Mensa Press, a small book publishing company that focuses on African-centered and globally-enlightening literature. He is also a member of the Academy of American Poets and the Wineglass Court Poets of Columbia, MD. His poetry has been published in the UNESCO’s Other Voices Project, the Sun and Snow Anthology and the Little Patuxent Review. He has written sixty books of poetry.
Prince is an Associate Editor for One Ghana, One Voice.
Five questions with Prince Mensah:
1. This poem deals with scam artists and the people who fall for them. This kind of thing happens in small villages and towns around the world, and has also been happening on a global scale during the financial meltdown, in which some got very rich while the rest of us were left to pay the bill. Pulling the lens back even further, many would argue that such a scam has been perpetrated by the West on Africa for generations. Likewise, by the leaders of Africa to the people. All four of these levels could be seen as inspiration for your poem. Which, if any, originally drew you to write this poem? One? All four? None of the above?
"portrait of a lotto prophet as savior of the people" started as a poem that poked fun at certain people's confidence in lotto prophets (or speculators). The more I thought about it, the more I realized how it paralleled the four levels you mentioned. At that point, I chose to minimize the comic angle, in order to focus on the main message.
There is a strand of humanity out there that chooses to profit from people in the misfortune of ignorance. I am repulsed by their behavior. You were right to point out that there is a scam in most social relationships. People who should know (and do know) better bilk money and dignity from those who depend on them for guidance. The financial and political worlds are macrocosms of this human problem. It is usually the poor and simple who end up being victims of the 'lotto prophets' among us.
2. Have you ever been scammed, or witnessed friends or family being scammed? If so, what effect did this have on you, on your sense of community, and your ability to trust others?
I have been scammed before. It was by someone who came into my life as a friend. That was when I lived in Ghana. That person presented himself as someone with an answer to a certain pressing need in my life. In the end, he was not who he said he was. Although I was not scammed out of millions, it was an abuse of trust and time. It made me leery of everybody around me, especially those with similarities to that person.
The Akan have a proverb that goes, batakari hye bebrebe amma y'ahunu kramo papa, to wit, "too many counterfeits make it difficult to identify the real thing". The deficit of trust in our global village is a direct consequence of a culture of scamming, regardless of what form it took.
Another thing I realized among victims of a scam was the nature of their reactions. They responded with either superstition, supposition or sanguineness, an undercurrent of self-blame (in the victim) that continues long after the scammer is gone with the loot.
3. You use a refrain quite effectively in this poem. Is this something new for you? What drew you to this technique?
I have been experimenting with refrains as a device of emphasis. I am presently working on a spoken word project tentatively titled, My Turn To Speak. That process has taught me the importance of repeated words to the human ear and, by extension, the human mind. I have become more sensitive to that essence in my newer poems.
4. The title of this poem is interesting, as it begs the question "Who is painting this false "portrait""? The scam artist? The villagers? The poet? The reader? It adds a depth of meaning to the poem and leads me to thinking about how you come up with your titles. When in the creation process do you write the titles: before you start the poems, or after you are finished, or somewhere in the middle, or perhaps does it change from poem to poem? What are your main goals when choosing a title?
The picture is being painted by the scammer and the scammed as they co-exist with each other. It is also a perception formed by poet and reader, who have the 'outside, looking in' advantage, because they can smell the scam from the get-go. The intention is the interplay of reality versus fantasy. Who wins? Who loses?
My process of titling differs from poem to poem. In this particular case, I had the title before I wrote the poem. What inspired me to start working on this poem was the phenomenon of lotto prophets in Accra's busy streets. I don't know if they are still allowed to ply their trade any more in Accra but, back in the day, they were part of the palette of the urban experience. Those prophets had 'magic numbers and formulas' that they sold to gullible people who, maybe out of the desperation of poverty, chose to put their widows' mites in any venture with the promise of profit.
5. It's been over a year since we last featured a new poem of yours on the site. What have you been up to in that time? Any new writing?
There has been a flurry of adjustments; one of them was welcoming a beautiful daughter in April and facing the wonderful challenges of fatherhood. That being said, I am trying feverishly to get copies of the five Mensa Press anthologies to each contributor. I have learned a lot of valuable lessons from the entire process. I realize that time lines can be difficult to keep when budgets keep fluctuating. I want to use this medium to apologize to all contributors for the delay. You shall receive your three contributor copies per anthology, as promised, by the end of this year (or earlier)
Two books of my poetry were released this week: the first one is titled Twinglish: A Poetic Merger of Twi and English. It is experimental in the use of language, because I fused Twi words and phrases with English. The second book is One Hundred Miles of Nile which, coincidentally, features "portrait of a lotto prophet as savior of the people". I am looking for people to review both books.
I started my writing life as a short story writer and playwright. However, it has been awhile since I wrote prose and drama. I intend to start working on several short story/playwriting ideas. I am praying that a year by now I would have something different for the literary world.