Apology to witches - Darko Antwi


Nobody did us
We did ourselves


The hay of Ethiopia we didn’t make
And a spate of tribal wars we made

Nobody did us
We did ourselves


Our huge contribution to faint GDP
And low annual income per capita

Nobody did us
We did ourselves


The Fee-Market ideas we depose
And Communist theory we glorify

Nobody did us
We did ourselves


The Theobaldia anulata we breed
And the larvae of worms we drink

Nobody did us
We did ourselves


But in other earthly nightmares,
Some biophysical agents did us.

12 comments:

Adjei Agyei-Baah said...

"Nobody did us
We did ourselves"

Quite didactic!A must read poem for every African!Had always been expecting a bombshell from you and you have done it explicitly well. African leaders will take clues and not barbecues from this great piece.

Prince Mensah said...

This is a fine poem that approaches an old problem with a new set of poetic 'shoes'.

'Apology to witches' as a phrase takes a humorous turn in meaning when translated into Twi - 'Ye to abaefuo sebe'. Darko Antwi manages, with ease, to capture both the disdain and dread that folks have for witches in his title.

The use of the repetitive couplet builds the mood of the poem. It balances our culpability in what has occurred to us as a people with what others have done to us.

The title is a smart choice because the poem tries hard to argue that our problems are self-inflicted. However, the state of their enormity suggests that 'in other earthly nightmares,
Some biophysical agents did us'.

This is a refreshing use of perspective which tries not to accuse the 'usual suspects' of our predicament as a nation. I see the poet's intentional reference to the mosquito through its Latin name (Theobaldia anulata). The mosquitoes represent the problems and headaches we breed as a poeple when we allow the swamp of nepotism and corruption to exist among us. That was a clever use of language, Darko.

The disturbing imagery that Darko invokes in 'the larvae of worms we drink' captures the taboos we are forced to break in order to survive the craziness we have brought upon ourselves.

There is only one small part of the poem where I disagree with Darko. It is not a matter of form and structure. It is in the couplet:

The Fee-Market ideas we depose
And Communist theory we glorify

I think that ideologically we have to rethink our constant infatuation with the free market economy because socialism is not a totally bad idea. There has been a wholesale demonization of communism/socialism but it makes total sense in countries such as China and Cuba. Capitalism caters to the individualistic urges and neglects the community (which is totally unGhanaian). Our societiies were built as safety nets for people who fall to rise up quickly. The most important approach to these two economic theories is to use each of them in areas of nation building where they make sense. Europe has employed an equilibrium in the use of both socialism and capitalism and it is working very well.

Let me not get off tangent. I had to say this because of my respect for the impact of poetry on our readers.

Kudos to Mr. Antwi. I hope I have given you enough constructive criticism to pay you back for the good work you do on this site.

'Apologies to witches' brews up more questions than answers; more confusion than calm; more reasons to rejuvenate our stalled destiny.

kodwo brumpon said...

kudos my good friend, you just laid bare the relationship between self-destruction and witchcraft.

Darko Antwi said...

To brothers Adjei, Julian, Prince and Kodwo, I thank you very very much - as I'm overwhelmed.

Julian, I realised beforehand that unless the central idea is understood (as comprehensively examined by the other 3 gentlemen), the title will look very distant from the body. Perhaps my original title, 'Secular Responsibility' has better ties with the stanzas. But I had to drop it, as mischief carried me away during my final revision.

Considering the exceptions or the advantages of Communism, I admit that this poem is not immune to Prince's constructive criticism (and any other objections that may betide me in future). Truly, I'm now advised not to be naive (or rigid) to accept Capitalism and condemn Communism/Socialism entirely.

CRITICS IN THE MAKING
I have always shied away from the title, critic - in the fear that; it's an office that needs the right tools to be operated. Lest Ghanaian poetry ends-up as a casualty in the hands of, excuse me to say, some 'quack' practioners.

Conversely, I have gained confidence in a trio. As naturals as they are, I hope they don't hold anything back as our critics-designate.They may think of themselves as doers of casual appreciation. Yet, whatever their conscience is - and wherever we may place them, their service here should not be under-valued.

An advance 'thanks' to those who may comment in days, months or years ahead.

LS said...

Darko Antwi, brilliant!

TITLE

Here, I'm assuming the title is an ironic take on the poem's suject matter, and as we know, blaming the supernatural is probably the easiest thing we do.

POEM & REFRAIN

The work flips the relationship between poem and refrain on its head as follows:

1. it opens with the refrain;

2. of the 20 lines the refrain takes up 10, that is half the poetic space, and in that sense;

3. the refrain is actually the poem, so that call becomes response, and vice versa.

Without our permission the poem draws us in, making us participants in its drama. No matter the issues raised whether the historical(hay of Ethiopia); the natural environment(Theobalda anulata); even in politics and economics, we walked ourselves down those roads.

By naming and shaming, the poem pulls from beneath us what Allan Young calls The Harmony of Illusions with which we've cloaked ourselves all along.

As in exorcisms - witchcraft and otherwise, the refrain, becomes the talisman, which focuses our attention on the poem's central thesis, gradually exacting a confession from us.

Yet, in the final couplet:

But in other earthly nightmares,
Some biophysical agents did us


the poem changes direction, and like a game of snakes and ladders, agrees with the very critique it takes on. I'm still not sure of what to make of it.

Darko Antwi, is this where you say that diagnosis is still a long way from a solution? I may be sprinkling salt into the sea here,and I may be taking this all rather too seriously, but I'll have another think.

IDEOLOGY

Prince, a long time ago Nkrumah ruled Ghana with some combination of socialism/communism. I believe he chose to call it Nkrumahism. It did not work. I also believe there's a reason communism fell, and remember, if we lived in Cuba /China, even access to the web would be severely curtailed, at the very least.

Prince Kwasi Mensah said...

I beg to differ, LS. My disagreement with the couplet in 'Apology to witches'

'The F(r)ee-Market ideas we depose
And Communist theory we glorify'

was not an endorsement of communism/socialism per se. It was a take on the unfortunate trend in African societies to take every foreign idea, hook, line and sinker. I was only cautioning Darko that capitalism/free market theories alone cannot save Ghana. There has be an eclectic approach which considers all socio-economic ideas and applies the ones that truly make sense to specific and unique situations. Kwame Nkrumah failed Ghana with his over-dependence on one ideology. This leads into the very reason why I wrote my critique of Darko's excellent poem. One-size-fits-all economic strategies do not work for a polygenous nation like Ghana.

We are presently having a very heated discussion in the USA about public health care being a socialist idea. The one million dollar question is this: are we going to fight against a great idea because it is socialist/communist? I will admit that China and Cuba are not perfect but which capitalist country in the world is? Besides, people spend so much less in Cuba on health care than in the USA. China is #1 on the CIA list of countries with high life expectancy. The average age is 84.36 years. So let's not throw the baby with the bath water. Let us use what works, regardless of where the idea originated from.

As I continue to reassess this particular couplet, I begin to agree with Darko the more. I think I missed the implied meaning of the couplet in my first analysis. My sincere apologies, Darko.

However, the lines

The F(r)ee-Market ideas we depose
And Communist theory we glorify

tackle the same concerns I mentioned in my previous critique.

'Apology to witches' exposes the see-saw ad-hoc style of problem-solving in our communities. With every change in government, the existing pattern of conducting national business is scrapped and replaced with a totally new process. Take a look at the debacle surrounding the Jubilee House. There is no element of continuity which enables the engine of nation-building to run smoothly. Instead of keeping whatever worked in previous governments, we (as 'Apology to witches' suggests) depose free market theories and replace them with communist concepts. Or vice versa. This creates the waste that robs us of the resources we need to propel ourselves forward.

In the end, we are the 'witches'; the very people who are complicit to the chaos that consumes our own efforts.

Darko Antwi said...

A TALE OF TWO MENSAHS

I had to sit on the fence to watch Prince and L.S Mensah balancing the intricate acts of ideologies that rule a world so diverse.

I couldn't have had an elaborate appreciation but that which they give without charge nor malice. They couldn't have been any fairer to a poem that is inclined to 'witches', and with an obscure couplet ending.

Out of their presentations, I got some food for thought: a bittersweet Chinese takeaway and a Cuban compulsory eat-in (
that 'prevents' the spread of HIV/AIDS)

Aside the exotica, they offered, in-passing, a multi-million Jubilee House which I'm adamant to step a foot in. Isn't that sad? As a bonus, I was given an 'overdependant' Dr Kwame Nkrumah, whose dependence on me led to his eventual displacement.

I will not hold Prince to ransom. He meant good in all his arguements. What would have been a disappointment to me is: not to have had a single comment. That would have made me feel alienated - as though my poem is an extraterrestrial material. Also, to have had a lone or just a couple of commentators would, likely, have dawned the syndrome which L.S describes as 'an old lizard sunning on a hot rock'

To Silverzorro
Dear brother, I even appreciate your contribution so far.

LS said...

Oh Brother Darko don't go all Dickens on us. Remember we ( self appointed, so called critics) bring different ideas by our different readings.

Here's Niyi Osundare's poem

The Word

is a pod
quick with unspoken seeds
exploding in the dry season
of occasion

is an egg
broken,
it spreads
ungatherably

ear's food
mind's nurture
router of silences
sun of noons of action.

Summary: the sower went forth sowing.

For a starting critic, I think Ruth Padel's two books: 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem, and The Poem and the Journey are still the best. You can pick them up in any Watersones. If your local British Library does not stock these, ( I think they all do, they are some of the two most issued), you can ask them to.

Also, for everyone check out this site: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/XCP.php

scroll to Episode #64

You can either listen to or download the Leonard Schwartz interview with Chinua Achebe. I'm sure you can also scroll through their archives for other poets.

Anonymous said...

Well seems I spent me powder shootin broadsides at the Chinese--l.o.l.
The poem compact,thoughtworthey and it also generated much debate.Great minds think alike and fools seldom differ.So I also mull over the last two lines.--Silverzorro.

Anonymous said...

In conclusion--Darko, you can in all honesty, be a young lizard basking in the sun of other peoples appreciation--in the power of your pen.--Silverzorro.

Prince Kwasi Mensah said...

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it ws the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way."

Charles Dickens (The Tale of Two Cities)

I believe Ghana is like the France of Charles Dickens' novel. We see vast potential; we experience mass problems. The pendulum swings and we become like the side we are more attracted to.

Thank God for the spectacular win by the Satellites and a week of great poetry by Darko Antwi.

Shakeria said...

lovely