Posts Tagged ‘#GhanaLit’

Illustration by The Black Narrator of Awoonor and his bibliography

Illustration by The Black Narrator of Awoonor and his bibliography

Ghanaian Literature Week comes to an end today. Very thankful to all you who have read this blog and taken part in the activities for the week by reading a Ghanaian writer, poet, literary work or anything connected to Ghanaian literature (and that includes this blog, thank you). When Kofi Awoonor died, I curated a Storify (also embedded as a tweet down the page) to mark responses by twitter users. Please click here to see and re-live the announcement and immediate responses. I will end the week by sharing with you a couple more tweets that have come in tribute to the man Kofi Awoonor who has been the center of my study for the week. Many of these will lead you to blog posts and news responses from which you can read tons more responses from the literary world. His death has been a great loss. Thanks to Kinna Reads for putting the week together and you can read all the shared posts on the week here. Maybe you never had the opportunity to express your condolences or share your thoughts on the man. By adding a comment on this post, you would have fulfilled it. Keep reading African poetry.

Awoonor : Flickr Creative Commons DanJSullivan

Awoonor : Flickr Creative Commons DanJSullivan

Today, I shall review a poem by our fallen poet, Kofi Awoonor, whose works I have decided to highlight for Ghanaian Literature Week. A lot has already been read, shared and reviewed for the week and you can follow the ongoing conversations on this aggregator post at Kinna Reads. The picture of Awoonor here is an artist’s pencil work of the picture I used on this previous post I reviewed for Ghanaian Literature Week. Credit to DanJSullivan for the pencil work and Nana Kofi Acquah for the original picture.

Rediscovery

When our tears are dry on the shore
and the fishermen carry their nets home
and the seagulls return to bird island
and the laughter of the children recedes at night
there shall still linger the communion we forged
the feast of oneness whose ritual we partook of
There shall still be the eternal gateman
who will close the cemetery doors
and send the late mourners away
It cannot be the music we heard that night
that still lingers in the chambers of memory
It is the new chorus of our forgotten comrades
and the halleluyahs of our second selves

REVIEW

It is somehow poignant to be reviewing a poem on death and mourning by a poet who is dead and being mourned. This poem is one of Kofi Awoonor’s most studied poems and I will err if I don’t review it during this Ghanaian Literature Week in particular.

The poem is quite an easy read and so I will leave much of it to your own interpretation.

By saying ‘our tears are dry’ (line 1), Awoonor is telling us that his poem has something to do with mourning but then also, it is about hope. He goes on to paint different images of mourning for us, about “fishermen [carrying] their nets home” (line 2), “seagulls [returning] to bird island” (line 3), and the recession of the laughter of children at night (line 4).

Rather than be only about mourning, this poem is about hope, for which reason it is titled, ‘Rediscovery’. Awoonor says that after all the mourning has been done, there still will remain “the communion we forged” (line 5). The word ‘communion’ belongs to a class of words known as kangaroo words, being that, they contain another word which has the same meaning as themselves. In this case, ‘communion’ contains ‘union’ and they both mean same. Awoonor stresses that after those persons who we mourn have gone and we have left the mourning grounds, there will still remain the “feast of oneness whose ritual we partook of” (line 6), with them while they were alive with us.

The parting will not be easy, so that “the eternal gateman” (line 7) has to “send the late mourners away” (line 9). Awoonor’s staunch belief in a man on the other side of the life and death divide is also seen in his poem The Journey Beyond, which I have previously reviewed. He talks about ‘Kutsiami’, a boatman who will ferry him across to the other side. Going on here, he tells us that the memory of what will remain most, after the communion feast we shared, will not be the music that accompanies their funeral but rather “the new chorus” (line 12) of those who have left us, “our forgotten comrades” (line 12) and in response, “the halleluyahs of our second selves” (line 13). The ‘forgotten’ are not forgotten literally but he uses the word to say that they have passed on. These last two lines allude to the Christian belief that anyone who dies and makes it to heaven, will spend eternity with the host of heaven, singing new songs. The ‘halleluyahs’ he refers to, comes from a Hebrew word that breaks down quite literally to Hail-Yahweh”, which translated response churches usually give as “Praise the Lord” after a song has been sung. The second selves Awoonor talks about makes me believe that he meant that with every person that we lose, we still stay connected to them by an inner, higher being, or the better us, responding to the chorus they are gone on to sing. We Rediscover our inner selves – the title.

Just read the poem over again with this understanding and reflect on the fact that today, it is Awoonor who is our forgotten comrade, who is singing that chorus, to whom our second selves must needs obey his leading here, and respond the necessary halleluyahs.

Rest in Peace, Awoonor. One day, we shall all sing that chorus together.

Kofi Anyidoho

Kofi Anyidoho

 Welcome to Ghanaian Literature Week hosted at Kinna Reads. This week, forgive me in advance as I flood your emails and  WordPress feeds with reviews of beautiful poetry coming from Ghana. I can’t wait to discover new writing and other interesting posts on Ghanaian literature from the aggregator post on Kinna’s blog. Unfortunately, I’m unable to take part in any events that may happen in Ghana, but if any of you want to take part actively, join the discussion on twitter with the hashtag #GhanaLit. You won’t regret it, trust me.

I have looked a long time for poetry that comes from the era of Ghana’s last coup d’etat that happened on 31st December 1981. Incidentally, the coup was followed by three years of the worse famine and drought in the history of Ghana as a nation. My late dad used to tell many stories of how there was death spread across the land and my mum to this day tells countless stories of how difficult it was to live one day after another in a military regime starved of food. Just by very good fortune, I found this poem by one of Ghana and Africa’s leading poets, Kofi Anyidoho. This poem was written on 1st August 1983, in the eye of the famine and the early years of a military regime that ruled for 11 years till 1992. It’s a keepsake. (I am beginning to change my diction now about poetry from Africa. Any leading poet in Africa is a leading poet in the world. Anyidoho is no exception).

The News From Home – Kofi Anyidoho

I have not come this far
only to sit by the roadside
and break into tears
I could have wept at home
without a journey of several thorns

I have not spread my wings
so wide only to be huddled into corners
at the mere mention of storms

To those who hear of military coups
and rumours of civil strife
and bushfires and bad harvests at home
and come to me looking for fears and tears
I must say I am tired
very tired
tired of all devotion to death and dying.

I too have heard of
all the bushfires
the sudden deaths
and fierce speeches

I have heard of
all the empty market stalls
the cooking pots all filled with memory and ash

And I am tired
tired of all these noises of
condolence from those who
love to look upon the anger of the hungry
nod their heard and stroll back home
worrying and forever worrying
about overweight and special diet for dogs and cats.

Like an orphan stranded
on dunghills of owners of earth
I shall keep my sorrows to myself
folding them with infinite care
corner upon corner
taking pains the foldings draw circles
around hidden spaces where still
our hopes grow roots even
in this hour of finite chaos

Those who sent their funeral clothes
to the washerman
awaiting the mortuary men to come
bearing our corpse in large display
Let them wait for the next and next
season only to see how well earthchildren
grow fruit and even flower
from rottenness of early morning dreams

Meanwhile
I am tired
tired of all crocodile condolence.

REVIEW

Kofi Anyidoho spent years away from Ghana studying first for an M.A. in Folklore Indiana University-Bloomington and a PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin (I’ve visited that lovely campus). It was from one of these places I suppose he writes this poem from far away, upon hearing the difficulty that is engulfing his country in 1983.

The poem opens sadly, with Anyidoho lamenting that he has not ‘come this far’ (line 1) only to weep at foreign roadsides, far away from home. He could have stayed and ‘wept at home’ (line 4) without this ‘journey of several thorns’ (line 5). This last reference makes it seem that it was not an easy journey he made and would have preferred that on top of his difficulty, he did not have to ‘break into tears’ (line 3) on foreign shores. But what makes him cry? We will find out.

The second paragraph continues the lament, saying that he has ‘not spread his wings so wide’ (line 6-7); another reference to the fact that he flew out of the country on a foreign mission at the time this poem was written. This spreading of wings may also refer to the fact that, being out in the world, he was embracing a bigger world than what Ghana offered him, more freedom from a military regime, more release from a famine. But the news he heard from Ghana was terrible and before that line 7 closed, he was ‘huddled in corners’, losing his spread wings at the ‘mention of storms’ (line 8). The storms; troubles from home; home Ghana.

 In the next stanza, he clarifies things. He is talking to those who hear of ‘military coups’ (line 9) and ‘civil strife’ (line 10) and ‘bushfires and bad harvests at home’ (line 11).  This was the picture of those dark days of Ghana’s last coup and famine. Fires burnt huge farms and farmland, the harvests were terrible, people were protesting and the government was mean. But Anyidoho was protesting something and we had better listen. He was protesting to those who hear these rumours from his home country and come to him ‘looking for fears and tears’ (line 12), expecting him to carry, express and the explain the dark days of his homeland; he was protesting that he himself, huddled up in a corner, unable to take flight, had become ‘tired of all devotion to death and dying’ (line 15). He calls this devotion because he had probably heard too much of it and though it was hard, it had almost become second nature, a burden too difficult, too tasking that he had was tired of going on bearing and hearing more bad news everyday. He was tired of them telling him about it like he did not already know.

 In the next stanza, he tells us why. It is because he says that he also has heard of all the ‘bushfires’ (line 17), ‘sudden deaths’ (line 18) both from famine and military upheavals, and ‘fierce speeches’ (line 19). I will guess that this reference to fierce speeches was an actual reference to the architect of that coup, Ghana’s former president Jerry John Rawlings, who, even from his days as a young flight lieutenant who had toppled an elected government, was popular for making ‘boom’, declarative, passionate speeches. After he resigned from the presidency in 2001, he was nicknamed ‘Boom’ for the continued explosiveness of his utterances. This should surely be Anyidoho’s reference.

 He continued to say that he had heard of ‘the empty market stalls’ (line 21), a picture of abject poverty and hunger, and ‘the cooking pots all filled with memory and ash’ (line 22); memories of feasts gone by and ashes of foods that could have been eaten but were burnt in those raging bushfires (ref. line 17).

 The next stanza is a slight protest at the people surrounding him, in the country he was in, who offered ‘condolence’ (line 25) at his country’s misfortune while at the same time, ‘love to look upon the anger of the hungry’ (line 26). This sadistic demeanour that makes them ‘nod their head and stroll back home’ (line 27) (stroll; a careless word with no urgency), and go on to worry forever about ‘overweight and special diet for dogs and cats’ (line 28). Anyidoho is abhorred by fake condolence that does nothing to help his starving country while his guests can afford to be obese over excess food and plan junk special diets for their pet dogs and cats. He abhorred.

 But we begin to see light in the last three stanzas because Anyidoho likens himself to ‘an orphan stranded/ on dunghills of owners of earth’ (line 29-30), who has decided to fold his sorrows kept to himself ‘with infinite care’ (line 32) so that these folds will conceal spaces in which he can plant new hopes that will ‘grow roots’ (line 36) ‘in this hour of finite chaos’ (line 37). Where is the light? He calls the chaos finite; there will be an end to it. It will end soon, just like my hope and prayer for Somalia.

Look at the stanza before last! Anyidoho says that there are people who have ‘sent their funeral cloths to the washerman’ (line 38-39), expecting to attend funerals even when men have not yet died; the attitude of people who had written Ghanaians off long before their country totally came to its knees.  These people were only waiting for the mortuary men to carry out corpses of people left orphaned on the dunghills of the owners of earth. But listen, Anyidoho says that even on the dunghills, the ‘earthchildren’ (line 43) will sprout, ‘grow fruit and even flower’ (line 44) from what right now looks like ‘rottenness of early morning dreams’ (line 45). Rottenness of the hopes they once had for a country that preceded all sub-Saharan Africa to independence. [Note: two years later, Anyidoho published a collection of poetry titled Earthchild (Woeli Publishing, 1985)].

He closes by saying that while he waits, he is tired, tired of all fake love and the condescending rottenness of ‘crocodile condolences’ (line 48). Why crocodile condolences? Because that will make you remember ‘crocodile tears’, accepted as insincere effusion for a cause one mocks in disguise. Anyidoho deserves applause for providing this beautiful poem reviewed for Ghanaian Literature Week.

Ghana Flag

Ghana Flag

This year, I have anticipated Ghanaian Literature Week more than any of the other previous times there have been. I have realized that slowly, and as opportunity brings itself, I have become an advocate (especially at Barcamps all over the country) for Ghanaian contemporary writing from people I know and who are good writers but are just not writing enough because of work, laziness or just plain disinterest. I want to see a lot more writing from Ghana and I hope that many young writers especially will wake up and join the revolving mill of the writing landscape we already have.  It is not very pleasant that since Ama Ata Aidoo (first published African woman dramatist), Afua Sutherland, Kofi Anyidoho, Frank Kobina Parkes, Raphael Armattoe, Meshack Asare (more contemporary though born 1945), Kobina Sekyi, Kojo Gyinaye Kyei, Lade Wosornu, Michael Dei-Annang, W.E.B du Bois (Ghanaian for a few months before his death), Kofi Awoonor, Kwesi Brew and the host of former-generation writers, Ghana has not produced another bigger band of writers of our generation who are sweeping the headlines like these people did even though we have never been more schooled, more numerous and more laden with stories of our collective future than at any time in our life as a country. Five million Ghanaians at independence certainly did not have more visionary writers than twenty-five million Ghanaians fifty-six years later, did they? So it’s always a joy to celebrate Ghanaian writing and writers, hoping that through it all, the known and unknown new generation will come through.

As usual, Ghanaian Literature Week will be hosted at Kinna Reads and will be the 3rd in the series, scheduled for Monday, November 11th – Sunday, November 17th. I will be contributing poetry reviews here on this blog. The guidelines for participating are quoted from the announcement;

  • ‘Read one or more works by a Ghanaian author or an author of Ghanaian descent
  • Both fiction and non-fiction works are allowed
  • All forms and genres of fiction are allowed.  These include novels, novellas, short stories, children’s literature, poetry and drama. Literary fiction, faith-based works, romances, and, mysteries.
  • The length or topic does not matter except that it must be connected to Ghana or touch on some aspect of Ghanaian life.
  • The material must be published as a physical book, an ebook, in a newspaper, in a journal or published online.
  • I encourage those with websites to please review the works that they read. Short or long reviews, it don’t matter.  Just please do comment on what you read.
  • Please link your reviews to the review database, which [Kinna Reads] will put up on the first day of the event
  • Join us for a Twitter chat (the time will be announced later). We will use the hashtag #GhanaLit on twitter.
  • And please have fun.  It is the most important rule.’

This year, I planned to celebrate Kofi Awoonor’s works for Ghanaian Literature Week to mark his passing. But in going through my poetry collections, I decided to probably add a few by Kofi Anyidoho as well. Regardless, if anything changes and I find any beautiful poetry especially from the younger breed of Ghanaian writers, I will do well to add it for review, like I did for Agana Agana-Nsiire’s ‘A Bird in Me Heart’ the last Lit Week. I hope to discover new poets from the other posts Kinna will aggregate too.

Why don’t you join us? There will be events both online and probably offline too. Join the conversations and read a Ghanaian writer. If you’re Ghanaian or in any way connected to Ghana, why don’t you even start a blog about this beautiful country? Let the writing and reading of Ghanaian Literature begin.

*This article has been edited from an earlier version that advertised ‘Ghana Literature Week’ to ‘Ghanaian Literature Week.’