Kwadwo Oteng Owusu is the third born of four siblings. He grew up primarily in Kumasi and graduated from Prempeh College and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology with a B.Sc. Development Planning degree. Currently he is doing his national service in Mfantseman Municipal Assembly, Central Region and is attached to the World Vision Mfantseman ADP, Saltpond.
Six Questions with Kwadwo Oteng Owusu:
1. This is your second poem on our site to use hard end-rhymes, a style which has been out of fashion for quite some time (though perhaps is making a comeback via spoken word, rap, etc.). What draws you to this style: older poets and poems, this new wave of spoken word artists, or is it simply your own personal creation?
I think I am drawn to this approach, some of the time, simply because of the challenge that writing a poem of this nature presents. It is never easy to rhyme throughout the various stanzas of a poem and still keep your storyline intact. I am not a fan of rap music. Instead, I think Charles Wesley, whose works set me off in poetry, influenced this aspect of my poetry writing.
2. Still on your rhyme schemes, a rhyme scheme such as the one in "Tales from the Ocean's Belly" seems like a risk - if it works for a reader, it greatly enriches the poem (and makes it easier to memorize and carry with you in your mind). If it doesn't work, it makes the poem feel sing-songy and old-fashioned. Do you consider this risk as you choose/find your form for a poem, or is the audience only a later consideration?
In this poem, I experimented with both the idea and the technique. I have not written a poem of this kind, with such a strict rhyme scheme, in a long time and so yes, I guess it is risky, but is a risk worth taking. I dared to fail greatly, perhaps, so that I may end up succeeding greatly.
3. The rhyme scheme isn't the only formalized element of this poem - the stanzas are quite rigid in terms of line number and set repetitions. Why are you inspired to add these restraints, and what does putting these restraints on your poems do to them?
These additions (restraints) make the author think about each word he places in each line of the poem. For me, it provides the needed challenge to push myself further. In the end, when the poem looks and sounds simple, you know, you have perhaps created something in depth but deceivingly simple to the onlooking eye.
4. Another theme of your writing that we've discussed a bit is poetry as an educational tool. Obviously, "Tales from the Ocean's Belly" is filled with historical lessons about slavery and the creation of the African diaspora. To be aware of this, and to feel the weight of it, though, we must already be aware of the historical narratives the poem references. In other words, the poem doesn't "teach" us the basic history of what happened. What does it teach us, then? And why is this a necessary form of education?
The poem is actually about the oil find in deep seas of Ghana (Stanza 5). The bit about slavery is the attempt to remind people that, while we are in so much of a hurry to enjoy the benefits of the oil find, we must remember, that, there were some of our kinsmen who lost their lives to sea on their journey to the Americas (never made the final feast). Perhaps, what we are calling the oil blessing, could actually be their "sweats darkened by rage". After all, African countries that have discovered oil, have always had a civil war of a sort. The poem therefore seeks to advise our present generation to be careful and also stimulate the youth (like my self) to read about our history.
5. It's interesting how different my interpretation was from your original intention. This flexibility, if not ambiguity, of poems can be both a strength and a weakness. Do you think that something being open to multiple interpretations makes it better or worse as an educational tool?
The poem in itself tries to match two ideas side by side - the bit about slaves who did not make it to the Americas and the other about the oil field - and so you would expect one to be more prominent than the other. But in the end, if the interpretations are not too far from these two ideas, and it succeeds to stimulate the urge to read about any of the ideas, then it succeeds as an educational tool. Remember, the poem is to make you want to read about the storyline under discussion.
I think for a poem to be open to multiple interpretations is not too bad, as it communicates to everyone in a different way. That is what education is meant to do, help each individual to identify his or her own unique identity.
6. How is the poetry life in Saltpond? Do you know of other poets in the area?
Saltpond is a town of and for history. I have been inspired by what I see every day on my way to work. This current poem is an example. I do not know any other person in Saltpond who is interested in poetry but I hear they are all around. I am yet to meet one though.
In this era, poetry shall not be for the old but for the young and that is what my friend is doing. i am impressed by his poem. A well knitted work, woven with the swiftest of fingers. Well done.
In my opinion, the strength of this great poem lies not only in its structure but also in the didactic premise. This type of rhyming scheme is truly daunting but it was handled masterfully and perhaps effortlessly too by the poet. This shows that Kwadwo Oteng Owusu is truly an apt student of the pioneer rhyme master and wordsmith, Charles Wesley. I guess no work of art, written or spoken word could be termed as old fashioned because such things are trendy and have the penchant of always bouncing back to take the centre stage once in a while. The world is a circle and its cyclical concept of time hints that history essentially repeats itself.
Rob is right, indeed for a brief moment, you got me also thinking along a different path of interpretation but it is also good that you shed more light on the real premise of the poem. But I also like how you buttress your assertion at the Question and Answer section - “flexibility, if not ambiguity, of poems can be both a strength and a weakness”, when you replied that -
...“a poem to be open to multiple interpretations is not too bad, as it communicates to everyone in a different way. That is what education is meant to do, help each individual to identify his or her own unique identity”.
Excellent work. The poem, its premise, multiple levels of interpretations, and your own personal chipping in of insightful words to guide the reader are really enlightening. Nice read, thanks for sharing.
@ Nana and Dela...ur comments encourge me...i hope togehter, we can lift African poetry to greater heights...
To Nana and Dela....thanks for your encouraging words...thanks seniors!!!
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