Posts Tagged ‘Ghanaian poetry’

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.

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POET’S PROFILE – LADE WOSORNU

Wosornu (c)wosornu.comProf. Lade Worsonu has been a prominent figure on the Ghanaian literary and academic landscape, being an essayist and columnist on a range of health issues in Ghanaian papers. He has worked extensively in health-related fields, with the WHO and across a number of African, Saudi Arabian and London universities.

He has nonetheless continues to dabble in the arts, having published a number of poetry volumes while still at his publishing best in many scientific journals. The poem I review here is one of his more prominent and more celebrated poems.

His personal website, http://www.wosornu.com, decrees that “his passion in life is to seek a closer walk with God. He strives for compassion such that he flings roses wherever he berths, bringing heaven-on-earth for others. No longer scared of terminal darkness, he sees his father of final light. Dancing to inner tunes of joy, barefoot on the embers of fortune, he prays to be of service to everyone, expect naught from any man, and, be God-sufficient by his sunset.”

The Master Brewer
There is a distillery in our brains
Its cane and malt, its hops and grains
Are the stuff our lives are made of.
Blizzard and snow, bush fires or drought
Matches won by penalty shoot-out
Fortunes lost at toss of a coin
Over these and their likes, you are no doyen.

The fuel for this distillery?
Your emotions. Willy-nilly
You stoke the fires as you vent your spleen.
And another dram drip into the vat –unseen

The master brewer is not the stars
Not yet the gods. He is you, your very self.
The final brew has no choice. It must be
Bitter bile or sweet honey. But you can choose
The magic potion, which can vouchsafe the taste:
Your intentions, your memories and your reactions.

REVIEW
This poem is a philosophical piece, likening the human body to some sort of industry, constantly at work, brewing. The distillery is in our brains (line 1) and it is fed in material by the stuff our lives are made of (line 3).

In the second stanza, Lade mentions a number of things which he describes in the final line of the stanza as things over which ‘you are no doyen’ (line 7). A doyen is a master of a group. Rightly, the things that are mentioned are outside his distillery, his industry, the body: blizzard, snow, fires, drought, the match-winning penalty shoot-out or the lost fortune over the toss of a coin. In effect, man has more power over himself over things outside him.

In the third stanza, he makes it clear that we stoke the fires of this distillery by our emotions: sometimes with intention, other times without. The phrase willy-nilly comes from ‘will I, nil I’, meaning ‘whether I wish it or not’. But as we ‘vent [our] spleen’ (line 10), small drops of fuel fire our distillery and our brewery keeps working on.

In the final stanza, Lade tells us how the taste of the final brew depends solely on us, not the gods or stars. Whether it is bitter bile or sweet honey depends on the ‘magic potion’ we put in it. And that potion, he concludes, is the make of our intentions, memories and reactions. The more positive your mindset, the sweeter the brew from your distillery; the more positive life becomes for you.

Interesting to see a blend of philosophy, art, mechanics and literature in the conjured imagery of yet another excellent poem.

[Ps: Sorry for all who received the poem titled ‘Flag Of My Victory’ in their emails and can’t find it now on my blog. It was meant for my more personal blog and I have taken it from this one accordingly. For those still interested in it (and I encourage you to read it if you are Christian too), please click here.]