Van G. Garrett is the author of Songs in Blue Negritude, a collection of poetry (Xavier Review Press, 2008). He was awarded a Dr. Kwame Nkrumah International Study Scholarship, an Archie D. and Bertha H. Walker Foundation Scholarship to attend a Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship, a Hurston/Wright Fellowship for poetry, and two Callaloo Creative Writing Fellowships for poetry. He received the Danny Lee Lawrence prize for poetry, and his poetry has been anthologized and published in journals based in Africa, Switzerland, Turkey, and London. His poems have appeared or will appear in Obsidian III, The Amistad, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, ChickenBones, Life Imitating Art, Swirl, Drumvoices Revue, Curbside Review, Urban Beat, and elsewhere. His reviews have appeared in Rolling Stone.com, African American Review, Moria,and ChickenBones.
Van earned his MAIS from the University of Houston-Victoria and his B.A. from Houston Baptist University. He is the first student to receive a graduate certificate in African American Studies from the University of Houston.
Five Questions with Van G. Garrett/Fui Koshi:
1. Last year you traveled in Ghana, which most likely motivated this poem. Why did you choose to dedicate this poem to the whole continent and not just Ghana?
My love for Africa is far-reaching. I love Ghana, however I have met Africans (and I continue to meet Africans) from various regions in my travels across the globe. Trying to partition or limit my love to only Ghanaian Sisters and Brothers is like trying to extract and appreciate a single particle of sand on a beach — there is so much more to enjoy. There is so much more to acknowledge.
2. It seems as though this is a poem of gratitude. I think many people who travel to Ghana are grateful for the experience. Do you feel indebted to the country, like it has given a gift to you that you must find a way to repay? If so, does writing poetry play a role in that "repayment" process?
I am glad that I had the unique opportunity to visit the Continent. As a writer and as a student of the Diaspora, I have endless connections to Ghana. A lot of the poems that I wrote prior to my going to Africa commented on the land and the people in a heartfelt, yet removed way. Now, when I write about the Continent I write about things that I know from experience(s). I draw from places that are now a part of me, not just things that I once experienced vicariously. I am glad to write with a new sense of purpose, one that does seek to “repay” the Country for what she unselfishly gave to me.
3. Of your memories of Ghana, what sticks with you the most: the people, the landscape, or the history? Is this what you expected before you visited?
Again, I think about the previously stated metaphor about sand. It is too hard to speak about my countless memories of Ghana in isolated trains of thought; the people, landscapes and history, all supply memories that will not soon flee. It is this blending of the aforementioned trio that makes Ghana so special. Additionally, experiencing the “unexpected” things in my encounters with the trio supplied heightened experiences that superseded my preconceived notions.
4. You seem to gravitate towards shorter, more compact poems than most on OGOV, especially when considering your particular interest in the kwansaba form. Are we only seeing one side of your work, or are most of your poems quite short? If the latter, what is it about short, compact poems that attracts you?
That is a great question. The “short poems” are my hallmark. I like being able to say a lot in a small space, a major reason why I write kwansabas. I also write in many Japanese forms; I generally try to say what I need to say in fourteen lines or less, much like a sonnet in that regard.
In our previous interview I mentioned that my poems will be longer and more sensual after I returned to the States. This piece may still be a “short poem”, but I think that it is sensual. The poems in my new collection are three to four times longer and stronger than my earlier poems.
5. In the time since you've returned from Ghana, how much of your writing has been preoccupied with Africa? If you've been writing a good deal about Africa, have you found yourself focusing on certain places, themes, or images?
Ironically, I have not written a great deal of poems about Africa. It may seem cliché, but I am still trying to locate the words that aptly express how I feel. There is definitely a “sense of Africa” in my latest poems, but seven months later I am still processing my experiences and memories of Ghana.