Holli Holdsworth was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She obtained her undergraduate degree in African Studies and Sociology at the University of Toronto, and is currently living in Accra, Ghana where she works as a regional sales manager in the telecommunications industry.
Five Questions with Holli Holdsworth:
1. How long have you been writing poetry?
I fell in love with words and expression through writing in grade school and first started writing poetry in my early teens.
2. Who are your favorite poets? Which poets have most informed and inspired your work?
My absolute favourite poet is the Chilean Pablo Neruda. His style and ability to capture emotion and passion in few words is extraordinary. He has inspired me throughout my life. I am always searching for the best translation of his poems as some of the English versions do not capture the true essence of his expression.
I also have a favourite poem called 'When Negro Teeth Speak' by Ouologuem Yambo. There are many others as well - I continually search for new writers as a source of inspiration and for the sheer pleasure of reading.
3. What do you hope to accomplish with your poetry?
I only attempt to capture and share the beauty and pain I see around me on a daily basis. I write when I am moved and the result is my poetry.
4. What lead you to leave Canada and move permanently to Ghana?
I had been taken by all things African, from an early age, growing up in small towns in Canada. My first personal project in grade 4 was about gold mining in Ghana. It baffled my teachers and parents, and even I could not fully understand the passion that lead me to research Africa.
In University it was my desire and passion to learn more about Africa, it's literature, politics and sociology. That led me to pursue a degree in African Studies. I spent a gap year as a volunteer in Botswana at 19 and fell in love with the continent. I needed to see more. Back in Canada I made time for volunteering, and was an active member of USC as well as CUSO for years.
Eventually in my late 20's I was ready to move to Africa for a longer period. CUSO had placed me with a partner organization called Aid to Artisans Ghana where I spent two years working with handicraft producers, counseling them on the value of their time, how to cost their wares, and expanding their buyer market globally. I lived in a traditional Ghanaian compound, along with my son, learning the intricacies of the lives of the people. Both my son and I benefitted from the immensely different experience.
5. What would you say have been the greatest moments of your eleven years in Ghana? The most difficult?
The greatest moments in my time in Ghana have been the simple ones. Like the day I spent among tomato sellers in the market, trying out my 'Twi' to the amusement of all, and finally making a tiny break through that took me from outsider to friend.
Also, the outdooring of my youngest son, in full Ga tradition, with the family elders carrying out the ceremony - I felt part of something generations old, with a past that could be linked, through the people in our presence. It was a moving and unforgettable day in my life.
Definitely the most difficult time has been the loss of my son. He was only 6 years old, and died after a 3 day illness. We sat among hundreds of feverish children in a tiny emergency ward room at Korle Bu hospital, two and three to a bed. My son died in my arms and minutes later the other little boy in the bed drifted away as well. We think that he died of malaria but the cause of death is uncertain. I know that the infant mortality rate in Ghana is quite high, however the day a mother loses her child, all statistics become irrelevant and the pain becomes the only crushing reality in our hearts.
Luckily I came through the experience with a lot of family support and the inspiration of my older son. I can still look up at the sun and thank Ghana for the experiences it has offered me.