Rob Taylor lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He lived in Accra in 2006-07 with his wife, Marta. 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.
Rob is a co-founder and editor of One Ghana, One Voice.
Five Questions with Rob Taylor:
1. You capture the intensity on the field and in the stands very well in your poem. What part of a game of soccer do you enjoy most and which part do you vehemently dislike?
I enjoy the intensity in the stands the most, for sure, even if it is a little nerve-wracking at times. I like the idea of so many people and so much energy coming together for a common purpose, no matter how trivial that purpose may be. Nothing unites all of us across racial, cultural and social divides like football.
What I dislike most are the dishonourable actions we see these days (both on the pitch and in the stands). Faked injuries and fixed games on the pitch combined with racism and hooliganism in the stands, have gone a long way to taint the beautiful game.
2. "though someone near us/throws an empty bottle/which nearly hits its mark/and we feel suddenly close/to a certain kind of death (a /stubborn form of life throbbing /viciously in our throats)"
Violence during and after soccer games is on the ascendancy. Do you think this emanates from misguided passions of supporters or plain human penchant for mischief?
During games, I think that in large part it comes down to our limited understanding of the behaviour of big crowds in small spaces. I think this is especially true in Africa, where crowd controls (and, often, seating) are far more limited. I remember the panic I felt at times while working my way through the thick crowds at the Ghana @ 50 celebrations, something I’d never felt at a large event before. It’s easy to lose your head in that environment and start pushing and shoving. This is all the more true when you add the emotional intensity of a football game, where, on top of everything else, rival fans could be standing right next to you.
I’ve never been involved in a post-game fight, so I can’t really say why they happen (though at the end of the game written about in my poem, which was a 0-0 tie – a big victory for Ashgold - it looked like something might break out between the Hearts players and their disappointed fans!). That said, my guess is that it is mostly the standard vices of misguided passions, social/cultural/racial divides, and alcohol.
3. From the lessons of stadium tragedies in Ghana, do you think law enforcement officers are the part of the problem or are they ill-equipped to handle problems as they rise? If you had your way, how would you position law enforcement to ensure a smooth soccer game?
I think the first step is good stadium design. The game in the poem took place in Tema because of the upgrades being done to Accra’s stadium. In Tema, as in many smaller stadiums, the fans aren’t elevated above the pitch, so it was impossible for the officers to avoid being in the line of sight (and irritating the spectators). Likewise, when stadium tragedies break out, it is often in part the stadium’s fault because it has inadequate exits and too-narrow exit corridors. My understanding is that gates were locked, preventing escape, during the 2001 tragedy, for instance.
Officers certainly need to be better trained and equipped, also. But law enforcement in Ghana is in such sad shape that behaviour at football matches shouldn’t place too high on the list of needed improvements. Let’s tackle corruption first and move on from there!
4. The breathlessness of your poem is akin to a soccer player in pursuit of a ball. Did you write this poem on the spur of the moment or was it a regurgitation of an intense experience?
It certainly is based on a real experience. The poem is 100% factual, which is rare for me now that I think about it. I can’t remember exactly when I wrote it, but it was some time in the week following the match, so everything was still fresh in my mind.
5. On a light note, how good are your soccer skills in comparison to your fine poetry?
Oh, I’m lousy. I remember my first time going to Tema with a friend to play. My eyes almost fell out of my head - those boys were so good! No wonder Canada is 57 spots behind Ghana in the FIFA rankings.
As for how it compares to my poetry, I don’t know. Not that many people have both read my poetry and played football against me. Maybe if someone sets up a poet’s football league some time down the road we can find out for sure!
Websites: RobLucasTaylor.com, spread it like a roll of nickels