Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Critic: Pic Cred: Cleverboxer.com

Critic: Pic Cred: Cleverboxer.com

During my time away from this page a couple of weeks back, I had been thinking: What Is the Worth of A Critic? This thought may have first come to me when I was asked to be a part of the reading team for this year’s Golden Baobab Prize for African Children’s Literature, somewhere in June.

In arts, a critic is everything. The best chisel of a piece of art work in progress is a critic. The writer’s best chisel is his reader. The poet’s best chisel is his audience. The playwright’s best chisel is his auditorium.

Every story is a critique of some social construct. The first critic of any piece of work is the writer himself. For a writer to write anything you enjoy reading, he must have critiqued the possible questions you will have on his choice of words, his storyline, his characters, his narrative voice, his grammar. Every moment while he writes, he is trying to outwit you; trying to tell you the same story in ways you have never heard; trying to keep you from getting bored, even trying to keep you awake. Critiquing your responses!

When I read any piece of writing, my mind goes into critic mode: probably the reason I am typically slower at reading than most. I unconsciously pick out words, pick apart sentences, perform reconstructive surgery on battered expressions in my head, all while I read; perhaps because, I want to write better than I read. I want to be the best writer I can be.

I started work on a book. It won’t be out soon but I hope it won’t wait forever. As I write, there is a little sprite that constantly comes back at me, pointing a finger at that sentence I wrote, asking why I used an extra word, made the sentence sound so cliché, made the paragraph run so long, kept the wording so terse and uninspiring. Isn’t there a better way to put that phrase? Do I really need that entire sentence? This word here is going to turn readers off. I criticize myself.

For eternity, I have been critiquing other people’s poems, even long before I started to put it out here on this blog. The reason why I do it for poetry is that it can hardly go wrong. Poetry is correct even when it is wrong. Poetry transcends some measure of judgment.

These past weeks have been filled with reading some exciting stories as part of the reading team of the Golden Baobab Prize and I have realized that a critic can be wrong too. Sometimes, going back and forth, reading a story over again and benchmarking a story against one’s own view and imagination of the world makes the story more open to you. You owe it to every writer whose work you read, to be as thorough, liberal and accepting of change and difference as a fair critic can be. If your view is narrow, your critique will be narrow. If you have seen enough of the world by traveling or by diverse reading, you will appreciate better those quaint twists in a story set in another part of the world. An art critic is not typically a judge; he is more of a supporter in the stands, maybe even the coach, urging on his players (the story, the writer) to a winning end. It may not have crossed many minds but the critic critiques because he is cheering you on to a win.

At this point of reading, there is one conclusion I can draw about the next generation of stories on African kids’ library shelves; they will be bold, they will be fearless and they will tell the story of today’s African. I know this because I have felt the roller coaster of emotions that writers have told their stories with. All of those stories, some affected by true (and oft times, harsh) African political, economic and cultural inflections, are the real reason why Golden Baobab’s grand vision will succeed. The African has been given another stage to tell his unheard story to the world.

One of these stories will go on to win. When it does and you hear anyone mention that it has achieved ‘critical acclaim’, just remember the critic. It all started with a writer who second-guessed the story he wanted to tell, who listened to his characters lie to him in the first and the second and the third drafts, and who, regardless of the odds, outwitted the judges, answered their unspoken questions and critiqued his way to triumph. In this game, only the best critic wins.

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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.

 

Mogadishu - Pic cred: wiki

Mogadishu – Pic cred: wiki

 Following from my previous post on the admiration I have developed for Somalia and Somali literature, I have spent a couple of days reading and writing about the country. It is some sort of romance tempered by distance and the fact that we have never met. So I stay thinking about my new literary love and the product is poem after poem after poem. I have written three poems (finished two) about this country I long to visit and experience, all the poems bearing the same title, ‘I think about you, Mogadishu‘. I share here with you the second and will be grateful if you read that first article of longing for a country that tugs at the heart of an artist. It has had a difficult history  but one day we shall sit on the shores of Mogadishu, forget all that has been, and talk about poetry under moonlight accompanied by a little happy dance. We shall talk about love.

I think about you, Mogadishu

You star in my nightmares
You seduce in my temple
You challenge my sleep.

You keep me up till 11:30
Then you wake me at midnight
You should leave in the morning
You should leave in the afternoon
But by evening you’re still here
Strange damsel of my dreams
I think about you.

You hide many secrets in your hijab
I cannot unravel nor understand
Your smile is brighter, embarrasses the sun
You frown darker than night.
When you turn and walk away, I know you want me to follow
You tell me nothing; only in your eyes I see everything
Strange damsel of my dreams
I think about you.

You have been intimate with sorrow
Worn heartbreaks like a thousand wristbands
Each one for each day
Your arms are short or you will wear
One for each hour.
And even now there is no space for more.
Maybe underneath, you hide the scars of many lives
One life lived many times.
Because you have died. And resurrected.
And died again. And you’re here
timeless.
Tattooed with eternity
Going in and out of my dreams, strange damsel
I think about you.

You have shores but they have no sands
Sand is flimsy; you have rocks.
Rocks for engraving the names of past loves
Love rocks.
You love rocks.
Your love rocks.
But the rocks are bare.
Your loves have left you, craving you, reaching
But unable.
How does it feel to be loved and left alone?

Strange damsel of my dreams
I have not seen you before
But not a day passes that I don’t think about you
One day
I shall look for you
Carrying my album of dreams and fantasies,
my only pictures of you.
Pursue you across museums of the brokenhearted
Are you black like I am?
There is no colour in a dream.

I think about you
Fair lady on the rim of the rising sun
Your love has taken me prisoner
And you don’t even know me.
I will show you the cuffs when I arrive
Where it burns a golden brown into my wrist
Night comes and my sleep is threatened
For you will stand again at the gate of my sleep,
Commanding new nightmares.
I think about you, Mogadishu.

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.

Ahmed Fouad Negm - Pic Cred: Relais

Ahmed Fouad Negm – Pic Cred: Relais

One of Egypt’s most-loved and greatest poets has passed away today at the age of 84. Ahmed Fouad Negm (pronounced Negum) was a satirical poet who spent his life trolling government after Egyptian government for what he called ‘submerging Egypt under lies’.  He was also known as the ‘poet of the people‘, because his views and poetry were popular with the masses and very unpopular with the elite. He served jail time under Egypt’s former pharaohs Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.

Negm was a writer in ‘Arabic vernacular’ and his works were infused with cadence that may be lost in translation to English or any other language. His works were powerful and did not mask his fury in their satire. A typical street urchin who got jailed for forging documents, he knew first-hand the suffering that marked his writing. One tweet said his loss for Egypt is of Pablo Neruda proportions.

Prior to his death, he was due to travel to be awarded the 2013 Prince Claus Award. The prize website says Negm was to be:

“honoured for creating true poetry in vernacular Arabic that communicates deeply with people; for his independence, unwavering integrity, courage and rigorous commitment to the struggle for freedom and justice; for speaking truth to power, refusing to be silenced and inspiring more than three generations in the Arab-speaking world; for the aesthetic and political force of his work highlighting the basic need for culture and humour in harsh and difficult circumstances; and for his significant impact on Arabic poetry bringing recognition to the rich literary potential of the colloquial language.”

I am working on permission to review one of his translated poems next on the blog and when I do, you will see the brilliance of his poem titled ‘What’s Wrong With the President?’ Arab African poetry is powerful, if only we had enough translations.

Fare thee well, Ahmed Fouad Negm.

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.