The Victory of Okyeman - Prince Anin-Agyei

The season of indefinite dilemma,
Why are you wailing?
Should I choose between
The image and the shadow?
Hmm, Okyeman is still waiting
To choose between victory
And his twain brother, defeat,

Alright, Okyeman!
Give me back my bread
And take away my water,
No, give me back my water
And take away my air,
No, give me back my air
And take away my pride,

No, give me back my pride
And take away my life,
No, give me back my life
And take away my good name,
No, give me back my good name
And take away my nothing,

Ah, my bread is buttered with blood,
Whiles the air is still socked with tension,
Is that the Ashanti infantry approaching
Swiftly from the far west for bloodshed?
Can anyone seize the head
Of this nephew of Obiri Yeboah?

The head of this great King,
Osei Tutu is ours today,
Indeed, when crocodiles
Eat their own eggs,
What will they not do
To the flesh of a toad?

18 comments:

Nana Ofosu Agyemang said...

This poem is well written. I love the approach but the content, my comments i shall restrain.

Darko Antwi said...
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Darko Antwi said...

I am thrilled by the sequential overlap of lines and ideas (building-up in disguise - to a tragic end). But I have to be diplomatic not to be consumed by the displeasure of the act itself.

Welldone Prince.

Prince Mensah said...

Prince Anin-Agyei is courageous to tackle a historic event that has been a cause of tension between Asantes and Akyems of Ghana. The poem is a masterpiece but like my fellow poets, I shall refrain from commenting on the details of that event over the River Pra. There are thousands of themes in our history to inspire our poets. However, our cultural sensitivities are deterrent to such literary progress, which, in itself, is a sad reality. I hope a day will come when we can speak of the gory and glory of our history; not to evoke pain and revenge, but to learn lessons from acts never to be repeated among us.

Rob Taylor said...

I hear what everyone is saying about this poems' subject matter and perspective, and appreciate the restraint shown by those upset by it.

It leads to an interesting question, though, about the poem's "speaker". Did you read this poem as the personal thoughts of Prince Anin-Agyei, or as the thoughts of the poem's speaker? Does that make a difference to your feelings about the poems? Should it?

Darko Antwi said...

Rob, to answer on my part, I read 'The Victory of Okyeman' (as I do in my approach to every poem) as the thoughts of the speaker.

Nevertheless where there is any blame for an offensive or inaccurate report (speech), its always going to be the responsibility of the artist behind the report.

But in this case Prince has produced a material that is historically true - and without doubt inoffensive. Just that it is likely going to evoke the memory of some of his audience, who may be reasonably susceptible to this sad event of the past.

Rob Taylor said...

Darko,

Thanks for the reply - it's always interesting to see how others take in poems.

I wonder a bit about this part:

"Nevertheless where there is any blame for an offensive or inaccurate report (speech), its always going to be the responsibility of the artist behind the report."

Are you suggesting here that the speaker in a poem can't lie? Or say offensive things? Can poets never take on the voices of unsavoury or unpopular people?

Or perhaps you mean it in a different way, that if the poem, for whatever reason, offends a reader, that is the artist's responsibility. But what if the reader is offended for an "unreasonable" reason?

I don't mean to be grilling you or anything - I am asking these questions as much to myself as to anyone! It's a complicated issue, to be sure, and mostly likely one without absolute answers...

Darko Antwi said...

Dear Rob and fellow readers, though we could agree - which I do - on the tendency that 'a speaker in a poem can lie or say offensive things', we may not be so much in favour of the speaker's right to manipulate the course of his creative voice.

Of course poets are at liberty to 'take on the voice of unsavoury or unpopular people'. That wouldn't constitute the breach of any set-code. Nevertheless the poet should be conscious of his moral obligation, lest his work is evaluated: offensive, insensitive etc.

Oh yeah, there's always going to be an irrational reader somewhere who will take offense on 'unreasonable' grounds. That would rather be an unfortunate case, should we shift the blame on the writer / poet.

I have read several stories about the misfortunes and absurd private lives of some British kings. All written jokingly by British authors. To the best of my knowledge, no-one seems to care about the offensive nature of the books. Is it because the British reader is politically matured? Or is it simply because the written works mock centuries old monarchs, and there's no need being emotional to the mockery of their content?

Whatever the reasons of the Britsh readers' attitude are, it leaves out the fact that they do not have an ethnically diverse population as the readers of 'The Victory of Okyeman', for whom or about whose ancestor Prince Anin-Agyei has written without restraint.

Though I have objected to the offensive nature of Anin-Agyei's work, I can not deny the fact that it is insensitive and potentially divisive, since a group of his audience may reasonably be susceptible to the sorrow of the event he plays-on in his poem.

In my own experience, I wrote 'Junoir Jesus' (a poem radically in favour of Jerry John Rawlings) about 4years ago. But knowing very well that it will make a reader furious, I decided not to publish. I felt that whoever would be furious will have a good reason for his/her fury . But where we do not know or sense the terrible consequencies or effect of our work on readers, may we be pardoned.

Rob Taylor said...

It seems to me that what you are disagreeing with is more the intent of inaccurate or offensive speech than the inaccurate or offensive speech itself. In other words, so long as the author's intention (as the reader perceives it) is to ridicule or otherwise reject the offensive perspective of the speaker, then the poem is ok. But if the author intends to glorify or otherwise support the inaccurate or offensive speech, then they've failed to meet their "moral obligations"?

Does that sound right?

I still believe it is a somewhat unreliable position (in that the reader can never really know the intentions of the author), but it seems much more reasonable than my previous understanding.

All this leads into the question of "poet as witness". Can there be a "value-neutral" poetry, where a historical moment is described without "taking sides"? Where offensive things can be said and described without either supporting or rejecting them? (I'm not suggesting this is what Prince did in this poem - just thinking generally). Personally, I'm not sure of the answer.

I'm enjoying this little back and forth, Darko - I hope you are too (and would be happy to see others join in).

Prince Mensah said...

In the African geo-political landscape (especially in the past), some things are best served untouched. Letting sleeping dogs lay where they are has been an unwritten convention when it comes to the discussion, and analysis, of volatile inter-tribal relations that existed before the whiteman ever set foot on Ghanaian soil. There is a proverb that goes, 'se wo fiife afunu aniase a, wo hunu saman' which translates as 'if you fidget with the eyes of a corpse, you will see an apparition'.

I can understand where Prince is coming from. He is a poet who is commenting on a historic event just as William Shakespeare wrote The Rape of Lucrece, a poem about a historical event in which a man raped his friend's wife.

The thin line that exists between the poet's voice and the poet's intent cannot appease the raw emotions that have been stoked for centuries by our forebears. All of us were non existent when the Akyems fought the Asantes on the River Pra, but we are all reading this fine poem with an invisible gag order on our freedom to express our opinions about the event. This is because when it comes to history, especially military victories and defeats, the shouts of victory are cacophonous in the realm of the defeated.

Prince Mensah said...

These questions begs to be asked: how can we discuss our history as Africans in a non-emotional and factual manner? Are there subjects that are off-limits and why? What does this mean for the scope and breadth of Ghanaian literature as the discussion of history begets angry silence? What irony do we find in the Sankofa philosophy, which asks us to refer to the past to guide the future, in this literary reality? Perhaps, we Ghanaian poets have to tread on egg shells or we might have to begin to break the rules our society places on our freedom to express and darn the consequences. The answer to these questions will differ from poet to poet.

I empathize with Darko because no one wants to be reminded of an ancient sorrow, an event that ruffled the feathers of the Asante. All of us, including our non-Ghanaian brethren, are in a quandry. Tribalism still holds a huge influence over most things we do. Nationalism was supposed to cure these ailments but it has not worked well.

All I can say to this matter is this: Prince Anin-Agyei has written a fine poem. Are we going to throw the baby with the bath water or are we going to look beyond the subject matter and see a poet trying to innovate with a difficult subject? That which must not said, that which must not be remembered, that which evokes latent fury and reignites the spirits of vengeance. Those are the manacles of the past the future has to tag along, whether we like it or not. In the end, we are who we are, not because of what we brought to the world, but because of what we came to meet.

Prince Mensah said...

Footnote:
The rape of Lucrece was the triggering event for the founding of the Roman empire.

Darko Antwi said...

I'm really enjoying it, Rob. Having a contribution from Prince also fulfils my desire to read different views.

Sitting back to read what I wrote, I've noticed that I didn't concentrate on the right of the poet / speaker in a poem to: devise lies, fictionalise parts or a whole fact, bear false, offensive and sacarstic statements, and take on the voices of unsavoury or unpopular people to achieve his literary goal.

It's okay for a poet to use any means within, and even beyond the disposal of his imaginary and literary stock. Plagiarism is the only usage he should forbid in his practice.

(Sometimes the speech of the unpopular character or idea turns-out to be the most rightful and justifiable among the lot).

I have picked some key explanations from both Rob and Prince. They're all relevant to my understanding of a world without a 'value-neutral' poetry. Where one exists, I bet it would be no poetry at all.

But may I ask Prince Mensah a direct question, as he may be conversant with the chieftancy (kingmaking) conflict in northern Ghana. Prince you can avoid answering, if you should.

It goes: Do you think that it will be safe or proper for a writer of any tribal identity to write a creative work that jubilates over, but does not condemn, the beheading of Ya-Naa in these present times?

If it will be improper to do so in the present, don't you think the factors that make it improper and perhaps offensive today, will be valid in future - in spite of our changing society?

Just bear in mind that if even our mindset has developed to the level of British tolerance, for example, our feelings can easily be wounded by such literature.

Nevertheless, it is very much dependent on how a writer treats his work, and how we interpret or percieve it.

P.S
There's a Rob Taylor poem this week. May we attend to it.

Rob Taylor said...

Don't worry about my poem! This conversation is much more interesting. I, too, am interested in more of what Prince has to say - I'll be waiting patiently (and hopefully!) with Darko.

Prince Mensah said...
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Prince Mensah said...

I maintain that The Victory of Okyeman is a splendid poem. However, it thrives on pyrrhic themes, on issues that cannot be discussed devoid of emotion, because they feed on the sensitivities of another tribe. This reality has created a cloud of dispute over the fine poem.

That being said (and in response to Darko's question), I will never advise a poet or writer to dissect sensitive issues, such as the Ya-Na case in a POV (Point of View) piece of literature. That aspect of writing is very factual and commands neutrality. It is best undertaken by journalists, who in such cases, are liable for any careless or inaccurate description of events. There is no poetic license in writing about real pivotal events that have unsavory implications on either side. No bias or bickering, no gloating or grandstanding can sustain any work of literature against the ire of readers with differing existential perspectives. Such an attempt will be like trying to create a two-legged stool or to create a stone-stove with two stones.

I think The Victory of Okyeman has provided us with a classic example of where art stops and accuracy begins, of where the pen stops and where the penury of opinion begins. I am saddened that such a masterpiece is being goaded by its subject matter.

In the West, this would have been a non-issue, for there have been many 'classic' works of literature that have extolled the barbarity of conquest and have not been penalized by readers. However, we are Africans, guided by ancient and sacred rules that forbid us to reference painful, taboo subjects, that warn us of the dangers in resurrecting undesirable memories, that bid us to hold our tongues in the midst of victory and/or defeat because words cannot be taken back once they are spoken. (continued in next post)

Prince Mensah said...

Personally, I will not write about such delicate subjects. The world is full of issues; each one, a universe unto itself. However, I respect Prince Anin-Agyei's decision to write on whatever he chooses to write about. The bottom line is that there are consequences for our writing choices. For an example, Salman Rushdie paid a price with his freedom after writing The Satanic Verses (a book that was derogatory about Islam). You cannot write a Holocaust-denying poem and expect Jews to be silent. Neither can you write a verse extolling slavery and attract black people to your book signing event. There are lines all around us; some can be crossed, others cannot be crossed.

I shall end my two-cent worth of opinion with an advice that an old man gave me. He said, 'Ye didi we e, nso yen kasa we e' which means 'We can finish our meals but we can never finish our conversations'. I hope Prince finds worth in what we are saying here. This is not a criticism of his writing style at all. It is a critique on what he chose to write about. This scenario can happen to the best among us. The way we handle this matter and the lessons we learn out of it can make us better writers, better scribes of our struggles, and better positioned to handle the what ifs, the why nots and the how tos of our craft.

Please, Prince, do not avoid your pen and paper because of this. You were the first poet to be featured on One Ghana, One Voice Magazine. You are a pioneer, a trailblazer and one thing I know about trailblazers is that they do things that get people talking. Good or bad, you have sparked a conversation about expression, about what is and what is not out of bounds. You have shown your ability to risk the displeasure of your readers and I respect that in a writer. We may all disagree on what and how we write but we are all here because we love writing. Not only do we love writing, we love our various cultures and do want to put them on literary pedestals. There is nothing wrong in having those sentiments. However, wherever you stand, your right hand touches the left hand of the one facing you. Your smile might look like a frown to another; your tears might tickle someone pink. These are the dynamics we are dealing with, on this issue. We want the words we write to be considerate of the other. The 'other' person, the 'other' race, the 'other' tribe, the 'other' nation et cetera. It is in consideration that we find conciliation. It is in conciliation that we find common ground. It is on common ground that we find courage to face the unknown. We are future leaders of our world and we must begin to lead through our words (written and/or spoken).

May we continue the courtesy we have accorded each other in this discussion. After all, we are siblings in the scribe- bloodline, soldiers in the same struggle.

Darko Antwi said...

Still enjoying it. In my opinion, Prince has given the most thoughtful of answers - but not necessarily a definite one, since he makes it open for the writer to apply his conscience before daring to either: condemn or praise - both of which could go against a party.

If I understood Prince very well, his wise essay bores down to the need for the writer to promote peaceful co-existence, and to foster national unity through his art. That's amazing, Prince!

Rob, I believe you've enjoyed Prince's as I have. I will be willing to respond if the discussion is to continue after this post.

P.S
What a Round Table Discussion!