Posts Tagged ‘Ghana’

Phillippa and I at Citi FM

Phillippa and I at Citi FM

On Sunday, I was on air with Phillippa Yaa de Villiers and some other artistes on Citi fm 97.3fm in Ghana, reading two poems. I wrote this response to the first and only Caribbean poem I have posted on this blog and I want to share it with you. Roger Bonair-Agard’s original poem How Do We Spell Freedom posted here and my Nigerian blogger acquaintance Ibiene’s How Do We Spell Nigeria, posted here, are exciting predates to this one that you should read if you want more after this.

How Do We Spell Ghana?
(for Roger Bonair-Agard)

We began to spell Ghana in 1957. In Two thousand and fifteen, this is where we’re at!

A is for Answers
B is for Black Star in the middle of a half mast
C is for cut, cut, cut! Cut the drama and the lights.

Who dared us dream of utopias?
Unrepeatable dreams dreamt only yesteryears
By a generation before us?
They were ready to manage their own affairs
We, are not!

So D is not for dreams.
D is for Deception.
D is for ‘Do you believe it’s the same Ghana?’
D is for Dumsor
And this is where we’re at!

A could have been for Akosombo
But A is for Answers cos we need answers now
Or even for Aboadze, Asogli or Akuse
But just give us Answers now.

Just yesterday,
Elite and De-light were two innocent pieces of grammar
But today you’re e-lite if you have not been Dee-lighted
And if you still don’t get it,
A is for Answers!

E is for ECG
E because, that’s just enough said
F is for FPSO
This one makes me laugh!

There was another Ghana nobody told you about
So G is not for Ghana, or which one do we mean?
G is for governments
And the chameleon-skin-type-two-sides-of-the-same-coin-none-better-than-the-other-whichever-one-you-have governments!

H is for Hospitality
Because you don’t want to know the state of the hospital.
I is for Independence
At the same time J is for Just a little dependence
Are we getting anywhere with this?
Because I just don’t know!

K is for Kwame Nkrumah, Osagyefo Emeritus
But let a man’s name rest
K is for Kofi Annan, Busummuru and a few other things
But please let a man’s name rest
L is for Lamentations
M is for morning off, till tomorrow morning, on!
And if you still don’t get it, remember
A is for Answers!

O used to be for Opportunity
But after we wasted it,
O is for Opinion
O is for the Circle we’re caught in, like a circus of name-calling and pointing fingers
P is for pointing fingers.

We could have the other Ghana back if we work for it
Q is for Questions, remember? Those questions for which A is for Answers!
R is for Rise and rise and rise
S is for the sorrow of all that could have been.
But there is a T for which
T is for tomorrow
And maybe because of tomorrow
D is back on for Dream!

In 1957 we learnt to say our alphabets
In Two Thousand and fifteen, this is where we’re at!

Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

Phillippa Yaa de Villiers – Image via BooksLiveSA on Flickr.

I am happiest when I am able to make connections with other writers based on the work I do here on my blog. I should tell you this story.

Phillippa Yaa de Villiers is one of South Africa’s acclaimed poets. I say South-African even though she is Ghanaian/Australian by birth. There’s story behind that. I’ll tell you a summary as I have it from her wikipedia page.

Phillippa was born to a Ghanaian father and Australian mother but was adopted into an apartheid-era white South African family when she was 9 months. She grew up to 20 before she knew she was adopted, and did not meet her biological father till years later. Her writing has reflected her obvious internal struggles of identity. Phillippa lectures creative writing now at Wits University in Johannesburg. She has published two poetry collections, Taller than Buildings and The Everyday Wife, among a host of other featured publications.

Well, back in January, having discovered this blog, Phillippa got in touch with me and we begun discussing literature and the common language of our poetry. After so many emails back and forth, guess what? Phillippa is in Ghana! And we are going to be on radio together on Sunday reading and talking poetry on Writers Project on Citi FM 97.3. That’s more exciting than I just made it sound..haha! Please tune in to us at 8:30pm GMT on Sunday 26th April or online at http://www.citifmonline.com.

And not only that! She will take Dr Mawuli Adzei’s writing class at the University of Ghana on Monday 27th at 3pm and then we have the German Goethe Institut hosting her for a reading of her works and book signings on Wednesday 29th at 7pm. Good immersion into the arts scene in Ghana, this should be. All times are in GMT. Thanks to Martin Egblewogbe and Nana Yaw Sarpong of the Writers Project Ghana for making all this possible.

Please tune in online to the radio event if you’re not in Ghana and attend these events if you are. I am happy when blogging jumps from the screen and translates into tangible realities of literary adventure. I will be back to share the fun with you when the week is through.

When the decision was made to split up Africa into countries demarcated by capitalist greed, whole families, communities and clans were left on opposite sides of the industrialist’s artificial curtain. My family is from the eastern part of Ghana – the old British Togoland – which voted in a plebiscite to join the then-forming new state of Ghana that was wresting independence from the British. This happened in 1956. My dad who was born in 1949, along with all current Ewes who were born before 1956, were born in occupied country. The Germans, after their defeat in World War 2, lost greater Togoland in two halves to the French and the British. My dad’s family, then in the British half, was united with the new state of Ghana under its charismatic leader Kwame Nkrumah after the 1957 independence declaration. The French allowed their other half of Togoland to stand alone, today’s Republic of Togo.

What this demarcation of Togo did was to take a people, the Ewe, and spread them thinner, across a third capitalist construct of state after Benin and Togo. The very fibre of what the new nations of Africa were to be built on, and what they have actually ended up being built on, has meant that the split Ewe communities of these three countries will grow up to be strangers a generation later. In the giddy years post-independence, there were calls to have Africans unite in the way they were before colonialist boundaries were enforced, only this time, under a political structure. This has not happened. The ensuing years of ebb and tide of this grand dream have lasted so undecidedly long as to have French shoots sprout over Beninois and Togolese Ewe, much the same way Ewe children of today’s Ghana will be caught speaking English with their parents at home.

I had a spiritual moment in 2013, on the first of my subsequently many transits through Togo while journeying across the continent. On my hour’s wait to catch an Accra flight, I strolled through a duty-free shop to get chocolates and such-like for home. It did not take long and I was soon at the counter to pay off and go on to check in. I speak rudimentary French, and at the counter, I made my initial conversations in French. The lady turned after taking my orders and to my fascination, spoke Ewe to other helps in the shop.

I had been away in Congo for 5 months. I had heard no Ghanaian language while I was away. I entered Togo with the awareness that this country was more spiritually close to my origins than the Ghana in which I was born. But I had not the faintest idea I will hear people in the airport speaking the language I speak at home. That, standing before, selling me confectionery, were probably a half of my family that stayed behind the industrialist curtain, borne out of capitalist greed and a mad scramble for this our Africa; and a plebiscite that chose the Gold Coast.

We concluded our transaction in Ewe, the sense of otherness more complete, that I could bring this language back across the border into the country from which we were first culled.

Since then, on my travels across Africa, I have stayed alert to the remnant spirits of our collective oneness, long before the colonialists separated us. I felt two of these again today in Congo.

This morning, another three weeks since I’ve been back in Congo, I spoke to an Ivorian. In the middle of our conversation, I asked randomly if he was Akan. After saying yes, he started speaking Twi. For a minute, I was baffled. There was absolutely no difference between his word choices, diction and inflections from those of any Akan on the streets of Accra. I indulged him. We went on and on. All along in my head and my heart, I fist-pumped at another spiritual reunion, a travesty on Ghana’s Western neighbour and us, that the Akan family had been split by these same boundaries. Every minute, I felt closer to this Ivorian when we spoke Akan than when he spoke English to me or when I tried to speak French with him. This is who we are!

On our way to lunch, my Congolese driver asked if I was from Ghana. He knew for sure because I’m quite popular as the only Ghanaian among a host of Nigerians and Congolese, but he had to start his conversation from somewhere. He struggled through his basic English, halfway a cliff where I met him with my basic French. At the point where our communication met, he made it clear he was descended from Ghanaians; that his maternal side, a family of Addos, had traveled to and settled in Congo where they married and never again left. He didn’t know the tree well, but he was related to famous showbiz personality now turned pastor Azigiza Jnr back in Ghana. When he asked if I knew Azigiza, I was more than excited to say of course!! But that response was, inside me, in answer to a burning question, ‘Did I just walk into a spiritual moment?’

Yes and yes. YES!! YEEEEEESSSS!!!! Yes!

I could have screamed.

Are we one across Africa? The blog address up here is afrilingual, connoting that I try here to be fluent in the language of our Africa. Welcome with me to 2015. Welcome to many more spiritual experiences of our oneness.

c

Dreamy shot of my driver and I. Connected over vast spaces, like all of us.

Kofi Awoonor

Kofi Awoonor

The smart professionals in three piece
Sweating away their humanity in dribblets
And wiping the blood from their brow

I was among the very first people who heard the news of his passing, I should suppose, because when I did, nobody on my twitter timeline had tweeted it. I waited for confirmation and watched a few government and official feeds but found nothing. Finally I read it again from one very trusted source and that was it. Kofi Awoonor was dead.

We have found a new land
This side of eternity
Where our blackness does not matter
And our songs are dying on our lips

Today, he would have been 79. I will be celebrating him in a series of tweets and posts along with Kinna of Kinnareads. The hashtag to use is #Awoonor79.

Standing at hell-gate you watch those who seek admission
Still the familiar faces that watched and gave you up
As the one who had let the side down,
“Come on, old boy, you cannot dress like that”
And tears well in my eyes for them
Those who want to be seen in the best company
Have abjured the magic of being themselves
And in the new land we have found
The water is drying from the towel
Our songs are dead and we sell them dead to the other side

He was a fighter who took on life in the most activist of ways. In this poem, Kofi Awoonor tells of a period when the African identity was gradually stolen. Those ‘smart professionals’ (line 1), the elite, gave up their tie and dye for ‘three piece’(line 1) suits, while wiping the blood of their essence from their brows (line 3). They copied the whiteness of their colonizers, in a usurped ploy ‘Where our blackness does not matter’ (line 6). He calls them candidates at ‘hell-gate’ (line 8) seeking passage to this death, while ridiculing the ‘magic of being themselves’ (line14). He cries for them (line 12).

But from line 15, Awoonor sympathizes with the guilty and now says, ‘the new land we have found’ (line 15). He makes himself a part of the redemption because he concludes:

Reaching for the Stars we stop at the house of the Moon
And pause to relearn the wisdom of our fathers.

In those two lines, Awoonor talks about Rediscovery of a true self that he joins his brothers to pursue, “relearn[ing] the wisdom” (line 19) of the generations that went before.

His death has been a great loss and we shall tell of his legacy till we ourselves are gone. Happy Birthday, Kofi.

Before I went on air - Pic Cred: @WritersPG

Before I went on air – Pic Cred: @WritersPG

On Sunday, I was on air on Citi FM 97.3 in Ghana (also online at citifmonline.com) reading a couple of poems on their Writers Project Program. I shared the studio with Mary Ashun, a Ghanaian/Canadian writer whose books are currently in good demand. Her books include Tuesday’s child and Mistress of the Game. You will be glad to have been among the first to know her before she has become a global household name. Check her website here. In the studio, she read an excerpt from her most recent book ‘Serwa Akoto’s Diary‘ and it was all sorts of amazing. Caller after caller kept asking where and how they could get a copy of the book. It is here on Amazon. Thankfully, she has sent me a pdf copy of the book and has given permission to share it with as many of you as want it. If anyone does, kindly contact me at delalorm(dot)kpeli(at)kasahorow(dot)com. Alternatively, comment on this post (I will see your email address on the back-end; it will not show on the blog) and I will be more than happy to share this book with you. It is a fast and exciting read.

I will post one poem I read at the studio and I hope you like it.  Thanks to all who listened, called in, messaged in and gave feedback on twitter, facebook and whatsapp. The poem is titled “New Hearts Grow.”

New Hearts Grow

The morning you left home
You left your heart on the dining table.
I called out after you, tried to run after the taxi that drove you away
To give your heart back.
But I was too late.
So I took it in and opened it up.
And peeped.

If it was mine, I would have left it too.
The walls, plastered over with broken promises
Bleached dreams competing for shine with blisters.
I saw the spot where he ran away from you
Many places, where pieces of heart resented the glue
The lesions, graffiti of infidelity
There was the day they took your innocence
You were still fourteen.
I shut the theater of your insides.

I tried again to return your heart
Praying all the while, it will never reach you
For the chance that you will feel none of this anymore
For the chance that where you were going, you would not have to need it.
For the chance that where you were going, new hearts grow.

Calabash

Calabash

I have reviewed and discussed only African poetry till now but today I do something a bit outside my convention. I’m posting a poem I wrote on a whim based on inspiration from John Keats‘ Ode on A Grecian Urn. I know many readers will know Keats’ poem from studying it in school or reading it on recommendation. If you have not read it, click here to do so. In summary, Keats is describing a couple of images that are design-sculpted unto the body of an urn and his ode is to the permanence of the condition of the pictures, being frozen and unable to reach full accomplishment. Regardless, he says that those pictures, if the urn will last as long, will outlast our generations. My response is what I will call Keats’ poem if he was African, having not an urn, but the more traditional calabash from which he is now drunk. Enjoy:

Drunken Ode on An Ashanti Calabash

You bald head crackpot of an unworshipped gourd
Owner of sweet whine, lined with alternate this chord
What incense wafts incessant on your inside
What merry joys accompany your company.
What brave brow, what bold curve
Hairless rim-head, competitor of shaved eggshells
Afraid to touch the earth but on your belly.

Glass wine is sweet, but gourd wine is sweeter
Funeral wine, party wine, you hold them better
What a roll you make on your underbelly
When rocking here this way and that
What browned fare, what fair brow
What endless, gaping gap on your inside
Forever open to wine and air.

Pour me a drink, pour me two
Which are sipped ‘pon suppers supped
Momentous joy for a dugout unleaked
What thin wall, what thick skin
What strong ethers of spirits reek
Shanty half body of insipid taste.
Sleeping is truth, and truth sleeping
Let me now lie and tomorrow waste

Awoonor and Anyidoho courtesy Nana Kofi Acquah (@GhTog)

Awoonor and Anyidoho courtesy Nana Kofi Acquah (@GhTog)

Permit me to sneak in this poem by Kofi Anyidoho before #GhanaLit Week comes to an end. I should have left it entirely to your own interpretation but I talk too much, forgive me. It’s very simple and very short so ride along with me as we review ‘The Last Dinner’. This picture of Kofi Awoonor and Kofi Anyidoho above, taken by Nana Kofi Acquah should be archived as a national treasure.

For Ghanaian Literature Week, I had intended to focus very heavily on Kofi Awoonor’s work but I have added two poems from Kofi Anyidoho, his cousin and Ghana’s other great when it comes to Ewe poetry. I hope I gain audience with Kofi Anyidoho the next time I am in Accra since I realised that his Wikipedia page is greatly under-updated. I could volunteer a week to gather as much info on him as his schedule would permit and probably stuff up that page. It’s time we took our writers more seriously in Africa as a whole.

The man Anyidoho has six published anthologies: Elegy for the Revolution(Greenfield Review Press, 1978), A Harvest of our Dreams (Heinemann 1984), Earthchild (Woeli, 1985), Ancestral Logic and Caribbean Blues (1992) Africa World Press, Praise song for the land: poems of hope & love & care (2002) and The place we call home and other poems (2011). He has contributed to and edited essays and papers on African literature. Among other prizes, his poetry has won the Langston Hughes prize, David Nicholson Prize and the BBC “Arts and Africa” Poetry Award.

The Last Dinner

I am the helpless fish
Frying in your bowl of cooking oil
You lean against the kitchen wall

Smiling with the thoughts of coming feasts
But nature in time will call
You’ll render account squatting on your heels
Your hunger returns with new demands
And I will not be there to
Feed the needs of
Recurrent appetite

REVIEW

This is a short poem by Anyidoho that seems to be a casual celebration of everyday life. But look deeper and you will see a ragingly deep meaning belying layers of seeming carelessness.

The poem is about a meal spoken from the perspective of the meal, for a break.  Anyidoho is talking to us as a fish, which calls itself ‘helpless’ (line 1), while frying in a ‘bowl of cooking oil’ (line 2) that belongs to the one who cooks. ‘Smiling’ (line 4) with the expectation of ‘coming feasts’ (line 4) and satisfaction, the cook leans ‘against the kitchen wall’ (line 3). Anyidoho’s fish is sneering at the cook for what will come next because he tells him ‘but nature… will call’ (line 5). The cook will ‘render account’ (line 6), almost hilariously reminding that the cook will face judgment day for eating him up.  But that account will be in a ‘squatting’ (line 6) pose on his heels, a response to the call of nature that will see him emptying his stomach of the feast long eaten. After that, new hunger will set in and with glee, the fish prophesies to him that ‘I will not be there’ (line 8) any longer ‘to feed the needs of recurrent appetite’.

This sounds like a poem written for humour but let us reason something out. Go back and take a look at the title: The Last Dinner. Usually this phrase refers to two historic things. Firstly, it is the name given to the meal last eaten by criminals who have been sentenced to death. You have a last meal that is prepared at your request. After that meal is eaten, your judgment day has arrived and your cup is full; away to the gallows. In this light, look at this fish, too talkative for a last meal, mocking the criminal on the way to his death! “Eat me today and there shall be judgment for you when I am gone”. A brilliant analogy.

The second, and probably more profound analogy, is the reference to ‘The Last Supper’ that Jesus and his disciples had on the night that one of them betrayed him to his crucifixion. That image has been reproduced in works of art by the great painters of the Renaissance era and this title is an echo to both the last supper that led to Jesus’ judgment and the works of art that were spawned from it. Judas the betrayer ate the fish and had to pay the price when his own judgment came, as he bought a field with the blood money he got and hanged himself. There are themes that echo in this poem and that story.

I hope that even though it is short, this poem’s resonance across time and application to not only a casual everyday thing as hunger but also concerns as grave as the last day of a condemned man, make it a worthy study of the literature of Kofi Anyidoho and a fitting contribution to Ghanaian Literature Week.