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.