Ghanaian Poetry's Inspirations - An Introduction


What do Ghanaian poets read?

Where, and to whom, do we turn for inspiration?

Do they care about my country? My country's great poets?

In the six-and-a-half years I've been running One Ghana, One Voice, I've received questions like these many times, in many different iterations. What fuels and interests Ghanaian poets seems to be an issue of curiosity for both Ghanaian poets and scholars, and for international observers. Heck, Frank O'Hara even mentioned a similar curiosity directly in a poem.

As the oldest (and therefore longest running) online magazine of Ghanaian poetry, I feel we are well (if far from perfectly) positioned to attempt to answer these questions. As regular readers of OGOV will know, every time we welcome a new poet to the site we ask them the same three (well, four) questions, by way of introduction:

How long have you been writing poetry?
Who are your favorite poets? Which poets have most influenced and informed your work?
What do you hope to accomplish with your poetry?

You can read a recent example of the Q+A here.

Back in 2008, when OGOV was only a year old and the volume of data was much more manageable, I produced a post listing the artists most commonly named in answer to the questions "Who are your favorite poets? Which poets have most influenced and informed your work?". That post can be read here.

The sample size for that post, though, was rather small. So now, five years later, I've decided to both update and expand on that post. These new results come from interviews with 93 poets (the vast majority Ghanaian, plus some non-Ghanaians who write on Ghana) dating from April 2007 until September 2013. Together, those 93 poets listed 298 different artists as influential to their writing a total of 559 times (an average of six "influences" or "votes" per poet).

We've decided to present our date in the form of answers to popular questions we have received over the years. The questions can be read at the bottom of this post - simply click the links for answers!

Some of the answers will be expected, but some will surprise. We hope you enjoy this overview, and if you have any further questions you'd like answered, let us know!

Yours,

Rob Taylor
on behalf of the OGOV team
September 2013

p.s. The original publication of much of this series was delayed due to the death of Kofi Awoonor (whose influence, as you will see, figures large in these results). It should be noted, then, that all the "votes" for Awoonor were cast prior to his passing. One can reasonably expect that since then his influence has only grown. You can read our series of tribute poems to Awoonor here.


Questions Answered

Which continent's artists most influence Ghanaian poetry?
Which country's artists most influence Ghanaian poetry?
Who influences Ghanaian poets more, men or women? By how much?
What types of artists are influencing Ghanaian poetry?
Which female artist most influences Ghanaian poetry?
Which artist from Ghana most influences Ghanaian poetry?
Which artist from Africa (non-Ghanaian) most influences Ghanaian poetry?
Which artist from Europe most influences Ghanaian poetry?
Which artist from the Americas most influences Ghanaian poetry?
Which artist, generally, most influences Ghanaian poetry?

11 comments:

Darko Antwi said...

Incredible forensic move! OGOV has the smartest sense of direction, that gathers the genetic foot and finger prints of the Ghanaian poet. It's going to be some useful stats for our records. Welldone, Rob and team.

Rob Taylor said...

Thank you, Darko!

Do you have any guesses as to what the answers to some of those questions might be?

I can tell you that I guessed about half of them right, myself...

Darko Antwi said...

That would be a hard guess. I can only imagine how surprising this whole exercise will result, knowing that its creator couldn't even hit every throw for the bull's eye. It's like a game of dart. The distance may seem so close.

Still guessing...

Nana Agyemang Ofosu said...

Great work, Rob.

Prince Mensah said...

I got this new poem of Kofi Awoonor in his soon to be published anthology, Promises of Hope: New and Selected Poems, from this site:
http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2013/09/22/read-one-of-kofi-awoonors-final-poems/

African poet Kofi Awoonor (1935-2013) was among those slain in a terrorist attack on a mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The African Poetry Book Fund is set to publish Awoonor’s latest collection, “Promises of Hope: New and Selected Poems” in 2014. Here, by permission of the publisher, is one of Awoonor’s final poems.



ACROSS A NEW DAWN



Sometimes, we read the

lines in the green leaf

run our fingers over the

smooth of the precious wood

from our ancient trees;



Sometimes, even the sunset

puzzles, as we look

for the lines that propel the clouds,

the colour scheme

with the multiple designs

that the first artist put together



There is dancing in the streets again

the laughter of children rings

through the house

On the seaside, the ruins recent

from the latest storms

remind of ancestral wealth

pillaged purloined pawned

by an unthinking grandfather

who lived the life of a lord

and drove coming generations to

despair and ruin



*



But who says our time is up

that the box maker and the digger

are in conference

or that the preachers have aired their robes

and the choir and the drummers

are in rehearsal?



No; where the worm eats

a grain grows.

the consultant deities

have measured the time

with long winded

arguments of eternity



And death, when he comes

to the door with his own

inimitable calling card

shall find a homestead

resurrected with laughter and dance

and the festival of the meat

of the young lamb and the red porridge

of the new corn



*



We are the celebrants

whose fields were

overrun by rogues

and other bad men who

interrupted our dance

with obscene songs and bad gestures



Someone said an ailing fish

swam up our lagoon

seeking a place to lay its load

in consonance with the Original Plan



Master, if you can be the oarsman

for our boat

please do it, do it.

I asked you before

once upon a shore

at home, where the

seafront has narrowed

to the brief space of childhood



We welcome the travelers

come home on the new boat

fresh from the upright tree





From “Promises of Hope: New and Selected Poems,” selected by Kofi Anyidoho, University of Nebraska Press and the African Poetry Book Fund, 2014

Prince Mensah said...

Excerpt from “This Earth, My Brother”

…He will come out of the grave
His clothes thrown around him;
worms shall not have done their work.
His face shall beam the radiance of many suns
His gait the bearing of a victor,
On his forehead shall shine a thousand stars
he will kneel after the revelation
and die on this same earth.

And I pray
That my hills shall be exalted
And he who washes me,
breathes me
shall die.
They led them across the vastness
As they walked they tottered
and rose again. They walked
across the grassland to the edge of the mound
and knelt down in silent prayer;
they rose again led to the mound,
they crouched
like worshippers of Muhammed.
Suddenly they rose again
stretching their hands to the crowd
in wasteful gestures of identity
Boos and shrieks greeted them
as they smiled and waved
as those on a big boat journey.
A sudden silence fell
as the crowd pushed and yelled
into the bright sharp morning of a shooting. …

Delatrophy said...

Prince Mensah, thank you for sharing these poems. I equally agree with you on how you feel about these poem whose words are so touching and mind boggling. Tears are still welling in my eyes after reading these poems reflectively. The words, tone and mood of the poems are clearly shrouded motifs of death, as if the late Professor Kofi Awoonor was actually predicting his own death.

In my first OGOV interview in the Q/A section on January 23, 2010, I did mention what my personal definition of who a poet is: “A poet is a wordsmith with prophetic visions of pent-up emotions alloyed in the subliminal vaults that is made explicit on the grim tufts of reality.”

Based on the antecedence of obsession with the theme of death and aftermath of the Westgate Mall Shooting incident, I guess Kofi Awoonor might have subconsciously or indirectly been foretelling his own death with subtle choice of words. This baffling incident makes me reflect deeply on how directly or indirectly a poet’s personal stream of consciousness (a literary style that presents a character's continuous random flow of thoughts as they arise) impact on his sub-conscious mind. Sub-consciousness in this regard is referred to as the mental activity not directly perceived by the consciousness, from which memories, feelings, or thoughts can influence behavior without realization of it. This sounds very creepy but it might just be the truth.

(To be continued)

Delatrophy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Delatrophy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Delatrophy said...

(Continuation)

The predictive lines of these two different poems of Kofi Awoonor seem to be pointing at one obvious direction: his flow of thought while writing these poems were as a result of the continuous uninterrupted flow of thoughts and feelings through his mind – a phenomenon we termed “poet persona” in order to isolate it from the poet’s consciousness.

How do we cage the poet persona? Is our attempt to cage the poet persona be likened to the futile attempt to hold a moonbeam in our hands? Who or what then is the poet persona? It is the poet’s sub-conscious mind, of course. Whether we like it or not, a poet persona takes a greater chunk of the poet’s consciousness. Did the late Kofi Awoonor somehow intuitively felt the manner and way he would die but lack the repertoire to register, pin-down its connectivity - the ability to communicate with another structure apart from poetry? Who then are the rest of the characters (poet personae) in Awoonor’s poem in reference to his copious use of “we” or “our?” Perhaps it might be referring to participants of the botched Storymoja Hay festival, a celebration of writing and storytelling, in the Kenyan capital last September which was also brought to an abrupt halt because of Kofi Awoonor’s sudden death, or it might be referring to the other victims of Westgate Mall shooting.

“A sudden silence fell
as the crowd pushed and yelled
into the bright sharp morning of a shooting.”

Excerpt from “This Earth, My Brother”
…………

“We are the celebrants
whose fields were
overrun by rogues
and other bad men who
interrupted our dance
with obscene songs and bad gestures”
……………

“But who says our time is up
that the box maker and the digger
are in conference
or that the preachers have aired their robes
and the choir and the drummer
are in rehearsal?”

- Culled from “Promises of Hope: New and Selected Poems,” selected by Kofi Anyidoho, University of Nebraska Press and the African Poetry Book Fund, 2014.


Now, let's take a critical look at what is a poet persona.

What is a poet persona?

A persona, from the Latin for mask, is a character taken on by a poet to speak in a first-person poem. Anthony Thwaite's 'Monologue in the Valley of the Kings' uses the word 'I' but it refers, not to the poet, but to the Pharaoh, Thwaite's persona in this poem. Sometimes a persona may persist across several poems, such as Wendy Cope's alter ego Jason Strugnell.

Dramatic monologues, as they must create a character, necessarily create a persona; however, as a poem using a persona need not tell a reader anything about the situation of the speaker, the narrative, or the person that the poem is spoken to, a persona-poem need not be a dramatic monologue.

Some critics prefer to treat every 'I' as a persona. The biographical truth (or not) of, say, George Szirtes' 'Preston North End', would be considered irrelevant. Others allow a belief in poetry as personal testimony, which Samuel Menashe insists on in his introduction to 'Self-Employed'.

http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/glossaryItem.do?id=8086

Delatrophy said...

"Death is like a stubborn housefly
that keeps gnawing at our raw wounds
when the wounds are about to heal
it sinks again its hideous proboscis
yesterday it was Atta Mills, Achebe, Seamus
today it’s the turn of our beloved Kofi Awoonor....

"who shall be the next?"

It's Madiba himself. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

Our mourning cloaks are still hanging loosely on our necks...
streaks of dry tears marks on our sombre faces...

This is our time to remember Madiba...


On facing the death penalty in 1964, Nelson Mandela said:

"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to see realised. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."