Rob Taylor lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He lived in Accra in 2006-07 with his wife, Marta. His first collection of poetry, The Other Side of Ourselves, was published in April 2011 from Cormorant Books. Rob will be launching his new book in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto throughout May and early June. For specific dates and locations, please visit his website.
"I Have Gone to Keta: Daytrip" is dedicated to Kobena Eyi Acquah, and is reproduced from The Other Side of Ourselves by permission of the author.
Rob is a co-founder and editor of One Ghana, One Voice.
Five Questions with Rob Taylor (asked by Prince Mensah):
1. In "I Have Gone to Keta: Daytrip", you are a stranger travelling through town, taking snapshots of people and places in your head, trying to understand what it all means. Was it easy to connect to the people (and/or place) or did you get the sense of being foreign heightened in your experience?
The poems I wrote while living in Accra can generally be broken down into two halves, one for the first half of my time spent there, and one for the second half. The first half is mainly poems of alienation and confusion, as I settled into a country very different from my own (i.e. “lost” poems). The second half is more poems that exist both “inside” and “outside” the Ghanaian culture (i.e. “lost then found” poems).
"I Have Gone to Keta", however, messed that system up. Keta is like few places on earth, and upon visiting it I was suddenly disoriented again, and found myself back writing about alienation and confusion. But this time it was a little different, a little more informed (certainly reading poems on Keta by Kobena Eyi Acquah and Kofi Awoonor helped prepare me), so I like to think of this poem as a “lost then found then lost again” poem - as a result, themes of appearing and disappearing, remembering and forgetting, rising and sinking, run throughout the poem. I assume similar themes must run through the lives of the people of Keta, who are constantly gaining and losing and regaining their town in their struggle with the sea.
2. Knowing you as a Canadian son of Ghana, this poem comes as no surprise. What are the other emotions and images that did not make their way into the poem?
Hmmm... I tried to pack most things in there. I do think it’s hard to capture the amazement that I had at taking in the scene of a town being consumed by the sea. It’s a scene that, due to global warming, we’ll probably see play out more often in the future - sadly, I suspect that Keta will become less and less of an oddity over the coming years. But that means that Keta is ahead of its time, in a twisted way. It’s a town on the forefront of learning how to adapt to rising sea levels and coastal erosion. It’s an early warning.
3. One of the many vivid snapshots of Keta in "I Have Gone to Keta" is about
a man wading in waterIn this picture, were you pointing to the social scenario wherein some individuals benefit, be it inadvertently or not, from other people's misfortunes?
up to his ankles who pulls small, netted fish
out of what was once his neighbour’s living room
I was mainly trying to capture the scene. There are so many odd and unexpected sights in Keta that in many ways this poem was simply my attempt to catalogue them. The story of Keta – a town that is being destroyed by the very natural forces it depends on for its survival – inevitably evokes a great number of political, social, and existential questions. My first goal, then, was to have readers see the scene, and then let those challenging or provocative images go to work in the minds of the readers in whatever ways they would.
4. There is another picture that contains a moment of clarity for me. It is
where drunks slam sticky handfulsDo you think what a society does (whether good or bad) as a whole unit forces its citizens, who might or might not agree with those actions, to constantly clarify that society to strangers? In other words, is our misery as individuals caused by the recklessness of our societies?
of banku onto our table and a miserably
sober man apologises for all the drunks
No, I don’t think so, on either front. I do think it’s difficult to avoid both misery and the desire to clarify.
Often we can’t see the forest for the trees, but in my experience I find it’s just as easy to get lost in the forest and miss the beauty of the trees. For me, when the drunk bar patrons offered us banku, it was a simple act of generosity, but to the other man in the bar it was tied in to all these fraught, abstract ideas about “Africa”.
Depending on your perspective, the state of Keta can be seen as a sign of the peoples’ failure, or of their resilience – this largely depends on whether you focus on the collective or the individual, the forest or the trees. To cultivate a positive mindset you need both perspectives, and you need them to exist in balance with one another. When one dominates the other, misery and a constant desire to clarify can overtake you. But whether you fall out of balance is up to you to determine.
5. Where the words fade, the music remains. Just as the women of Keta hummed
the tuneswhat are the lingering memories you still have about the Keta you visited in the poem?
to childhood songs whose words
they can no longer recall, whose melodies
they thought they’d long ago forgotten
At this point it’s hard for me to separate the poem from my memories, as the visit occured over four years ago. Certainly the image that sticks in my mind the clearest is of the fishermen – the lagoon was so shallow that they really did appear to be walking on water. I was very struck by it – as the son of a Christian minister there aren’t many things that you are taught are more miraculous than walking on water!
Keta is a special place. Despite their hardships, the people we met were warm and generous, and often joy-filled. I hope this poem can be seen as an appropriate tribute to them, and their miraculous town.
Websites: RobLucasTaylor.com, spread it like a roll of nickels