OGOV Roundtable Discussion #4 - Poetry and Election 2008

Our fourth Roundtable Discussion is focused on the intersection of poetry and politics, more specifically on how poets can influence this year's and future Ghanaian elections. This discussion was moderated by Julian Adomako-Gyimah, and features Vida Ayitah, Prince Mensah, Martin Pieterson, and Mariska Taylor-Darko, and was moderated by Edith Faalong.

After you are done reading, please be sure to use the comment section to join the conversation yourself - and may you have a peaceful, celebratory election day on Sunday, regardless of who you cast your vote for.



Julian Adomako-Gyimah:

As poets, what can we do to ensure a peaceful election in Ghana? How do we work to eliminate corruption, as this is a key to peace during elections?


Prince Mensah:


There is little we can do. However, we can draw attention to the elections by using tech tools such as YouTube and SoundLantern to broadcast our poetry.

The Greek philosopher Epictetus said, 'You know yourself what you are worth in your own eyes; and at what price you will sell yourself. For men sell themselves at various prices.' Many are the books, articles and essays written about corruption but it continues to permeate global politics. Corruption is an abuse of good will and office. We cannot erase this blight amidst the nagging socio-economic divide between rich and poor. Poverty pushes people to put aside their principles. Survival is the essence of human actions.

It is often said that a country's psyche is showcased in the kind of leaders it elects to power. If Ghana wants accountability and probity, we have enough noble men and women to embark on a cleansing of the body politic. However, corruption will go on if good people choose to do nothing. The secret to the eradication of corruption is the adequate pay for workers. If people are paid well, the government can attain the moral right to put people behind bars for corruption. Aside from that, it is a sore that will continue to spread.


Mariska Taylor-Darko:

Poets in Ghana do not have a strong voice yet but what we can do is talk about peace and corruption during recitals. I was at the Bless the Mic launching and two of the young poets actually handled these topics and the response from the audience was great. We can but try to get the message across by writing and reading on the subject.

We as a country should pick leaders who have a conscience and who think of the nation rather than themselves. So far, since independence we have not had any leaders who have proved themselves worthy of the job.

Corruption is like cancer, it needs aggressive treatment to be eradicated and we seem to be far from achieving that just yet.


Martin Pieterson:

During times like this, we, as poets, should all write to promote peace. Our writings during periods like this should talk about the beauty of our country (our rich history and culture, our hospitable attitude, our great resources etc.) and the need not to destroy it. We could refer to other countries that have had their beauty destroyed through elections and thus sensitize people about the need for us not to follow the same route. We should also in our writing urge all political parties to work together in peace to ensure a peaceful transition into a new democratic era. We should remind them that the success or failure of the election depends to a large extent on them so in challenging each other care must be taken not to exceed certain boundaries which could lead to war or disturbances. If possible, poets could come together to organise recital evenings which will focus on the theme talked about above.

Talking about corruption, our writings during this period could appeal to the incumbent leaders to deal with it. But on an ordinary day or a period other than an election period, I think we should be radical with it. We should write to expose any form of it.

Let us therefore begin to write for peace especially at this time.


Julian:

Martin, you do make a point about us being radical with issues such as corruption.We need to put Ghana first before any political party.

Brilliant idea re: "the YouTube concept" etc, but how do we make this medium known to the populace and the poetry fraternity?


Martin:

Yeah, we should be radical with corruption but in this election period. I would prefer appealing to our incumbent leaders to deal with the problem when they take their positions. I think we should publicize our poems on the elections so as to reach a very wide audience.


Vida Ayitah:


In my knowledge, it is only recently that interest is being given to poetry. There are, have always been, lots of small pocket book stories available for purchase in nearly every street in Ghana. And the public actually buys that. But how many, or how often do we see poetry booklets on the market? They say poetry does not sell. But here we are trying to reach the people through poetry.

For starters we as poet have to invest funds into this project if our focus really is to get to the people. In this regards, maybe we should consider this: raising funds to publish a small book of collective poems that will be available in the streets of Ghana.

Then also, the educational sector has to get involved. We could try appealing to the school authorities to invest a little more in the art, letting the young minds realise that poetry is more than just a romantic notion. It is only then that we can begin to expect people, the youth of today, to realize and understand the importance of poetry. Growing up in the village and attending the local school, I had no means of knowing the existence of this art. Then I finally got my hand on a poetry book and it was by a foreign author; Robert Browning. As writers, our duty does not end with our creativity. We have to go the extra mile of putting our works into the hands of the people. As much as students are being encouraged to read stories and novels, let us also inform them that poetry can as well be informative and educative. So, all I am saying is, let the educational sector get involved. In the long term, this will be beneficial, a fine way of sending out messages to both the young and old.

Too late to start? I do not think so. Three years from now a leader in public office will reach for a poetry book and get the message that we are here today trying to send across.

In this same regard, if we are trying to be have our voices heard, then we should also try to speak the simple language of the ordinary person. Fancy words and big terminologies may look good on paper and sound interesting to the ear but our goal is not to show the public how good we are with words or highly educated we are. We are trying to make people understand the value of poetry and the importance of the message it carries. So, let us speak the language that everyone understands.

This idea of posting stuff on YouTube may be good for reaching people that actually have available access to the internet. How many Ghanaians go online in a day? The office people? Yes. But are those our only - main target? What about the market women? Pupils in towns and villages? The farmer whose only means of getting the news is from the newspapers and the local radio stations? YouTube is as useful to them as a vacuum cleaner is to a family of five living in a hut in the village, with no electricity. If we are here trying to inform the ordinary Ghanaian on the necessity of peaceful election, then we have to get to them through the medium that is actually available to them. After all, the ordinary Ghanaian makes up the majority of the populace.

The "Daily Graphic" currently features poets and poems in its pages every day. This is proof enough that the reading public is ready to embrace the art and give it considerable attention. Perhaps then, we should get in touch with those other poets and invite them to join our course.

That will be the best thing we can do at this moment. In time, with the collaboration of these other writers on home ground who are able to get themselves into the pages of the newspapers, we can plan a bigger move ahead. The greater our number, the more feasible the idea of TV, Radio and recitals will be.

I hope I've not managed to sound discouraging here, but the fact still remains: we need a plan that works. So far there has been a great number of positive postings on OGOV. This is really good. But here it comes again: the average person does not know of our existence. In much the same way that the founders were able to organize and run this, to this successful stage, shouldn't we also try other avenues of getting our message across? If we really want to take our campaign further, let us then get the dailies on our side. Let us have them allocate space for us in their pages so our message to the people, get to the people.

Corruption indeed, is like cancer, as Mariska pointed out. But unlike cancer, there is no hope of corruption ever being cured. As long as there is a government, corruption stays. All we can do is let our leaders know that the people are aware of what is going on. Let us give them a conscience. Nudge them in the ribs and say we are not blinded to their actions. Trying to turn our political leaders into good, pure-hearted beings is folly.


Mariska:

Go Girl! Vida has said most of what I was feeling but not expressing. If we cannot touch the leaders in 2008 then we could start with the young ones in school now. Volunteering to read poetry to them even once a week (pick a school of your choice), even once a month, could enlighten them to the beauty of poetry and then when they grow up the voice of the poet would not be ignored. These are my thoughts on how to build peace and unity during elections - start with the young as it's quite late for 2008.

As for this year’s election, I am hoping that the peace we had during the previous elections would repeat itself again. At present Ghana is held in high esteem with regards to peaceful elections and handing over from one political party to the other, unlike our neighbouring countries, and for it to happen again would seal the belief that we are peaceful and democratic people. It would bring both financial and social interest into the country.

As poets we can only continue to make people aware by our writings and hopefully it will hit the point. We are a peace loving people and should not let the bad elements turn us off track.

I wish you all a peaceful 7th December 2008.


Prince:

It is my hope that Ghanaians realize that the error of voting for the wrong party is a mistake that exists for four more years. As poets, our hands are tied from making explicit commentaries on who and what is the best for Ghana. What I know is that we can encourage our countrymen to exercise their democratic rights with respect and reciprocity towards divergent ideas. This is the essence of poetry; to illustrate the fact that opposites can exist in complete coherence. Ghana is a beacon of hope, in politics and civics in Africa. We cannot allow that distinction to morph into nonchalance. Our relationship with democracy is an on-going process that should not be halted for any reason, major or myopic.
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