Author Profile - Darko Antwi


Darko Antwi was born in Ashanti New Town, Kumasi, in May 1976 to Kwaku Antwi and Elizabeth Donkor. After his secondary education at Bekwai Seventh Day Adventist, Antwi taught in local kindergarten and primary schools for five years.

In September 2002 he travelled to the United Kingdom. During his stay in England, he was occupied by a string of odd jobs, including the position of a factory labourer, fabric launderer and newspaper columnist.

Antwi is currently the proprietor of Seaweed Books, publishers of Phillis Wheately Chapter and organizers of both the Ahenkro Book Fair and the Miss Akoto Book Club.

Five Questions with Darko Antwi:

1. You posted an earlier version of "Tapestry" in the comment section of last week's poem, "french conference in the drc" by Jabulani Mzinyathi. In a subsequent comment you noted that you wrote the poem "instantaneously" upon reading Jabulani's poem, and that "something unusual was going through [your] mind". Since then you've edited the poem significantly, to the version we see today. Can you walk us through the process you went through (the moments of inspiration and rounds of edits), and perhaps shed some more light on the "something unusual" that was going through your mind?

When I read "french conference in the drc" I thought both within and outside of its context. Discounting the colonial label, the political atmosphere and economic conditions of the Democratic Republic of Congo, I found the poem to be surprisingly intolerant of "celebrating growth of the french language" by an African host. The African is "still in the spider's web", acknowledges the speaker in Mzinyathi's poem. Yet the writer issues a not so witty political objection, helpless to its rescue.

In my disappointment, I wrote "Tapestry" as an indirect response as to how languages should be treated. From the beginning to the end-line, I was inspired by a sense of respect for languages. I think languages should be treated like food or people. It should be within our choice to consume or befriend, irrespective of origin or ethnic background. Some people like local dishes. Others want to go foreign. Someone wants a bit of this and a bit of that. It's all a matter of choice. Modern independent states also have the right to make choices, just as an individual citizen would to determine his or her linguistic destiny.

I have edited "Tapestry" twice since its first draft, which was posted firsthand on 29th October. If it meets some constructive criticisms, I may edit more later. [Editor's note: since receiving this reply from Darko, he's further edited the poem a third time!]

2. Why do you think you found that the best way you could respond to Jabulani's poem was in another poem? How do you think your response would have differed - in terms of message - had it been delivered in a different form (i.e. a prose response)?

Rather than nothing, "Tapestry" may have been the best response I made. But I barely thought of it as the best. It was what I had at that blank moment to communicate. A response in prose, if I had any, would have pointed direct references to Mzinyathi's poem. That brings me here to believe that prose writings, as elaborate as they could be written, are most probably comprehensive. Not many readers would understand the telegram of "Tapestry", unless explained.

3. It's very interesting to watch the development of this poem through its edits from your initial post to its current state. Why did you add the reference to Proconsul africanus in the current version, for instance? And what drew you to transform the ending as you did?

I just wanted to say that, in spite of their speech function, human beings are mortal. They pass away like other animals. Nevertheless human beings, by natural design, pass away by passing on wisdom and knowledge to the living and future generations, through the art of speech. The tongue is therefore symbolic. I could have referred to any other animal, but I wanted to draw attention to the possible extinction of languages. Hence the bygone primate, Proconsul africanus, makes an effective shadow to loom broadly.

In the last stanza I wanted to make a strong case for preservation. I wanted the speaker to be seen as a will-maker who wanted the preservation of his valuable/sensitive part in the trust of those he deems competent. In the frame of incompetence and failure to preserve language, we can place the picture of Africans, who the speaker is likely referring to as "my people". So to avoid his incompetent people, he suggests his executors do or say something cunning to outwit them.

4. I wonder about the inclusion of Ewe in the list of languages that the speaker consumes, seeing as, unlike the other languages mentioned, it is an indigenous language to Ghana. Could you discuss why you included Ewe? How do you think the poem would read differently if "Ewe" were replaced with, say, another European language?

I wanted to create a speaker who has an appetite/love for languages from all sorts of backgrounds. So it could have been an inclusion of any other Ghanaian or African language that would help the making of a variety of popular and unpopular, tasty and tasteless, bony and boneless meals. (Personally, I like the Ewe language more than any other Ghanaian language. That's personal, I insist). Replacing Ewe with another European language would have made the speaker a glutton without a care in the world for a balanced diet!

In all seriousness, I wanted to create a scenario where the speaking, learning and even the celebration of language by any person or group of people could be seen as a matter of preference based on discretion, and not a levy. So, it could have been European languages throughout. Yet the message wouldn't have been compromised, since languages in Europe have their differences.

5. I will pose for you now a question that I asked Jabulani Mzinyathi in his Q+A last week: How do you feel about Ghana, and yourself, being part of the English-speaking world? Do you think that is something worth celebrating? Criticizing?

If Ga, Akan, Swahili, Portuguese, or Zimbabwe's Chishona was one of the dominant languages in the world, and the official language of Ghana, I would have stood by it. I would have taken pride in it because one language becomes great for the right reasons. I'm so proud to be a speaker of English. And I feel no shame for Ghana's role in the English-speaking world. Ghanaians were not forced to speak English. The language has served a good purpose of bringing nations together. Mufti-lingual Ghana must be grateful, especially.

The African can celebrate French or English and yet pursue their own identity. Unquestionably the indigenous African languages should be promoted. We can either choose to promote them side-by-side or over-and-above the foreign languages. That done, we wouldn't fight against or resent the spread and dominance of the Anglo-Franco giant in this our competitive world. If we don't want to remain "cultural bats", let's promote what we have - and do nothing to discourage what others unite to promote.

There is something I have learned: English belongs to any nation that adopts it, except that the US, Australia and other advanced countries have thought it wise to brand theirs in books. People from different places don't speak the same English. Our differences in attitude and accents divide it into Nigerian English, Spanish English, Kenyan English, Indian English, Jamaican English, etc. The good English people have pardoned all of us. They have let us go free for some of the wonky-croaky accents we corrupt their language with. I'm joking, of course! Like the English people, I love the diversity associated with the Queens language. The beauty of it made me write the following poem in 2003, when I was just a year old in London:

The Accent Syndrome

On a summer errand
at the High Road of Tottenham,
vibrant symphonies meet
to sound English like:
a crunch from apple bite
a rustle from withered leaves
a honk from car horn
a fizz from dissolving tablets
a clink from wine glasses
a pop from an opened bottle
a sizzle from frying sausage
a hiss from punctured tyre
and jingles from a bunch of keys.

not forgetting the free whirr
of a fan; the burr virtuoso
of the good English people –
in whose liberal setting
the orchestra blooms.

Back to the question of celebration. If I choose to use an iPod, a blender and a mower, I think I will celebrate them too. By so doing, I would be appreciating the brains behind them, as well as the technological Western culture that inspired their invention. Does that mean I'm against the patronage of local made tools? No! Of course I would wish, support and even apply, if I can, for an improvement in some primitive tools we make and use in the African world. Does that mean I'm against foreign goods? Not at all.

Contact Darko:


Unknown said...

thanks rob for the democratic space that we enjoy here as poets. naturally i had to be perhaps the first to respond. thanks brother darko antwi for your poetic response. i like the idea that you had to edit the poem thrice. yeah writing is never complete. that is my view. it is a striving towards perfection. each one of us is entitled to their views. perhaps ghana was not colonised? if it was then the question of enculturation was not out of choice. it was forced down the throats of indigenous people who suddenly found themselves in subjugation and confronted by alien ways of doing things. the education systems changed from the informal to the formal ones. correct me. the system was then run by people speaking a foreign language. you either had to shape up or ship out. at least that is what i know about zimbabwe. maybe ghana went through that too. in zimbabwe i remember when one had to carry some card written' i am a donkey' because one had failed to speak in english at school. they were then subjected to this humiliation. with this humiliation came a deeep revulsion of one's mother tongue. so adopting english, french etc was not out of choice but out of grim necessity. the system needed servants who could serve the new master. sad but true. english, french, germany , portuguese spread their tentacles through conquest. perhaps you may know this. yes we cannot throw out the baby with the bath water. yes we may use all kinds of english based pidgin but that is the spider's web we are in. language cannot be neutral at sheep, black market,etc. even nursery rhymes like baa baa black sheep are not just that.when last did i see a black sheep. but the one in the rhyme gave away all he had! i write in english and chishona- my mother tongue. yes now i have a choice. darko have you read decolonising the mind by ngugi.enjoy it. check out also dambudzo marechera 1957-1987. in that work my compatriot was asked if he ever thought of writing in chishona. hear the response of the great dambudzo-'page 7' shona had been placed within the context of a degraded, mindwrenching experience from which apparently the only escape was into the english language and can detect here the dislocation which is what i also express in my poem.yes i am a cultural bat. a bird? an animal? perhaps english came to ghana via trade and not conquest. in my situation it was conquest and i am a product of years of subjugation. yes i agree i have to use this language to my advantage but is it possible? may i state though that the debate is interesting. i also implore others to join it so that it does not become a darko-jabu affair only. ah shall i take some credit for inspiring your thrice edited poem. rob taylor you are a gem for letting us have this space where we explore our ideas. let me end with another quotation from my compatriot marechera-'page 7 ' i took to the english language as a duck takes to water. i was therefore a keen accomplice and student in my own mental colonisation' that is exactly where i am hence the indignation when among other things at the drc conference, the growth of french is celebrated against the back drop of bitter struggles with their roots in foreign lands.i will write in english still ha ha ha. i still feel the alienation. someone has to translate my works for the benefit of those who provide me with the ideas of my creative works. writing to me is organic. am i even making sense. i may not like your views but i will defend with my life your freedom of thought and expression. hey folks join us here in this debate!

Darko Antwi said...

Yes Jabulani it's my joy to say you deserve a big credit for inspiring the writing of 'Tapestry', just as much as Rob Taylor and his team who grant the space and editorial help.

My heart goes out to you for the hard times your forefathers went through. May Zimbabwe cry no more!

I've really enjoyed Jabulani's commentary. I'm equally interested in what other friends have to say.

Thank you.

Unknown said...

perhaps just a parting shot. ghana was called gold coast. is that not so? i thought also that it gained independence from a colonial power. my people were also inspired by the struggles of kwame nkrumah. my president robert mugabe even taught there and had his heart taken by the great sally hayfron mugabe. if i recall well ghanaians back then were taken into slavery. zimbabweans would not have suffered a similar fate for we were further inland. an injury to one is an injury to all. colonisation and enslavement - crimes against humanity! should we not say africa wipe off the tears and take your rightful place as the cradle of mankind!none but ourselves.some day we must work ona joint project darko. we select poems on a thematic basis and we see how far we go. freedom of thought and expression. tolerance of divergent views should be the hall mark

Unknown said...

The Accent Syndrome is a poem that never leaves the mind after it is read (or heard). Its power lies in its uncanny ability to activate essence in common things and actions. This poem has to be read in literature classes worldwide. I just love it.