Posts Tagged ‘Kofi Awoonor’

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.

Praire Schooner Celebrates African Poetry
Thursday, February 27, 2014
[Time] 7:00pm until 8:15pm in PST
APBF will also host an Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) panel, “New Generation African Women Poets,” on February 28 from 10:30 to 11:45 a.m. in Room 400 of the WA State Convention Center, Level 4, and a celebratory reception on February 27 from 7 to 8:15 p.m. in the Juniper Room at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel. The reception is open to the public. Join Prairie Schooner (@TheSchooner) in the Juniper Room of the Sheraton Seattle Hotel for a reception to celebrate Prairie Schooner growing its international reach through its partnership with the African Poetry Book Fund. This event is a celebration of contemporary African poetry, is free and open to the public, and there will be complimentary food and drink. Please invite friends!

Writers’ Project hosts Nigerian writer Chuma Nwokolo for a Reading
The Writers Project of Ghana (@writersPG) proudly presents a public reading with Nigerian writer, attorney and publisher, Chuma Nwokolo (@chumanwokolo). Chuma is a fantastic writer. Writers’ Project book discussion club last year read his collection Diaries of a Dead African.
This reading offers the opportunity to meet and interact with Chuma Nwokolo. There will be a short discussion session after the reading.
Date: Wednesday, 19th February, 2014.
Time 7:00pm – 8:30pm.
Location: International House, University of Ghana, Legon.
Admission is free.


Kofi Awoonor’s Next Book Publishes Posthumously: The Promise of Hope: New and selected poems

Prior to his death in the Kenya Westgate Mall attack, Kofi Awoonor was due to release this book titled “Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems.” It is to be the lead book of the new African Poetry Book Series to appear this year. Foreworded by Kwame Dawes (@kwamedawes) and set to be published in March by University of Nebraska Press, the book was part of reasons Awoonor was at the Storymoja Hay Festival in Kenya in order to push some advance publicity for the book. Look out for the release of this last anthology we will read from Awoonor, summing up fifty years of his activist, political and traditional life as a poet. Introduction and editing by Kofi Anyidoho.

Commonwealth Writers’ Non-fiction Workshop, Uganda 9-13 June 2014
Commonwealth Writers invites East African writers aged 18 and over to apply for the 10 places in the workshop. Writers from Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, living and working in East Africa, are eligible to apply. There will be two places allocated per country. This is a residential workshop. All travel (from elsewhere in East Africa), accommodation and meals will be provided for successful applicants. There is no fee to attend the workshop. To be considered, please apply to writers@commonwealth.int by Friday 28 February. Led by the Chair of the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize and former deputy editor of Granta, Ellah Allfrey (@epwa66), the workshop will explore different ways to approach creative non-fiction. Detailed application requirements on their site here.

Creative Writing Masterclass with Yewande Omotoso in Accra on March 8th.

From Kinna Reads: Yewande Omotoso will teach a creative writing master class in Accra, on Saturday March 8th 2014.  Ama Ata Aidoo will also be there as a resource person and special guest.The master class is organized by the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) and Mbaasem Foundation. The class is free. Women writers interested in attending the class should send a short bio and a sample story or article to info@mbaasem.net by Friday February 21st.  Successful applicants will be notified by February 28th. The master class will focus on the craft of writing and will also address writers’ issues with their ongoing works-in-progress. Yewande Omotoso is a writer and her debut novel, Bom Boy has been shortlisted for the 2014 Etisalat Prize.  Find more on Omotoso from AWDF.

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.

I had one good day yesterday. Prof. Kwame Dawes, a Ghanaian-Jamaican poet who was with Kofi Awoonor at Storymoja Hay festival where Awoonor was killed, passed through Ghana for the funeral. Afterwards, he asked to meet the literati in Accra to confer on this and that. It was a good gathering attended by bright lights like Ama Ata Aidoo (@AmaAtaAidoo), Nii Ayikwei Parkes (@BlueBirdTail), Esi Sutherland, Kwame Dawes (@kwamedawes) himself and the creme of the Department of English of the University of Ghana.

Kofi Awoonor (L) and Kwame Dawes (R), at Storymoja Hay Festival on the eve of Awoonor's death

Kofi Awoonor (L) and Kwame Dawes (R), at Storymoja Hay Festival on the eve of Awoonor’s death

Picture credit: Msingi Sasi

I felt privileged to be in the company of such great advocates and proponents for the African literary voice and the hour and half felt like very good investment for the 73km I had journeyed to get to the venue. Prof. Dawes was making his point for the African Poetry Book Fund, the Sillerman Prize and other possible activities that could be put together to push African literature through the university system and partnerships with the Univeristy of Nebraska. It was refreshing.

There were mentions of Awoonor, who had been the reason why this meeting had been at all possible and I was elated that when I got up to speak and introduced myself, Ama Ata Aidoo recognized my name. She later mentioned how Kinna had read to her my previous post in tribute to Awoonor. There was suppressed laughter after the event, masking our general elation for being able to keep the conversation on African literature going, while also having to privately mourn, as a community of literature lovers, one of the best poets of African extraction. I joked with Prof Dawes at how he and the judging panel of the Brunel poetry prize could not see the brilliance of the entries I submitted. Warsan Shire totally deserved that award, let it be said.

Today, I publish this poem which has taken me all of three days to write; not because it is difficult, but because I have had to gather myself since the last post, to come to terms with Awoonor’s passing. Yesterday’s event at the Department of English broke me through. I title it;

Word On The Street

Why do we kneel here,

Here, windswept paths of a day gone by

Contorted ways begging forgetfulness

 Of the feet that strayed this way just yesterday.

Why do we kneel here?

We can make here no penance or sacrifice.

The lamb has already been carried home

The shearers and feasters pick dry teeth

Our teeth and all their teeth set on edge.

While tears lick our faces dry.

Why do we kneel here?

Asking what if and what not if and why not

Why do we kneel here, why do we clutch this place here,

This ground, this senseless ephemeral patch

Ready to disappear into the dirges of our dreams?

 This dirty patch aborted of its tree

Why do we come in response of sorrow that summons us

Our lips, ready to weep but silent

Afraid to offend him.

Why do we kneel here?

This here lies his body

We have seen it for ourselves

And our knees fail to prop us

We kneel here

This here is Awoonor!

This is no more word on the street.

Kofi Awoonor  A day ago, Prof. Kofi Awoonor was shot dead! I have lost a bit of myself for 24 hours.

I knew Kofi Awoonor! I knew him because all poets know each other. I knew him because the spirits of all poets are fellow citizens of one country. His works have stayed with me ever since I first read his acclaimed ‘The Cathedral’. Today, he’s gone, shot by cruel terrorists who ambushed the mall he had walked into in Kenya. Our country has lost a citizen.

Kofi Awoonor has been a mentor. I don’t say this because he is dead; I say it because like me, he was Ghanaian, Ewe and a poet. And like me, he had a story to tell, which he spent his life telling. I listened to him. Nothing can so immediately take away this sorrow I feel.

I reviewed ‘The Cathedral’ and ‘The Journey Beyond‘ on my blog previously. Over the years, I have read his many works including Rediscovery and Songs of Sorrow. Awoonor was a man who lived daring death: calling it by name and different names in all the poetry he wrote. He didn’t fear to go.

But the manner of his departure has left me mourning, has left Ghana mourning, has left Africa mourning. If there were any voices introducing the English reader to the song of traditional Ewe poetry, his sounded loud beside Anyidoho’s. The gap his death is leaving is too monstrous to be called a gap. This chasm!

 
We will not have another Awoonor. The immensity of his loss will take a while to fathom, that he died at the hands of cruel men will take  a longer time to accept, that we shall no longer hear his voice will be everything crippling to cause our silence. We shall hear him across the stars. When we have cried and the tears now fail us, sobbed till our voices be hoarse with tremulous weeping, we shall hear him, the voice of laughter, bidding us to carry ourselves and trudge on from this place where he has fallen.

Kofi Awoonor, Rest in Peace. Don’t console us, don’t stop us from weeping. Just Rest in Peace.