L. S. Mensah was born and raised in Accra, and been living in the UK for the past four years or so. Recently her work has appeared in the annual Barnet Poetry Anthology.
Five Questions with L. S. Mensah:
1. The physical arrangement of this poem on the page is quite striking. What inspired you to arrange it in such a way?
I think of this poem as performative, and the arrangement a device to separate the birds' dialogue (or call them actors) from the narrator’s observations.
2. What is your intended audience for this poem, if you have one? (African, non-African, Ghanaian, those well versed in poetry, those new to poetry, etc.)
Though this poem is rooted in an African landscape, it is a comment on the human condition. All one needs to decode this, is (to be a child again), to summon that cultural memory of proverbs, riddles, songs and folktales. That animist world where nature is alive, is familiar to all, whether we’re talking about Kweku Ananse, Brer Rabbit, or Cinderella.
3. This poem both has interesting aural effects (bird calls, multiple voices) and visual effects (the layout mentioned above). Do you intend primarily for this poem to be read on the page or aloud?
One could read this either way. As an aural experience, one would need to rely on say alliteration, assonance etc.
As for the visual effects, they have only become possible as a result of technology. Literacy and printing enables one to shift the text around, to break the old rule on keeping to one side of the A4.
Atukwei Okai comes to mind in the way he sprinkles his words on the page. I’ve always thought his poems remind me of the Wulomo (the head priest of the clans in Accra). As if he’s pouring libation, allowing the words to cascade. They don’t necessarily land in the same place - a feature in any performance of the verbal arts. Here’s what he does in this excerpt from 999 Smiles:
Till it breaks, the decayed drooping
at us …
Here he stretches out one line, as if onto a ledge, then of course he breaks and stacks them up like a step pyramid. It's wonderful.
4. In a discussion back in January, you challenged us to expand our literary horizons from a "regional" perspective (West Africans readings West Africans, South Africans reading South Africas, etc.). Can you suggest a few "outsiders" for our West African readers to take up that will provide them with a different perspective on things?
This is rather difficult, since my choices may have to do with my concerns and prejudices. One could start with anthologies such as The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry (eds. Moore & Beier) or Poems of Black Africa (ed. Soyinka) There is also Griots and Town Criers (ed. by Chinweizu), though this last collection includes excerpts of plays and novels as well. Anthologies are great because they introduce one to writers you probably never knew (existed).
For a more contemporary take, the site www.wordswithoutborders.orgis excellent, and has a link to African writing. It’s marvelous (when it works). The site is updated monthly.
The Open University also has a free learning resource site, and any one can log on to www.open.ac.ukand search for ‘Start Writing Fiction’ and ‘Start Writing Poetry.’
The Website www.wfiu.org/poetsweave also posts a weekly edition of (American) poets reading their work, . These are also available for downloading either as a podcast, or burn to CD (I think).
5. How has your push to get your work published more widely been going for you? Have you learned any tips for new writers hoping to follow in your footsteps?
I’m only an unpublished poet, and judging from the way things are going, maybe no one should follow my footsteps.
Still, I encourage new writers to read. First read like a reader. Then read like a writer, to figure out why and how a line or phrase works, and then adapt it into your own work, without being derivative. But also read like a critic. I also encourage them to spend some more time on editing and rewriting.
Contact L. S.: