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 over thirty print and online magazines, and he has published two chapbooks, entitled splattered earth and Child of Saturday. He is the poetry editor at Red Fez.
He lived in Ghana with his wife, Marta, from September 2006 until March 2007.
Rob is a co-founder and editor of One Ghana, One Voice.
Five Questions with Rob Taylor:
1.What made you write about the Harmattan and of what significance is it to the reader?
I wrote this poem in early 2007, after the Harmattan had been in effect for quite some time. My wife and I had travelled to Takoradi to see the town and, because of the Harmattan, visibility was very limited. At the time, I was writing a lot of descriptive poems on the things that I saw, and on that visit to Takoradi I was hardly able to see anything! So I was frustrated by that, which inspired the poem.
As for the effect on the reader, of course I cannot know. My guess though is that it depends upon the reader’s knowledge of the Harmattan. I think if you’ve never experienced the Harmattan it may seem in this poem to be only an irritant – a “mask” or “veil” over a world you wish to see clearly. If you’ve lived with the Harmattan, though, I think the significance is more nuanced: it is still an irritant, but you know also that the Harmattan brings with it cooler weather, which makes it pleasing at the same time. I think this adds an element of pleasure to the image: that there is something strangely satisfying about the “mask.”
2. What is the link you see between fishing and the Harmattan?
For me this goes back to the theme of the last answer: mystery. In a sense, the Harmattan makes the land as murky as the churning sea. The land, obviously, is something that we have spent more time exploring as a species, while the sea still contains many great unknowns. I think the Harmattan levels the playing field a bit between the two, making it as hard for a poet to spot something to write about as it is for a fisherman to nab a fish in the sea, maybe harder...
3. Do you think Ghanaian poetry has a future on the international scene?
Of course, and a present too! I have no concerns about that at all. Ghana, like most countries, can, and I'm sure will, produce a few breakout poetry stars (like Awoonor, Anyidoho, etc. of old) that will keep Ghana in the international eye.
Personally, though, I think that’s the easy part. More important than Ghanaian poetry’s place on the international cultural scene is poetry’s place on the Ghanaian cultural scene. Having a few successful writers internationally, but little infrastructure domestically to support and nourish new poets is a recipe for an eventual collapse.
If Ghana is going to become the permanent hotbed of poetry talent that we all know it can be, we need a vibrant internal community of writers and readers. We need networks of educators, magazines, and active audiences if the poetry movement is going to grow, maintain itself and prosper. To me, that is the priority.
4. What informs your writing style?
I believe in poetry as a form of communication which comes into play when our other modes of communication fail. When a list or essay or prose piece of some other sort simply can’t touch upon the ideas or feelings we are trying to communicate, we turn to poetry to try and fill in the gap.
Because poetry is, for me, at heart a form a communication, I believe it should be as clear and direct as possible. Obviously, it can’t be completely plain like a list or an instruction manual. No, it has to be complicated or mysterious to some extent in order for it to stretch the mind of the reader – to take the reader to a place they wouldn’t have gone if they’d read an essay on the topic, for instance. But it shouldn’t be so complicated or mysterious that it loses its ability to communicate.
In secondary school, my teachers would often attempt to explain what a poem meant by saying: “X poem is saying Y and Z”. Well, if that is true, then it would be much more efficient to write “Y and Z” instead of bothering with the poem at all, no? Of course, most of the time, it’s not true – the poem can’t really be reduced to a simple statement or even a complex list of statements – but occasionally it is. Sometimes I find poems, especially very complicated poems, are more like math problems than art. They are jumbles of ideas that need to be untangled, but once they are untangled, you see that there is no magic there, no leaping, no stretching of the reader’s mind.
From all of this I take the following notion to inform my writing style: be as clear and direct as possible without losing the mystery. I struggle with this as much as any other writer, but I try to return to the idea as much as possible. Many poets on OGOV do this wonderfully, and help keep me focused and grounded in my task.
5. What inspired you to come up with this poem?
Well, as mentioned above, the Harmattan and my frustrations over the writer’s block that it produced were a big part of it. Also, watching fishermen work over many months. Their knowledge and skill in their craft were often mesmerizing – another type of magic to behold!
Websites: RobLucasTaylor.com, spread it like a roll of nickels
Rob, I can actually picture what you are talking about in my mind's eye and that is a great piece of poetry. Keep the fire burning and 21 gun salute
I have breathed through a number of Harmattan seasons as a kid, and talking about "masks" I remember when the dust came I could not go to sleep. I had difficulty breathing. My mother made me a thin cloth mask which she will wet and I will breathe through. By the morning the dust had settled everywhere. My sister and I would leave drawings and notes on our dining room table, before the dust got wiped. That was magical for us. and a means of communicating:-)
Thanks for your thoughts. I do believe strongly that poetry is a way of knowing and a different way from our other (sometimes more acceptable ways). The mistake we make is when we think we can reduce it to a summary. That ruins it. There is probably a lot of poems about the Harmattan (well I guess there might be, i have not written one yet, and maybe should). If we summarize them as "a poem about the Harmattan" we are missing the point, of what the poems speak through that image. And I bet they are all very different. It is impossible to summarize a poem. A metaphor itself is already an anomaly in language. A is B, but at the same time it isn't. And right here a lot of knowing, not to mention transformation, can happen.
What a great image of dust drawings on the dining room table, Daniela. How has a poem not come from that yet?
Thank you both for your comments!
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