Jacob Kobina Ayiah Mensah is a vegetarian, poet, artist, translator, journalist and teacher. He edits The Rough Sheet Tanka Journal and manages Kofi Edofo Gallery and Kukubenkuka. He lives in the southern part of Ghana.
Five Questions with Jacob:
1. Your last two poems on our site, this one and your soccer poem "The Goal", have used the space of the page in "non-traditional" ways - this poem is a prose poem and the other spread the words out across the page to form a net, in a style reminiscent of another OGOV poet, Daniela Elza. What drives you to explore these different forms? What do you think they add to the poems?
I see myself as a stylist and unorthodox thinker; I hate doing the same thing again and again. I began my poetry career as a visual poet and now use words. I hope to use something else next time.
In composing every poem I try to illustrate the character of it. That explains why my poems are in varied forms. It seems again that my characters are wild in their attitudes and appearance and this adds to the shape of the poem.
I believe that Thoreau is right in this case. In his Journals, he wrote on November 16th, 1850 that,"In literature it is only the wild that attracts us. Dullness is only another name for tameness. It is the untamed, uncivilized, free, and wild thinking in Hamlet, in the Iliad, and in all the scriptures and mythologies that delights us, - not learned in the schools, not refined and polished by art. A truly good book is something as wildly natural and primitive, mysterious and marvellous, ambrosial and fertile, as a fungus or a lichen. Suppose the muskrat or beaver were to turn his views [sic] to literature, what fresh views of nature would he present! The fault of our books and other deeds is that they are too humane, I want something speaking in some measure to the condition of muskrats and skunk-cabbage as well as of men, - not merely to a pining and complaining coterie of philanthropists." [source]So whether the character is a chair, table, egg or what, I allow it to say its voice. Thus, this form and wildness.
2. Continuing on the last question, were you inspired by any poets you'd read to explore these forms, or did it spring up in you naturally?
I have come across a large number of poets exploring these forms, especially the 20th and 21st century poets and fiction writers. Though their approaches are quite different from what I am doing, they encourage me to explore these forms beyond their traditional limits.
3. This poem is filled with surreal images, which is rather unusual for poems submitted to OGOV. Is a surrealist style common in your writing, or is this an exceptional poem?
To a measure I am surrealist artist. My paintings, sculpture, print-making and photographs are scraps of expressionism, cubism, vorticism, futurism, dadaism, surrealism, fantasy, abstraction and magic realism. These may have a profound influence on my poetry, prose and play writings. However, I think the surrealism in my poetry is due to a large number of French poets (Apollinaire) and Spanish writers of Latin America (Pablo Neruda) I have read. Surrealism is one of the roots of my poetry. However, I am not too much into artistic movements or schools. My work, poetry or painting, can take any vision of the destiny and cultural significance of literature and art.
"Imagination is more important than facts," says Albert Einstein. Napoleon Bonaparte adds, "Imagination rules the world." Imagination is seen as hallucinations, nightmares, dreams, shadows, memories, insanity and mental disorders. This calls for surrealism. Nevertheless, I still have some writings which combine a realistic, sometimes grotesquely exact description of details.
4. The last time we interviewed you, you answered our standard question "What do you hope to accomplish with your poetry?" with the intriguing answer that you wish "to perform with Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, and Romas." Could you tell us a bit more about your answer, and the connections you feel between yourself and these historically oppressed groups?
Oh yes. I will perform with these native peoples. I am grouping a band of poets, musicians and dancers of these peoples. The name of the band is "Incredibles". I have more works to do before we come out.
I have composed poetry and essays about these peoples and others from Africa. I share their pains and love. I write for the oppressed; it is the reason I am a journalist. There are three collections of poetry for this project: "Songs of my Love", "Opening the Tribes" and "Hairs of Earth".
5. How is your writing life going these days? Do you have any major projects on the go?
I am now writing more poetry in Ewe, Twi (Akwapim), Fanti, Spanish, Catalan and Basque. Unfortunately, I am back working on a very, very long epic poem I left behind many years ago. I am also looking for time to read Roberto Bolano's 2666, a long fiction.