Answer: Kofi Awoonor.
Kofi Awoonor was listed as an influence by nineteen different OGOV poets, followed closely by Anyidoho, Brew and Okai.
The top ten:
Most Influential Ghanaian Artists
1. Kofi Awoonor, mentioned by 20% of poets
2. Kofi Anyidoho, 14%
3. Kwesi Brew, 12%
3. Atukwei Okai, 12%
5. Ayi Kwei Armah, 8%
6. Kobena Eyi Acquah, 4%
6. Ladé Wosornu, 4%
8. Ama Ata Aidoo, 3%
8. Efua Sutherland, 3%
10. Martin Egblewogbe, 2%
Not surprisingly, almost all these poets are from the last great age of Ghanaian poetry, and the two most popular are associated with the University of Ghana, Legon. Awoonor's influence was felt by all in the outpouring of grief and celebration following his recent death (you can read some tribute poems to Kofi Awoonor here).
It's nice to see a younger poet (and OGOV contributor), Martin Egblewogbe, sneaking in at the end of the list. It makes one wonder: what will this list look like in 20 or 30 years?
Click here for an overview of this project, and to read other similar lists.
What do you think of these results?
Leave your thoughts in the comments!
Kofi Awoonor's influence is a revelation that needs attention. I suggest the scholars amongst us should study more about his works and read deeper meaning into every letter he wrote. "It's nice to see a younger poet, Martin Egblewogbe, sneaking in at the end of the list". So nice!
Rest in peace Kofi Awoonor.
This wonderful literary forensic research has actually come up with a very brilliant final result. The final result is quite illuminating. Now we all know which artist most influences Ghanaian poetry; Kofi Awoonor. From my critical observation of the survey, it is not only enlightening but it has also generated a whole lot of new questions to which answers must be given, if we really want to know the depth and in what extent does Kofi Awoonor’s poetry influence Ghanaian poets. Indeed, our very own Rob Taylor has not only made many significant observations but also raised whole new worthwhile questions. I hereby wish to make most Ghanaian poets who might have listed Kofi Awoonor as their most poetic influence to re-access their claims in the real sense of “influence” perspective. Ok, now let’s put it in another way “Does Kofi Awoonor’s poetic style and thematic preoccupation rub on their own writing styles of poetry? Or does it only inspire them and lead them towards a new different direction in literary style? This way, we can really come to terms with other very important questions raised by Rob.
Another aspect in wish we may greatly benefit from this forensic literary research is taking in cognizance the new questions Rob Taylor raised, if we take another critical look at the rest of the names of African poets in this final result:
1. “Kofi Awoonor was listed as an inspiration by nineteen different OGOV poets, far ahead of Maya Angelou, Kofi Anyidoho, and Wole Soyinka, who were each mentioned thirteen times.”
2. “All of these artists, however, were born before 1960. Who will come after them to help inspire the next generation?”
In my opinion, to really answer all these newly generated questions we may first of all wish to know the real meaning of this very all-encompassing magic word - “influence” in general and perhaps extricate it from “poetic influence”
What is “influence?” A literal definition could mean the following: inspiration, effect, impact, stimulus, encouragement, guidance, power, sway etc.
“Which artist most influences Ghanaian poetry?” Kofi Awoonor tops the list. “Where, and to whom, do we turn for inspiration?” Kofi Awoonor tops the list.
Does the choice of Kofi Awoonor means that his style really influence the poetic styles in own individual writings? Or does our individual poetry reflect traits of Kofi Awoonor’s extreme dirge poetry? If yes, then his exemplary legacy lives on. If the answer is no, then we may perhaps guess that perhaps his influence on us only inspires us and leads us towards new different personal directions in literary style. If the answer is “Not really sure of my position” then perhaps his influence only acts as food for thought that needs further reflection. By the way “food for thought” as used in this context means “mental stimulus”- something that sustains or stimulates the mind or soul, his extreme dirge poetic style. Ironically, I fall under this 3rd category in terms of what actually the impact of Kofi Awoonor’s poetic influence on me is and how it really reflects on my own poetry.
At this juncture, I wish to use my humble self as a personal example of Kofi Awoonor’s poetic influence,
but before I delve into all that, I want to point out here that now that Kofi Awoonor has gone to the great beyond to join the ancestors does not mean that I would switch over suddenly to another poet to take over his first place on my mental list. Dead or alive the legend lives on just like other non-African poets like Shakespeare, Blake, Frost, Donne, Emily Dickenson, Yeats, Milton etc . Although there is another particular living Ghanaian poet of note that fascinates me and has the same measure of respect I have for Kofi Awoonor, and to be honest, he has really influenced me in the same measure and in the fashion as the late Kofi Awoonor. His name is Kofi Anyidoho.
(PS. Continuation coming soon….)
The striking similarities of Kofi Awoonor and Kofi Anyidoho are not only in their similar dirge poetry style or the fact that they both share the same first names, Kofi. Apart from bearing the same first names, it is quite interesting to know that they both had mothers who were professional dirge singers. No wonder they both complement each other remarkably in the same literary genre. I guess it’s just naturally that I switch my attention more to this living Ghanaian poet because it is definitely not as if he was actually living under the shadow of the late Kofi Awoonor or being overshadowed by him. They are both great poets of repute who had unflinching support and mutual respect for each other. The two great poets stayed true to their friendship cause till the very end. Kofi Anyidoho still mourns the late Professor Kofi Awoonor like no other. They have hitherto shown their respectful maturity and leadership roles through display of mutual respect; by that, I mean, that both poets strive to stand to the occasion and show the other that their identical poetic styles and respective thematic preoccupations are worthy of respect and would not be intimidated, while displaying respect for each other.
Let us remember what Rob Taylor mentioned earlier: “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.”
Let us also remember what Snr. Poet Darko Antwi said: “...As we reflect on the figures, and imagine the tally of names behind our inspirational histogram, let us remember one inclusive gentleman who would forever be added to chapters of individual stories, and the celebration of the One Ghana One Voice magazine. Let us remember Kofi Awoonor.”
In the same vain, let us also remember the brilliant suggestion made by Prince Mensah: ““I think we should not allow our great men to die before we eulogize them. I think we should write praise poetry for them while they live so they will get a foretaste of how they will be remembered.”
Let us also remember what yours sincerely, Dela Bobobee humbly suggests: “Well, I also think that we should merge our dirges with praise poetry into a fine tapestry of intricate literary mesh that will mark the beginning of our own generation when the pace-setters of African literature are all gone down memory lane. That way, progeny would take us seriously during and after our lifetime on the stage of life.
I have come to regard OGOV as a veritable pool that is not only nurturing new generation of Ghanaian poets of repute, other poets of African and Non-African descents but also for its laying of strong all-encompassing foundation for past, present and future literary databank, in what SP Darko captures well – “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.”
(PS. Continuation coming soon….)
Indeed I was among the OGOV contributors who had made personal remarks of Kofi Awoonor’s poetic influence. Now I want to make a definitive statement of his poetic influence on me as a form of explication. Personally, Kofi Awoonor’s huge influence on me is in twofold. In spite of his seemingly bleak poetic stance, I have great admiration for his exemplary personal life as a poet, diplomat, statesman, scholar and cultural icon on one part, and also his unique poetic flair embellished in Ewe dirge and mythic tradition which he in turn had inherited from his mother who was said to be a very renowned funeral dirge singer. In this regard, I think Kofi Awoonor's greatest influence on me is my excessive admiration of his mastery of transliteration of Ewe folk songs and dirge incantations from vernacular to English language expressions without losing the original poignancy of the mournful streak. This is quite remarkable and admirable. It is actually this same firm grasps of the nuances of transliteration that I strive to attain but not necessarily the Ewe dirge tradition per say.
I have named the title of my poem in memory of the late Professor Kofi Awoonor as “Deeper Songs of Sorrow” after his “Songs of Sorrow”, which to me is indeed his best-known poem. I added “deeper” to the original poem for emphasis in terms of impulse. This is so because according to Kofi Anyidoho: “In terms of impulse, the dirge impulse for the Ewes goes beyond the fact of death as the end to everything: there is always a certain projection beyond death, that’s why there is that combination of a real sadness with a touch of optimism, the ability to look beyond the present circumstances of sorrow”
"Deeper Songs of Sorrow" was actually written to capture the textual analysis of repetitions usually found in folk songs. It is a deliberate attempt to portray repetition as the most conspicuous technique which manifests in Ewe dirge, in what Kofi Awoonor says: “repetition of lines, or of large segments, repetition of imagery and of sound” and that the specific function of the form is to “enhance the chorality of the lament” Repetition when used this way pinpoints one unique aspects: If a key emotion evoking device in a narrative is image, the major shaping tool is repetition, the patterning of various kinds that includes anticipation and predictability as essential aesthetic adjuncts. Patterning of image, moreover, continues to elicit emotions even as it shapes and clarifies that response. The artist manipulates images, the emotionally experienced activities of diverse characters projected by means of words and the body, to establish the contours of form. The audience is, in a sense, both spectator and participant; it is a part of the raw material of the performance” In my unconcealed attempt to imitate the master dirge poets the use of repetition is used copiously in Deeper Songs of Sorrow. Most often, repetition in Anyidoho’s poetry comes in the form of parallelism, a related form, which helps to intensify the atmosphere of lament or grief.
In another positive way, the poetic influence of Kofi Awoonor on me actually made me to read extensively and try to glean deeper meanings embedded in the literary works of other African and non-African poets. Interestingly, right from time, I have always been a very optimistic person who sees good in every wrong and sees silver lining in every dark cloud, and so I actually was prone to write more of inspirational and healing poetry rather than dirges because even in dirges I learn new songs of elation. And so it is indeed rather ironic that the subject of dirge poetry has always fascinated me and drew me to its mournful lines like a moth to a flame of fire. I detest pessimism and everything in me tends to reject any hint of self-pity, yet I still love and studied dirge poetry greatly. My case can be likened to the juxtaposing of contraries in William Blake’s poetry. The more I studied dirge poetry of Kofi Awoonor and other poets, the more I receive great motivations to write inspirational and healing poetry eg. "Healing Verses of Winter"; as is if I derive an essential energy from the paradoxical source of contraries. The more I studied Kofi Awoonor’s dirge poetry, the more I have come to agree with William Blake that “Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence."
I guess this is how clearly I could express in words my personal conviction of Kofi Awoonor’s poetic influence on me. I don’t know about others. It would be quite interesting if you would be willing to share your personal views on this topic too. Thanks.
1.Harold Scheub, TheTongue is Fire: South African Storytellers and Apartheid. (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1996): 150 – 151
2.Jane Wikinson, Talking with African Writers: Interviews. (London: James Currey, 1992):9.
Bobobee's analysis is a remarkable lead upon which other colleagues (and hopefully I) would take clue to address the importance of Kofi Awoonor to contemporary Ghanaian poetry, with emphasis on the meaning of 'influence'.
DSP Dela Black Bobobee, welldone and welldone! This is breathtaking!
Thanks, SP Darko Antwi for your encouraging comments. I know I can count on you to add your own voice to this topic under discussion. It would be quite interesting to read your personal views because it will surely shed more light on the importance of Kofi Awoonor to contemporary Ghanaian poetry, with emphasis on the meaning of 'influence'. It is also my belief that our other colleagues will also add their contributions, as doing so means further study of Kofi Awoonor's works and the impact of his 'influence'. This way, we may somehow end up reading deeper meaning into every letter he wrote, as you earlier suggested.
From the day I read This Earth, My Brother at the British Council in Accra, I fell in love with Awoonor. It was not his poetry that attracted me (at first). It was his prose. It was his uncanny ability to convey simplicity with the power of apt words. I was in awe of his ease in making accessible lucid thoughts of sexuality, sensuality and secrecies of the heart to his readers. His presentations of the life African were portraits of truth embodied in uniqueness and universality at the same time.
This Earth, My Brother was a jolt for me, an abstract work that resonated with me in its many surprising sentences. It challenged me, as a budding writer, not to be lackadaisical with what I wrote. It made me conscious of the influence of diction and the control of narrative. His works were borne out of a peculiar authenticity sorely needed in today's African literary world.
Awoonor was our Achebe. He was unapologetically Ewe and that fact permeated his writing. That could have rubbed folks the wrong way. However, as a writer, I understand him. I understand that one cannot write well when one is not sure of one's identity. It is the confidence in one's identity that enables us to do what our creative juices fuel us to do. In a world wherein identity is stripped away by technology and a sheer irreverence for culture, writers like Awoonor are zephyrs. The importance of identity in Awoonor's works was so paramount that he wrote without references for his readers. He dropped names in his works without explaining their meanings. It was the reader's responsibility to find many other ways of understanding his works. Awoonor spoke to us as a community, subtly nudging us to value what we had (and barely have now). His enduring quality was his devotion to the Ewe dirge. He, especially as a former ambassador from Ghana to the UN, knew the power of language. He knew the power encapsulated in his native tongue and he felt, as every writer should, that it was his sacrosanct duty to channel its beauty to he wold. I hope and pray the African poet of the 21st century will bless us with the beauty of their languages. There is no shame in giving us an experience of the world that is not Westernized. There are millions of human scenarios playing through every corner of this world and it is our onus to make all of them heard. Awoonor was a pioneer when it came to the preservation of his own language through mechanics of the English language. As the brilliant literary critic Dela Bobobee stated, Awoonor was able to transliterate dirges from his native tongue without losing meaning. I hope we will all take a cue from his illustrious works and continue what he started.
It has come to a time that literary communities in Africa should begin invigorate themselves to sell their perspectives to the world. It is critical for our universities and businesses to support art as an arm of tourism. We cannot wish our way to a place of change. That has never happened and Kofi Awoonor knew that. That is why he wrote the way he did.
Amazing stuff! Prince, this is great and thoughtful of you. I have also enjoyed the Awoonor poems you posted. Thanks.
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