Rob Taylor lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He is a graduate of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. His poetry has appeared in numerous print and online magazines, and he has published a chapbook, entitled splattered earth. He is a co-founder of SFU's High Altitude Poetry, and an editor at Red Fez.
He lived in Ghana with his partner, Marta, from September 2006 until March 2007. His chapbook manuscript of poems from Ghana, entitled child of saturday, is currently seeking a publisher.
The poem "at makola" appeared previously in The New Chief Tongue.
Rob is a co-founder of One Ghana, One Voice.
Five Questions with Rob Taylor:
1. What made you write about Makola?
I wrote "at makola" in February 2007, as the street-clearing in downtown Accra (in preparation for the Ghana @ 50 celebrations) was in full swing. I did much of my shopping at the time at Makola and many of the vendors I had gotten to know quite well suddenly disappeared.
The poem wasn't so much written in response to the street-clearing, though that is referenced at the end, instead it was more that the street-clearing got me thinking about Makola, about what was being destroyed in the name of "cleanliness."
2. As a Canadian by birth and an African at heart, what changes do you reckon you've brought to the poetry society in Africa?
Ha! Not very many. I think all of us here at OGOV have accomplished something good, but it is only a small step in a very long journey. It is exciting, though, to see all the budding talent we've been able to profile, who will serve as leaders in the coming stages.
3. How different is poetry in Canada from what you see and saw in Ghana, since you've had the privilege of staying in both places?
Privilege is the right word in both cases, as each is an incredible country whose people and landscape have shaped who I am.
Canadian poetry is much more established. There are large numbers of university programs, journals and awards. In part because there are so many institutions and publications promoting poetry, there is a good amount of high-quality poetry published in Canada. Sadly though, what is more often published is over-workshopped, over-polished poetry that says very little, and that has a negligible effect on the Canadian population in general.
I think it is the exact opposite in Ghana. There are few university programs, journals, etc. Because of that, and because of high illiteracy rate, many people never approach poetry at all. Those who do, however, are brimming with a pure passion, if not necessarily technical know-how, for what they do.
The overall quality of the writing produced in Ghana may currently be lower than that in Canada, but it is also far more accessible and relevant to the Ghanaian population than Canadian poetry is to Canadians. This is a firm base upon which to build a new generation of Ghanaian verse.
4. What are your plans for the coming years as far as OGOV is concerned?
I don't have big plans for OGOV - if we are still alive in a few years I'll be happy!
From the start, I never wanted OGOV to dominate the poetry scene in Ghana, but instead to provide inspiration for others to start new projects and take the lead. This is part of why discussions like our latest Roundtable Discussion are so important.
Already, many poets are setting up personal websites and submitting to international publications, in part through our encouragement here at OGOV. Next, hopefully, new projects will begin springing up, such as a reading series or a print journal. Specifically there, I'd love to see Legon's long defunct literary journal The Legacy revived by students there - and if anyone is interested in that, I'd be happy to lend a hand.
5. How best do you think we can improve upon conditions in markets in Ghana, considering what you saw in Makola?
I think the key is to look at markets like Makola as symptoms of larger problems - as barometers of social and economic wellbeing. Often, people work in the markets because they cannot get work elsewhere, and people shop in the markets because they cannot afford to shop elsewhere.
No permanent solutions ever come from "cleaning up" market areas - they reappear later in either the same place or elsewhere. Instead, clearing markets gives people a false sense of progress, and ultimately delays real action from being taken on the issues that keep so many Ghanaians in poverty.
Rob's Past Profiles:
Issue 1.13, June 16th - 22nd, 2007