Five Questions with Kofi A. Amoako:
1. The two poems of yours that we've featured on OGOV, "Night falls..." and "Memories of the Electric Company of Ghana" both have a touch of nostalgia to them. In relation to your memories of Ghana, what do you think you personally get from writing these poems? Is it a way to share your memories publicly, or a way to record your memories for yourself, or a way to unlock memories you may have forgotten, or... ?
It is definitely about recapturing memories and smiling, laughing or crying to them. On a personal level, it is a way of re-living those moments. It is also a way of capturing "the good old days", as every generation likes to maintain. And surely people who have experienced similar things will be able to picture the instances and join in saying that "ah, those were indeed some good times." It’s like sharing childhood stories with old friends.
2. In our last interview you listed your favourite poets, and then added "the poetry in old high-life songs". Could you elaborate on that more? What are some of your favourite high-life songs? And which songs jump out at you for their poetic content?
I love highlife because of the intelligence, words, rhythms and the quality musicianship. Old high-life songs are filled with wonderful messages and the lyrics are full of great symbolism, proverbs and analogies. It is really impossible to pick favourites, but here are some memorable ones:
- Alex Konadu sings “A dumb (mute) man had a dream/ how is he going to get it interpreted" (this song is about the powerlessness in being voiceless OR the powerlessness of being the lone witness). Another verse of that song goes, “if you see ‘truth’ crying by the roadside, it’s because ‘lies’ are beating him”.
- Nana Ampadu sings “family is not a social club that you can join and quit/ If it were, I would’ve quit mine a long time ago" (he talks about the difficulty in being a permanent member of a structure - as in accepting the good with the bad, whether you like it or not).
- In another song, Nana Ampadu says "The fact that I’m going to die does not hurt me as much as the possibility of an evil person inheriting my family" (having no control when death is involved).
- In “Patience” by Yamoah’s Band, one verse goes “if you don’t look carefully, you won’t see it clearly / if you doing listen carefully, you won’t understand it".
- Amakye Dede sings “when a rock breaks, you can’t sew it / If it could be sewn, I would’ve sewn mother back together” (he equates mothers to rocks while crying about the finality of death)
3. How do you choose where to break your lines? To break your stanzas?
Line breaks and stanza breaks are very difficult for me. This is because I have a tough time deciding where to cut off and begin again. For me, since I prefer the story form of writing, as in ‘retelling’ stories, I enjoy blabbing on and on. I like to get the ideas out of my head and onto paper as quickly as possible so a lot of the time I don’t think about breaks until after the idea has been released.
4. This poem is filled with motion - the pestle and mortar "dance", ladles "swim", etc. I wonder here how you planned this poem before you wrote it - did you start with a complete vision that included all of this motion (the mother's busy kitchen, the children in the playground, the bats, etc.) or do you start with perhaps one image or one line and build from there in a less "envisioned" manner, pulled perhaps from line to line or image to image?
Thinking back, the evening time was filled with a lot of movement or motion. You see that everybody is trying to complete their tasks before darkness settles in (eg. nobody wants to pound fufu in the dark). And this is especially so for people who are away from home – they try to get home before full darkness. So you have working men walking briskly, people rushing to get on buses and taxies, sellers doing their final accounting to close down shop in order to rush home to their families, etc.
I’m glad you noticed these ‘motions’ because I certainly didn’t consciously think about it. It wasn’t planned in that way – I was just attempting to describe what I remember of that part of the day.
5. Were you always obedient to your mother when she would call you in? Do you have a particular memory of a time when you disobeyed and got in trouble? This can be either trouble that resulted from staying out late, or trouble that came down upon you when you returned home and faced your mother!
Young boys enjoy playing and football got many of us in trouble. I would be called to do my evening chores like fetching water with the other kids before the tap was shut off. But of course I would continue playing while the others did their rounds. When I finally got home, I would still have to go get the water (either alone or with the rest of the boys who had ignored their mothers’ calls). This often involved traveling long distances because the closest taps would be closed for the evening. You were always scared to return home empty-handed because that would result in beating. This was a daily thing.