Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

Title: The Place We Call Home and Other Poems
Author: Kofi Anyidoho
Year: 2011
Reviewer: Kwabena Agyare Yeboah

kofi

Credit: Nana Fredua-Agyeman’s Goodreads page

The Place We Call Home and Other Poems is the sixth poetry collection of Kofi Anyidoho, one of Ghana’s foremost poets. It is his second collection after close to a ten year hiatus. This break would have a profound effect on the poet. During that period, he went back to researching into traditional poetry of his people – the Anlo-Ewe. Yet, his return with PraiseSong for TheLand (2002) is unlike Elergy for the Revolution (1978) and A Harvest of Our Dreams (1984) which imitate the dirge, halo and other traditional song forms on page. Anyidoho is a traditional poet and of change.
The collection is divided into three movements. Movement One opens with a prelude. It invokes Husago and Misego. Husago also appears in PraiseSong for TheLand (2002). Husago is ‘’an introductory dance to all Yeve (diety) ceremonial dance-drumming . . . to alert all members of the society to the commencement of the rituals.’’ It is a forward-backward-forward dance. Misego is a variant of Husago.

Credit: Flickr

Credit: Flickr

In some of Anyidoho’s previous books, he recycles ‘’birth-cord.’’ In the more traditional past, his people buried the after-birth of twins and planted trees on them. Towns and villages were founded on them. This was how they were connected to home or the idea of it. In a literary sense, it means generations of artists. Newer folks should be connected with older folks like fetus and mother. It is bridging the gap between the past and present.
Here, birth-cord is replaced with Husago. It is re-thinking how the past connects with us, the present. Like Sankofa, the Akan aphorism, Husago teaches us that we should go back to the past to gather the selves we left behind. The categorization is actually a mimicry of the steps of Husago. Forward-backward-forward. Or, backward-forward-backward. The collection of poems is a performance of Husago and we, the readers are part of a society, a select few of those who believe in the power of words, who are called to witness the commencement of a ritual – of home-going and home-coming. It is an extended metaphor.
Anyidoho always re-members a group in his collections. It started with Vida Ofori, Adjei Barimah and others students who died in student protests in the late 1970s to mid-1980s in Elergy for the Revolution (1978).
Movement One. Backward step. The first two poems are chants that precede the performance (like call to worship). This section of the recollection recalls history of the African continent. It reads like a poem from Ancestral Logic and Caribbean Blues (1992).
Movement Two. Forward step. This section deals with geopolitics of war. It carries forward a voice that expands the definition of ‘’my people.’’ It defiantly places Africa on the discussion table to talk about what a superpower is doing wrongly in the world. It re-imagines powerscape.
Movement Three. Forward and Back steps. This section tells varying reflections of the poet-persona. It is a mature voice that has grown to appreciate and accept certain realities in life. It does not fight nature. It accepts time.
I wanted so much to hand over
blueprints for endless future plans (Post-Retirement Blues, p. 83)

But
in my haste
to embrace Eternity on Life’s High Ways
I forgot I overlooked Old Time
still lurking among the AlleyWays (Post-Retirement, p. 86)
At the heart of the collection is the question of home. Where is home?
I will come again to these Shores
I must come again to these Lands (The Place We Call Home, p. 31)
These lines contest the idea of home. It makes it global and it disrupts it. Home is where you are and it is a fantasy.

In Wellington once I watched the Maori
dance and sing the loss of Ancestral Lands Gods
From Medellin of the Distant Dream
to Baranquija on Colombia’s Carib Shores
In Santiago de Cuba of a Troubled Hopeful Time and
in Haitian nightmares of Santo Domingo
I saw I heard I felt I smelt I even tasted
a trail of Blood across our History’s Final Sigh. (The Place We Call Home, p.31)

Home is memory.
There is something about The Place You Call Home:

Something about familiar contours of The Land
about the very Tate of Air
that essential Smell of Earth
something about the very Feel of Things
the Geography of Lost Landmarks
the Chemistry of Fond Memories
even about the Nothingness of Time
Home is nostalgia.
the termite eaten face
where often you stood
on One Leg
trembling holding
your breath for a Lover
now lost to Childhood Dreams.
This poet is mythmaker. He does it with words. He creates his own words by randomly capitalizing common nouns and/ or joining any two of such words. Those happen anywhere in the sentences. This is the rebel-poet we know. He is innovative with space; they replace commas. He gives the reader the chance to make the work her own, reading at her own pace with no guidance whatsoever. When you read them, you give them a voice that is your own. Perhaps, we should rethink what we think is the meaning of ‘’my people’’ that he often uses. It should be politics of global inclusion rather than exclusion.

………..THE END OF A NEW BEGINNING……..
That’s how he ends it all.
But Ah! The Glory!
The FearSome Glory of This Life….! (But Ah! The Glory!, p. 88)

Advertisements

(Culled from RESISTANCE, a collaborative project presented at BloggingGhana’s Blogcamp15)
Photography: Doris Kafui Anson-Yevu, Rasheeda Yehuza, Kobby Blay, Ato and Walter Zeiss.
Text: Kwabena Agyare Yeboah.

Life sprawls, assembling itself in tro-tros, buses, shops and on streets. As funeral songs gracefully bellow and stale the air, drivers toot horns as they drive by, as if they want to distract mourners. ‘’Living God’’ is an inscription on the windscreen of one of the tro-tros. At Labour roundabout, we face east, taking Asafo SSNIT as north. To the south is Asafo Interchange, an aorta of Kumasi. The sun is already up and both human and vehicular traffic are negotiating space for survival. The industry of Asafo is alive. No pain, no gain. That is what life means here. Work. Work. Hard work.
It might have been before or in1698. Osei Tutu had received a message from Kwaaman, the then Kumasi that his uncle Obiri Yeboah had died. He was technically, fugitive of Denkyira (Some sources say he impregnated Mansa, a sister of the then Denkyirahene whilst he was a prisoner at the Denkyirahene’s court and escaped to Akwamu. Their son is said to be Ntim Gyakari.) He did not want to return home but his friend Okomfo Anokye impressed on him to go because Anokye prophesied that he, Osei Tutu had a bright future as the head of a new nation. There at Akwamu, Osei Tutu was a great friend of the king, Ansa Sasraku. He learnt from the famed governorship of the Akwamus, living in Akwamufie as a guest of the empire. When Osei Tutu finally decided to go home, Ansa gave him a strong escort of warriors. This was to wade off the Denkyiras. At Kwaaman, those warriors settled at Asafo, Adum and Bantama. Under Osei Tutu’s leadership and Okomfo Anokye’s guidance, together with the military intellect that was imported, the Ashanti Empire was born, bred and blossomed into greatness. [1] [2]
Waving at us is the one-storey Department of Labour office that that roundabout is named after. We negotiate our way upwards, following the tarred road to Prempeh Assembly Hall. Tro-tros pull up at the Bus Stop just in front of the Labour Office. Some of them groan. We face the Asafo Coffin Market head on.
At the heart of Asafo’s existence is the simple act of resistance. Something it has carried in its DNA as it evolves. What do you do with what life throws at you?

Coffinmaker1

A man makes coffin. He is at the last stage of the process. His job is to spray the exterior of wooden boxes that the carpenters have nailed into being.

Coffinmaker2

He works on the interior, still at the spraying section which is meters away from where the carpenters gather and fashion these creatures.
We get close to the end of the road that we follow. At the Prempeh Assembly Hall, we take the left road that leads to the SIC building. We chance on two funerals, side by side. In the air, a cathedral flags us.

Streets2

The street is blocked. Few meters from the funeral ground, kids run around, playing and screaming. They jump and chase football. They slip in between the trucks that are parked on the edges of the street. This is momentarily a commentary – partly a celebration of life and partly living it.
When we descend this street, we will come to the Highway that leads to Kumasi Central Market. We will turn right and pursue the Asafo Interchange which will lead us to the Asafo Market. kids1

On the same street, these girls pose for our cameras.

streets1

We get closer to the Asafo Interchange. On the walls of Queen Elizabeth II School, school bags are displayed for sale.

market1

Some of our team members buy water at Asafo Market, the meat section.
As the smell of meat and fish filter through the air, we assemble our presence through alley. We snake to the old Kumasi Train Station in minutes.

By 1898, the colonial Gold Coast Administration had started building the railway system in the country. In 1903, the Kumasi Train Station was completed. Here was once upon the time, the second largest train station in Ghana. There were two lines that trafficked between Kumasi and Accra; one was Kumasi-Accra line and the other was Accra-Kumasi line. There was the Takoradi line too. These lines had stop-overs in many towns along the countryside.
We come in confrontation with remnants of yester-year days.
No-one is here to board train. It is rather a home to many who have come to live here. Some of the rail lines are buried deep in the ground. At certain portions, some lines have been removed or buried completely. There is a firewood industry that gathers at a region. Weeds grow, kind of forming fields. Rusty poles sprout, hoisting notifications that have completely outlived their relevance.

Train station1

Food is on fire!

trainstation3

Notification of load limit.

Trainstation4

‘’What do you want for mother’s day?’’
‘’Mosquito net.’’

Trainstation2

Under this Neem tree, people sit to have conversation, drink alcohol and smoke weed.

Most likely, the first attempt at statehood in Ashanti’s history began with Obiri Yeboah. He organized clan-houses so they could resist Denkyira’s military power. They were people who came together because of war (3sa nti fo)), which got corrupted to Asante and Ashanti.) It was about resistance. It was taking the future on and believing it. It was about ordinary people believing in leadership. Like every nation that develops, the notion was that a country is built with strangers. It happened right here in Asafo. In Adum. In Bantama.
And we bear witness to this city’s triumph and sorrows. Of its internal struggles and memory. Of its character as persona and heart-breaks. Within this curious collusion, a part of a city helps the whole by questioning it. As an observer of urban spaces, I know what it means. It is poetic.

This Little Love We Carry In Our Hearts

Posted: December 2, 2014 in Essays
gor

credit: Glenna Gordon

gordon

Credit: Glenna Gordon

There is this love, of mine, which is a kind of petrichor. I know her because she is real and innate. She rips off a part of my esophagus like a craving. She is photographic. She is an act of memoriam, an invisible epitaph. This little love, I carry in my heart, is guided by my conscience and with eerie strength that is almost mimicking how a pauper keeps currency in her pocket.
James Estrin’s Bringing the Nigerian Schoolgirls Into View is like that little love. Glenna Gordon’s photography that that essay lives off is a necessary attempt to rescue memory from being a graveyard. The hurried significance is to break the cycle of legacies of long absences. They are not report cards. They are not hand-outs. They are more than what the failure of the intelligences of language projects. Emmanuel Iduma puts it better – . . . photograph’s essence is to ratify what it represents; no writing can give that certainty, because it is the misfortune of language not to be able to authenticate itself- in Trans-wander.
Captivity by Teju Cole fails in a way that Glenna Gordon’s photography strives for success. It is not a failure of Teju per se; it is that of language. To think of it more correctly, Captivity is those photographs’ soundtrack. Captivity is a dramatic fiction inspired by true events. Fiction breaks Hooke’s Law; photography consolidates it. When Teju’s imagination is exhausted, Gordon’s photograph extends that narrative. It is this that thickens the love affair of these two works.
Gordon’s meta-poetic metonymy construction is both ghostly and actual. It is about presence-in-absence. It is about showing without telling. In its vagueness is what your imagination should fill.
I identify with the irony and contradiction of the photographs. The portrait of Hauwa Mutah’s dress attracts me for selfish reasons. The text besides it explains that she aspires to be a biochemist but her favorite subjects are Geography and English. It reminds me of my biochemistry degree and my life, and what I am doing with it. It dawns on me that I could have been her and she could have been me. It is like that.
Douglas Yakubu’s journal is a love story. I like her courage to record her story. It is a communication between her and a boy who says, she ‘’ is the remote control of his life.’’ She is 16 years old.
These photographs reveal to us the humanity behind the ‘’numbers’’ or ‘’Chibok girls.’’ It is a call. The photographer had to find a way to show us their humanity. The correct answer lies in what Gordon’s genius is – metonymy. Those artifacts breathe into the spaces. We feel the abducted girls’ presence. Their love. Their humanity. Their lives. And beauty.
Wole Soyinka asks as a premise for From Chibok With Love – What do religionists really want? I imagine Soyinka’s interrogation is about love for religion, in certain regards, the love of (religious) extremism.
It is that same love that should compel us to interrogate the social construct labeled religion. It is not enough to accept intent or (in) action as sitting on the lap of religion or by what the perpetrators call it.

14th, December, 1908.
Leo Tolstoy wrote a letter to Tarak Nath Das. It was a response to two letters sent by Das, seeking Tolstoy’s support for India’s independence. In Letter To A Hindu, Tolstoy writes about his belief in the natural law of love as espoused in the world’s religion. He advocated for peaceful, non-violent protests and strikes. He also spoke against pseudo-religion and pseudo-science.
To answer Soyinka, the good professor, religionists want what humanists want. True religion is peace. Is love. Is tolerant. We must be bold to speak against pseudo-religion. Pseudo-science. And all that that is inhumane. We must interrogate religion; test it like any philosophy or ideal. Religion should not be the metaphor for the absurd. Truly, anything that is anti-human does not deserve to exist. This should be our little love to humanity.

I had by accident met Romeo on a Facebook poetry group some two or so years ago. I had started writing again. I needed a place to belong. I loved poetry. Based on some testimonials, I found myself on the P.O.E.T.S Facebook page. There, I met others, who would be friends, family for life.

romeo

The unthinkable thing happened last week. My boss had assigned a task to me and I was almost late for submission because our unit wi-fi was down. I went to an internet café to go do the submission and when I logged on to Facebook, I saw people write on his wall.

Sometimes, I wish I could ask God why certain things happen. Sometimes, I wish everything about life would make sense and there would not be a need to ask questions. Sometimes, I wish there would be a transparent glass between this life and the other one so that relatives can still meet and talk to one another about times gone, laugh and be happy forever.

I do not know how to write a tribute. This is not a tribute. It is a friend writing about another friend; his thought on the other’s writing.

That night, I read Romeo’s poems. I reflected on his short life. I thought about mine too. I forgot how to write poems. I knew I was just a reader of a poet’s work.

Romeo’s finest work, with little doubt, will be Passing Through. I am not a believer of secular prophet-ship role for the artist when she, in an artistic moment, speaks of death and under somewhat circumstance, she ends up the same way. Death is too universal to be a contrived narrative. Writing about death is the only truth that an artist can speak to life. Truly, it’s a humanistic ideal.

The persona-poet, if I am correct, wonders about the meaning of life. To him, it is a mystery, a journey to nowhere. He writes –

A countless more miles to walk

A journey of no destination

Caught up in silence in its very bulk

My path is shrouded in my own imagination

(Stanza 1)

Stanza 2 is even more profound –

Like a dead flower on a grave
What is my appreciation to the dead
Must I be brave
To escape the luxury of my bed (?)

It’s profundity in the subsequent stanzas challenges my ideal. He seems to know his fate.

I am a traveller just passing through

My words may be heart-cutting but are true

And then, a she-persona is introduced.

There came a she who added to my bane

From there, there are a lot of unnecessary pun elements that distract focus. But the last stanza is the deal. Seemingly, the poet-persona knows the end is in sight. It is the climax of the internal conversation with the she-persona, a lover, most probably.

I couldn’t watch the tears run down her face

The pain in her heart was moving at a snail pace

Because my words to her were true

I was just passing through

I struggle with ideals. I struggle with beliefs. I struggle with religion. This is one that makes me know that I am a human being. I know I, too, will be on the gallows once. The question is ‘’when?’’ And I have also written about death. I am not aware if my interrogation of the theme is a truth to my fate. Either way, destiny will triumph.

I feel Romeo fought. We didn’t talk in his last days. I learnt he passed on battling cancer. I remember the last time we met. I read to him some of my poems. I asked him to come back to writing. With a smile that struck like a painting, he said he would be back soon. And he never did.

Time is not a good friend now. The physical barrier between the spiritual and physicality will be activated this weekend. Unfortunately, I can not be there.

Once, I heard that the only thing that can be used to bury a singer is a song. I offer my words to the poet. Journey well, my brother. Till we meet again.

From Kwabena with love.