Uncle Ebo Wheelbright, a poet, literary historian and photographer, is a native of Ghana. He composes most of his poetry on newspapers and leaflets enclosed in medicine boxes.
Five Questions with Uncle Ebo Wheelbright:
1. How long have you been writing poetry?
I don't know exactly when Ibegan writing poetry. What I know is, poetry has been part of my life right from birth. It comes to me in different forms. For instant, in images or words or sounds or movement. When I didn't even understand the word poetry as a little child, I was cutting pictures and words from magazines and rearranging (pasting) them on a surface, entranced by the beauty of imagination and aesthetics.
2. Who are your favorite poets? Which poets have most influenced and informed your work?
I don't have favourite poets. Though I love reading poets whose poetry have many levels, who define time & place. For instance, Russian poets & writers of 19th & 20th century like Pushkin, Pasternak, etc, Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc., Scandinavian writers & poets like Ibsen, Martin Andersen Nexø, Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf, Halldór Kiljan Laxness, Sigrid Undset, Isak Dinesen, Pär Fabian Lagerkvist, Tomas Tranströmer, etc., and others like Rainer Maria Rilke, Stefan George, Paul Valery, etc., plus, John Skelton, John Wesber, Robert Southwell, Donne, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Amira Baraka, Robert Bly, Adrienne Rich, Chuang Tzu, Li Po, Sarojini Naidu, M. Madhusuda Dutt, Rabindranath Tagore, Amrita Pritam, Narayan Surve, Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez, Borges, Fanon, Spivak, Said, Pynchon, Larkin, Heaney, Yevtushenko, Achebe, Soyinka, Faiz, Peter Abrahams, Aristophanes, Sembene Ousman, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, James Baldwin, V.S. Naipaul, Richard Wright, Derck Walcott, Kofi Anyidoho, Czeslaw Milosz, Joseph Brodsky, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Wislawa Szymborska, Akpalu, etc. etc., plus traditional poetry and literture of Ewe, Yoruba, Zulu, etc. etc. I could go on & on, but you get the idea. They may be, perhaps, poets who have meant a lot to me at various times. I turn to them when there is a need.
3. What do you hope to accomplish with your poetry?
Actually, I don't exactly know what I hope to accomplish with this poetry. I'm creating from the scrapes of our wishes and hopes. I think I'm doing something which in music they call "atonal" - that is, lacking in key. The result is the formulation of the 12-tone system & the composition is serialism. The sum-up is that knowledge is the key to achieving responsible individuality although the knowledge always brings disillusionment. It always seems that I'm defending the blessings of individuality against conformity. Thus, searching examination of society in contrast to uncritical allegiance, and the richness of the created art as opposed to destruction.
Thus, using this style is not only to write witty, satirical poems about public figures & social systems but also to express about nature, especially through symbolic interpretations of the landscape around me. In my book, Mischief of Poetry & Photography: Autobiography of U. E. Wheelbright, I use this style to explore the questions: Who are we? Where are we coming from? What are we doing here? Where are we going?
4. Before publishing this poem, you and I had a brief exchange about the ending of this poem, which puzzles me. The syntax and word choices disorient me a bit, which leads me to find the poem to be both intriguing and frustrating, at once. Can you discuss a bit why you chose to write in this style? What effect do you hope for it to have on the reader?
Over the years writers & poets have been fighting within themselves what grammar should look like when they turn their attitude to society & imagination. Shakespeare did. His in a different direction. Creating words and phrases like assassination, bump, eventful, lonely, fair play, catch cold, disgraceful conduct, a foregone conclusion, etc. He used nouns as verbs for dramatic effect. In Measure for Measure, for example, a character remarks that Angelo "dukes it well", referring to the forceful way "in which Angelo handles the duties of the absent Duke of Vienna." He changed words, invented words, and borrowed words from other languages. Though many of his words he employed are no longer used. However,the bottom line is that, by freely experimented with grammar and vocabulary, he helped prevent literary English from becoming fixed and artificial.
Through Orwell in his essay "Politics and the English Language", Hilaire Belloc & others have been concerned for the preservation of the language from corruption. So does T.S. Eliot in his East Coker. However, this doesn't mean that a creator must not do what he wants to do with a language in his hands. Many critics have attacked Shakespeare right from his days to now. Many of them were bothered by his failure to follow rules. During his lifetime, Robert Green attacked him for thinking he could write as well as university-educated playwrights. He was also accused of often breaking the neoclassical rule against mixing comedy with tragedy. The neoclassical rule based heavily on Aristotle's theories on drama creation. Though Dr. Johnson praised Shakespeare for holding up a "faithful mirror of manners and of life", he rejected his comic sexual passages as vulgar. He considered them as his weakness.
Now back to the language and its grammar, Thoreau in his Journals [February 3, 1860] wrote this:
When I read some of the rules for speaking and writing the English language correctly - as that a sentence must never end with a particle - and perceive how implicitly even the learned obey, I think:
Any fool can make a rule
And every fool will mind it.
5. You mentioned in your bio that you are also a photographer. Which love comes first for you, poetry or photography? How, if at all, does one influence the other?
Poetry is my first. Photography is my first. Word or image. It does the same thing but in different ways. They influence each other. Although camera & poet produce pictures of the world, it is only the camera that records full visual detail in a moment of fleeting. The poet, on the other hand, selects only some details he sees. This adds to the nonvisual elements to the presentation. This selection is guided by the purpose of creating the pattern to be felt in a language of see, hear, smell, taste, and touch, or the move in our imagination from actual objects to animated abstract, perhaps our sense of feeling which is stimulated by the memory of a camera.
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