Five Questions with Darko Antwi:
In September 2002 he traveled 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 the proprietor of Seaweed Books, publishers of Phillis Wheatley Chapter and organizers of both the Ahenkro Book Fair and the Miss Akoto Book Club. He also serves as a Contributing Editor with One Ghana One Voice.
Five Questions with Darko Antwi:
1. With "Scarecrow" you have joined the long list of OGOV poets writing about the harmattan. That said, do you consider this poem to be "about" the harmattan, or is the harmattan simply a feature of it?
Standing by the title, the speaker is reporting the aftermath of a frightening moment. Reducing it to characters, it is as well about the natural stunt of Harmattan: the wrath of one violent tropical condition. When ground and sieved, Harmattan would come to surface. All put together, it could be related to the need to go into the deep to uproot and discard every form of fear, visible or invisible: fear of heights, fear of darkness, fear of pregnancy, fear of the future, fear of cancer, fear of people and so on.
2. Have you written many poems about the harmattan? Is it a subject you're interested in writing about, generally, or was this a rare appearance of it in your work?
'Harmattan Shall Flee' is one of my earliest poems. That was written in the 1990s. A street typist around the walls of Kumasi Central Post Office got it organised on an official paper, costing me something less than ₵500 (5GHp). I wanted it published. I tried Daily Graphic and a couple of national newspapers eventually. None of them published nor replied. Probably it was not worthy. Maybe it failed largely on evidence that those papers hadn’t any column for poetry by then.
Since that disappointing attempt, I didn’t write anything about the subject until ‘Scarecrow’ came to mind in 2004.
3. "Scarecrow" is a very haunting poem. I wonder what inspired you to write it - a line? An image? An idea?
In 1988, my family was two years into a new home it had moved in to from Ashanti New Town. Everything was going well. New buildings were being put up on the bushy plots closest to ours. The neighbourhood population was growing. The second of my three brothers was born. That same year, I started secondary school at age twelve. The only bad news was the death of my beloved uncle, the 23-year old Akwasi Gyamfi - a sufferer of sickle cell disease.
One early morning, within the first week of Akwasi’s death, I was sent into his room to pick an item. Already, I had developed a fear for darkness. At night, I couldn’t stay in any of the rooms unaccompanied. This time round, I got scared while it was still day, while attending to the room of my deceased uncle. Some few yards to the door, I heard noises. I panicked. I went back to my grandma reporting the ghost I thought I heard. "Ghosts are not real," she responded in disbelief. But I remained quiet and wouldn’t move. She rebuked me saying: "Come on… let’s go in there… show me that your mother or father who has turned into a ghost."
So terrified and humiliated, I followed her into the room. The rest of the story are in the lines of "Scarecrow".
4. You have always been a leading critic and commentator on Ghanaian poetry. How do you find the state of the Ghanaian poetry scene now, compared to five years ago?
Five years ago, there was so much heat. That was a necessary energy, I think. By then, friendships were formed, errors were made, lessons were learned, and confidence was built. Now, it looks very much relaxed. It is not at all a negative relaxation; because between 2009 and the present, we have witnessed the fruit of the weekly interaction and the author exposure of the OGOV scheme, particularly. Since then several books have been published to the credit of some of the poets who were featured. Though minor, the influence of the period can’t be underestimated. Mariska Taylor-Darko and Elikplim Akorli are among the few whose works should not be taken for granted. I am proud to add that I have recently finished a foreword for Nana Yeboaa’s new book, "On the Banks of the Volta".
Interest for online poetry has gone down partly because the stage is active with regular Spoken Word performances. It's encouraging to note that the desire for attention is getting increasingly competitive. Sticking out my neck, it is my firmest opinion that the Spoken Word movement has rather given a boost to the written form. Nana Asaase, Mutumbo da Poet and others have become household names to the attention of the art they represent. There could be other trivial factors to the decline of online activities. We've got to examine them.
5. Continuing off that last question, where do you see things going in the next five years? Ten years? Are you optimistic about the current trajectory we're on?
We don't have much control over the production of quality titles. Improvement is essential, nevertheless. We are now left with a relationship with the public. Ghanaian poetry has to be discussed by ordinary people. It has to be in the news. We have to befriend the mainstream media. They have to write about poets and poetry. That job should not be the reserve solely of journalists. I am afraid they have little expertise, and little commitment/interest in creative writing. Writers (poets) should volunteer critical and exciting reviews. The papers are not too willing to pay allowances. Let's be ready for a sacrifice. Let's do this with the hope that the demand for poetry will become part of the everyday life of the average Ghanaian. Let's do this with hope that someday in the next five years, publishers will have confidence in Ghanaian poetry. Let's hope that in the next ten years, several poets and some excellent works will get domestic and international recognition. That will go a long way to encourage the next generation.
As of now, we have a bunch of poets who have been inspired to share their works with colleagues. It hasn't gone beyond that. It takes calculated deeds to go beyond this dull practice of poet-to-poet readership. I would love any alternative suggestion for the progress of Ghanaian poetry. If any better deed is put to work, I would have faith. But where there is no such application, other than the current trajectory, optimism would be a farce to uphold. As earnest as attention is needed, Poetry Foundation Ghana and Writers Project of Ghana are doing a lot to publicise and develop talents. Thanks should go to the dedicated teams and visionary leaders behind their operation.