Ghanaian entrepreneurs and innovators. Some were into technology, others were into literature and some still into cinema. The one thing that struck me was that, just like me, they all blogged. The idea of blogging was only a year or so old to me and here I was in a meeting with people who had years-old blogs. This was good company.

I sat behind Nana Fredua Agyeman during the break-out session on Blogging and Social Media and it was there I found that he was a book blogger on ImageNations. I discovered his blog then and I was more than a bit impressed. I remember asking him a few questions about rights and such-like when reviewing intellectual property and he let me know that even the authors would be pleased to have anyone read and review their works. I was elated.

ImageNations

ImageNations

I discovered Kinnareads, another book blog and followed it consequently. I can’t tell how I stumbled upon this one but I am most inclined to think I found it either from Nana Fredua’s blog, or by Kinna’s own comment on one blogpost I did on the Top 20 Most Irritating Ghanaian English phrases of all time. No, it couldn’t have been, because I replied that comment with a certain familiarity to her work. And like me, these two mentioned are Ghanaian. So, I was pleasantly challenged to get blogging on literature, because I have my own love for poetry. I have a lot of poetry books that sit in my library and when I read them, it aches that all the hyped work is non-African. There are lots of beautiful poems from Africa and it’s only a pain that we don’t read African poetry much. Our poets are as good as the Poes and Wordsworths, the Blakes, the Frosts and all. I found myself on the first day of a journey to change all that.

KinnaReads

KinnaReads

On the day I began this blog (and I remember Kinna gave some direction on moderating then too), I had it in mind that I may not be able to ever review all African poetry but whatever I can do is a worthwhile life’s project. Combining all this literary work with an engineer’s itinerary makes it even more challenging but this is what I have chosen to do. Till death do us part.

So today, instead of recommending to you 6 literary sites to mark the sixth anniversary of World Blog Day, I will urge you to read these two Ghanaian book bloggers who have inspired my work; Kinnareads and ImageNations. One day, the sky shall be reached and surpassed. Happy blogging everybody.

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POET’S PROFILE – ABIOSEH NICOL

Nicol

Nicol

Abioseh Nicol (1924–1994) was born as Davidson Sylvester Hector Willoughby Nicol in Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. His descended from a Creole family; an educated and elite ex-slave community. He attended primary school in Nigeria and, in 1946, graduated from Christ’s College and then later from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom where he did research in biochemistry. He earned his Ph.D. in 1958 and lectured at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria.

Nicol has written poetry, articles and short stories that have appeared in a number of publications. He won the Margaret Wrong Prize and Medal for Literature in Africa in 1952. Many reviewers have acclaimed his work to be dramatic and representative of rural, idyllic Africa. This poem, THE MEANING OF AFRICA, is one of his more notable pieces and speaks volumes about his love for the continent.


The Meaning of Africa

Africa, you were once just a name to me
But now you lie before me with sombre green challenge
To that loud faith for freedom (life more abundant)
Which we once professed shouting
Into the silent listening microphone
Or on an alien platform to a sea
Of white perplexed faces troubled
With secret Imperial guilt; shouting
Of you with a vision euphemistic
As you always appear
To your lonely sons on distant shores.

Then the cold sky and continent would disappear
In a grey mental mist.
And in its stead the hibiscus blooms in shameless scarlet
and the bougainvillea in mauve passion
entwines itself around strong branches
the palm trees stand like tall proud moral women
shaking their plaited locks against the
cool suggestive evening breeze;
the short twilight passes;
the white full moon turns its round gladness
towards the swept open space
between the trees; there will be
dancing tonight; and in my brimming heart
plenty of love and laughter.
Oh, I got tired of the cold northern sun
Of white anxious ghost-like faces
Of crouching over heatless fires
In my lonely bedroom.
The only thing I never tired of
was the persistent kindness
Of you too few unafraid
Of my grave dusky strangeness.

So I came back
Sailing down the Guinea Coast.
Loving the sophistication
Of your brave new cities:
Dakar, Accra, Cotonou,
Lagos, Bathurst and Bissau;
Liberia, Freetown, Libreville,
Freedom is really in the mind.

Go up-country, so they said,
To see the real Africa.
For whomsoever you may be,
That is where you come from.
Go for bush, inside the bush,
You will find your hidden heart,
Your mute ancestral spirit.
So I went, dancing on my way.

Now you lie before me passive
With your unanswering green challenge.
Is this all you are?
This long uneven red road, this occasional succession
Of huddled heaps of four mud walls
And thatched, falling grass roofs
Sometimes ennobled by a thin layer
Of white plaster, and covered with thin
Slanting corrugated zinc.
These patient faces on weather-beaten bodies
Bowing under heavy market loads.
The pedalling cyclist wavers by
On the wrong side of the road,
As if uncertain of his new emancipation.
The squawking chickens, the pregnant she-goats
Lumber awkwardly with fear across the road,
Across the windscreen view of my four-cylinder kit car.
An overloaded lorry speeds madly towards me
Full of produce, passengers, with driver leaning
Out into the swirling dust to pilot his
Swinging obsessed vehicle along,
Beside him on the raised seat his first-class
Passenger, clutching and timid; but he drives on
At so, so many miles per hour, peering out with
Bloodshot eyes, unshaved face and dedicated look;
His motto painted on each side: Sunshine Transport,
We get you there quick, quick. The Lord is my Shepherd.

The red dust settles down on the green leaves.

I know you will not make me want, Lord,
Though I have reddened your green pastures
It is only because I have wanted so much
That I have always been found wanting.
From South and East, and from my West
(The sandy desert holds the North)
We look across a vast continent
And blindly call it ours.

You are not a country, Africa,
You are a concept,
Fashioned in our minds, each to each,
To hide our separate fears,
To dream our separate dreams.
Only those within you who know
Their circumscribed plot,
And till it well with steady plough
Can from that harvest then look up
To the vast blue inside
Of the enamelled bowl of sky
Which covers you and say
‘This is my Africa’ meaning
‘I am content and happy.
I am fulfilled, within,
Without and roundabout
I have gained the little longings
Of my hands, my loins, my heart
And the soul that follows in my shadow.’
I know now that is what you are, Africa:
Happiness, contentment, and fulfilment,
And a small bird singing on a mango tree.

REVIEW
This poem, albeit long, is a testament to Nicol’s understanding of Africa. And when he explains it, he speaks for all his brothers, Africa’s ‘lonely sons on distant shores.’

In the first stanza, he mentions how from afar on distant shores, from other continents, Africa was just to him a name for which they had screamed freedom. Born in 1924, he was in England in the days when most of the continent was still under colonial rule and he makes us understand that he was part of them that shouted freedom into ‘the silent listening microphone’ while ‘white perplexed faces’ looked on with ‘Imperialist guilt’. While he vehemently defended and decreed the freedom of Africa, the continent appeared in his mind and those of all the other Africans in the diaspora, with all glorious appeal, euphemistic.

In the second stanza, he mentions how ‘the cold sky and continent’ of Europe will disappear from his mind and he’ll get on to dreaming about hibiscus blooms, bougainvillea, palm trees, and many African markers that brim his heart with ‘plenty of love and laughter’. These things make him weary of ‘the cold northern sun’ and the faces of white people he calls ‘anxious, ghost-like’ and how he bends over heatless fires in a lonely bedroom. He will only stay alight by the kindness of the few who were not afraid of his blackness. This is miserable.

So in his own words, he comes back down to Africa in stanza three, fascinated by the braveness of its new cities. He mentions in one breath Liberia, Freetown and Libreville. The first embodies Freedom, as it comes from the two words “Liberty Area”, the Land of the Free. Freetown is the English translation of the French Libreville, one in Sierra Leone, the other in Gabon. All these evoke passions of liberation and Nicol is immediately engrossed. He is asked to explore the hinterlands, ‘For whomsoever you may be/That is where you come from” in the fourth stanza and he goes away dancing.

But in five, he is disappointed almost. The Africa he finds in the hinterlands is undeveloped, showing red road, thatch roofing falling off mud walls, if they be complicated, then the houses will have thin, white plastering and be covered with corrugated zinc roofs. He sees weary-looking people with patience written on their faces. He sees simple lives led by simple men, not worried by their seeming poverty and almost unmoved, uncaring and unaffected by all the emancipation noise that he and his brothers have been making on their behalf.

That line that sits hanging alone in the middle “The red dust settles down on the green leaves” is a dampened hope. The green is fertility, vibrancy and newness. The red coats it and covers it. The red dirties it and makes it worth nothing. For Nicol, his positive acclaim for an energetic Africa is met by apathetic-looking listlessness. He meets an anti-climax and he moans in the ensuing verse, asking God for forgiveness. He says that it is because “I have wanted so much” that he may have been disappointed that he didn’t see the glamour he thought Africa had. In fact, what he sees humbles him that poor people take pride in their lowliness and call the Lord their ‘Shepherd’.

Nicol ends philosophically, calling Africa a concept that dwells only in the mind and is better understood by the people who dwell in her. ‘We look across a vast continent/And blindly call it ours.’ It is not ours. It is a dream. It is a notion, a theory, a perception, an impression, a belief. And for what it means to us all separately, it makes us ‘dream our separate dreams’. He concludes that Africa belongs more to those dwelling in her than those outside because her in-dwellers can look down at God’s providence ‘inside/Of the enamelled bowl of sky’ and say ‘This is my Africa’. And in their eyes, Nicol has found a new meaning to Africa he never knew before. That Africa means:

‘I am content and happy.
I am fulfilled, within,
Without and roundabout
I have gained the little longings
Of my hands, my loins, my heart
And the soul that follows in my shadow.’

He knows the full extent of Africa’s meaning now:

Happiness, contentment, and fulfilment,
And a small bird singing on a mango tree.

This poem is a brilliant statement of the affection of Africans for the continent. It goes beyond all saying that Africa is the only continent that was made to be loved and felt a part of. I have said in a place that America is to be honoured and defended, Europe is to be romanticised, Asia is to be spoken of with mystique but Africa is to be loved. This is where Nicol enforces the concept. Beautiful poem by all standards and if you have been able to stay on the page till this line, bless your soul for it.

We stand in historic times. All religious scrolls will most likely have some record of the Pharaonic era of the Egyptians. Now in our time, we witness the fall of the last.

Egyptians have put their ailing former head of state in court and are prosecuting away. Since his health fails him, he is brought in his hospital bed and kept in a cage while proceedings continue. That may sound cruel but for a country bent on making a transition to democracy, this may be the gesture that states their uncompromising stand of not returning to the past anymore.

The last Pharaoh

The last Pharaoh


There have been notable Pharaohs without whom Egyptian lore will not have been as attractive. There may not have been the Sphinx and Pyramids. Talk of Ramses and the days of the Pharaonic conquest into West Asia, his father Seti who had started that expansion, talk of Tutankhamen the boy king and his father-in-law, Akhenaton who himself preached a single universal god (the sun god), banning all other religions in the dynasty, Amenhotep who was Akhenaton’s father, the list goes on. It is in this same era that beautiful maidens who have charmed literature such as Nefertiti the wife of Akhenaton, and Cleopatra also were named. Today, we witness the end of their reign.
Let me write Mubarak a poem. He deserves it.

THE END OF AN AGE

Final on this bulwark propping
A stone hewn from a broken stone.
The cisterns of the gone men broken
And the courts of Thebes do moan,
Pity Alexandria, pity Cairo,
pity the hard dark face of the Rosetta stone.
Men,
trudging per foot,
with revolution in heart, with liberation in hand,
men set aflame by the burning of one man,
Men!! Sons of the Nile-dwellers,
the sun-worshippers, the waist wrigglers and the snake-charmers
Many manner of men!!
Men of the Ancient conquests,
and the hieroglyphics.
Men of the Sphinx, the mighty man-lions!
Men of the Pyramids, the godless tetrahedrons!
Mubarak, you away, that stone.
Tell your fathers before that we have come home.
We the sons of the land.
And we no more shall heed the oppression of their single arm
The blood of Egypt boiling,
boiling hot in our heads
has sent you tumbling down.
If we had met them all, sorry their story.
But we send you, an emissary…
A pot-load of Grecian misery.
To tell them we have come home.
Owners of our forgotten destiny.

I will not review this poem now. I hope Egypt will find it a worthy letter to be sent to the Pharaohs gone by. I send it to them.

POET’S PROFILE: MICHAEL FRANCIS DEI-ANNANG

Dei-Annang loved his country

Dei-Annang loved his country

Michael Francis Dei-Annang was born in Mampong-Akwapim and had his schooling at one of Ghana’s foremost colleges, Achimota College. He proceeded to the University of London thereafter. Dei-Annang was a writer, poet, writer of plays and novellas. He worked closely with Ghana’s first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and penned a number of books in poetry and prose, recollecting, (through verbal communication), how Nkrumah was touched, reading and watching post-World War II movies, the carnage from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He worked with various ministeries after the overthrow of Nkrumah.
His work reflects his interest in myths and traditions of Ghana, which he incorporated. Akan culture is a special focus of his work. He was jailed with Nkrumah and after he was released from prison in 1966 he moved to the United States where he taught at the College at Brockport.

His works include Wayward Lines from Africa (1946), Cocoa Comes to Mampong: Letter Dramatic Sketches Based on the story of Cocoa in the Gold Coast Theatre (1949), Africa Speaks (1959), Okomfo Anokye’s Golden Stool, drama, (1960), Semitones Ghana, (1962), Glory Ghana: Ghana and Ghanaian Poems on Life, a collection of poems, (1965)

DEAR AFRICA
Awake, thou sleeping heart!
Awake, and kiss
The love-lorn brow
Of this ebon lass,
Dear Africa.
Whose virgin charms
Ensnare the love-lit hearts
Of venturing youth
From other lands.
Awake, sweet Africa
Demands thy love.
Thou sleeping heart!
When the all-summer sun
Paints the leafy boughs
With golden rays,
Know then, thou sleeping heart,
Dear Africa stands
Knocking at thy door.

REVIEW
For a man who walked and toile with Nkrumah, this poem is reflective of his days. Dei-Annang was born in the eye of the African resistance struggle. And what better person to stand alongside than the architect of it all!
This poem is the typical African romantic. Dei-Annang is talking to a ‘sleeping heart’ (line 1) who may yet need some prompting to fall in love with Africa. In his day, it was easy to fall in love with the continent that he so repeatedly calls ‘Dear’. If it were not so, men would not have shed sweat, tears and blood for her liberation. At this point, Africa is so close to his heart that he calls her an ‘ebon lass’ (line 4). This meaning is clear: ‘ebon’ is the poetic rendition of ebony, a dark colour representing the continent; ‘lass’ is the poetic adoration of the continent, made easier by calling her a woman.

Notice in line 3 that he calls Africa’s brow ‘love-lorn’ which means ‘love-forsaken’. This may suggest that a certain disdain may have been growing for the continent. I know not how and I know not why. But it will be difficult to say if the disdain is by the sons of the land itself, who live on the land. It might be, for Dei-Annang says that Dear Africa has (lines 6-9) ‘virgin charms’ that ‘Ensnare the love-lit hearts/ Of venturing youth/From other lands’. Are these youth sons of the land who live in other places and who are enticed to come back home for the love of the Motherland, like Nkrumah was? Or are they colonialist youth who are enticed by the wealthy glamour of a land still rich in unexploited resource? By his feisty demeanour, I will presume he was talking about the first.

And now it is intense, for Dei-Annang tells his listener that Africa ‘demands’ his love (line 11). A force! If it ever be that his listener should see the sun fall on the boughs, that is a reminder that Africa knocks on his door, seeking an entrance of love. And over here, let us safely say that his listener is one of Dei-Annang’s ‘youth from other lands’ because he tells him to remember the ‘all-summer sun’ (line 13). Summer is essentially not an African season. The poem is clear now!! Dei-Annang is making an invitation to a young African heart residing in a foreign land to come back home and ‘kiss’ Africa’s ‘ebon brow’. To fall in love with the land he calls ‘Dear’.

One last thing: the fact that the poet repeatedly tells his listener to ‘awake’ is proof that the listener has been blinded to something obvious. Africa is to be loved and anyone who loves her not is probably in a stupor.