Posts Tagged ‘african literature’

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


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)

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.

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

Hey. Let’s Talk About Love.

A wise man once said that to know the nakedness of a writer is to know her words. Quote me. I just said that.

I hate fairytales. Even in solitude, I prefer to live in reality. There are exceptions, yes of course. You are one.

Dear DAY,

You sneaked in just as when life was happening to me. Remember that evening? In your hostel? I met the girl I chose to call “Helios.”  Yes, you are sun. The fairytale was that I liked you from that moment. When I saved your name as “Helios” on my phone and I  prompted you to take a look at it, I meant to say “I like you.” But who cared about symbolism when life was not poetry? I did  when I called you regularly. I did when we pillow-fought. I did when I spent long hours with you. I did when I almost told you that I liked you. And yes, you did not get that joke.

There were times that it felt so close. There were times I thought you were another me. I got to know you that well. I could identify you in the dark.  I literally could sense you. It was a perfect love story, right?

That goddamn night somewhere in July, 2012, you breathed and made a being out of my fears. Yes, I knew you were dating. But hearing it from you made it worse. Did I mean it when I said that I was happy for you? Maybe. I still do not know.

So this summer, you might take a vow that will you bind to a holy institution. I will not be there. When you walk down that path, they  will see the world’s most beautiful bride ever. Okay. I lied. Yet still, you will be beautiful on that day. I will be somewhere on earth,  praying for you. I will be staring at the window like I will be waiting for you. Yeah, that should happen in our next lives! Let’s re-do the last scene of Rosalinda.

I do not know if you even exist. I do not even know if I have met you before or we will ever meet. Silences in the midst of self-absorption are products of nonsense like this. It should be imagination….more correctly, creativity. They say that fiction is truth without names. Maybe, that is true.

. . .

I  should have mentioned it to you that you brought me back to writing. There was a night that thoughts nearly strangled me. I woke  up and under that study lamp, I penned down a few words. When I wrote On Self-critiquing And Artistry, it was because I was  celebrating  the fact that you were no longer my muse.  It was both beautiful and sad. It was  that that words failed  to describe. But it taught me a bigger lesson. To be a man of conscience. I learnt to use my head. I learnt to use my heart. More importantly, I learned  to choose time carefully. I thought that Dude was an ass to let you go.You were perfect together.

That night, I wrote

The Last Summer

”If I can  ask God for the breeze

Then I will build a giant winter

So that I can hold you when you freeze

Then I will  travel across the Atlantic to find a reason to leave

Maybe the season will  make me stay

Or I will  reach for the stars

Probably, I will  be a star myself

So that I can  watch over you endlessly

But I do not want to be far from you

Oh! I will be your mirror revealing each day the beauty in you

But what will I  do if something goes wrong ?

I will  rather be by you

Staring at the corner of your eyes like it is an unmined treasure

Cherishing the little things no one sees like your anger

Holding on to the little moments

And pray time stays  still

If that doesn’t work , I will  capture you in eternity on my incorruptible memory

There it will dangle like   the legs of lovers

The Last summer they will  ever see each other

Actually , it is

Perhaps , I miss the biggest heartbeat the Lord ever made

Y. O. U ”

So you left. . .

Hey. Thank you for the memories. They are beautiful. Like no other.


Photo credit :

The ‘’Danger of the Single Story’’, a 2009 TED talk by the award-winning Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has fast become a reference point. Long before that, Adichie’s mentor Chinua Achibe in an interview with the Paris Review in 1994 (The Art of Fiction, No.139) had recounted an African proverb that has since become popular -‘’until the lions have their own historians, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.’’ They both sought to relay the importance of narratives told in the two sides of a coin. It is interesting but to have two icons from different generations talk about the same issue perhaps shows the utter importance of getting our own people to tell our stories. Historically, Ghana has always been a force in African writing.  Writers like Kofi Awoonor, Kofi Anyidoho, Ama Ataa Aidoo, Kwesi Brew, Cameron Duodu, Atukwei Okai, Gladys Casely Hayford, Ayi Kwei Armah, Kwame Dawes and Nii Ayikwei Parkes have grandly laid Ghana’s name in gold on the map of writing.

 But as always, a nation’s greatness is not measured by the past or the present but the future. The turn of the millennium has brought a renewed interest in African literature. In the last decade, we have seen amazing talents like Zimbabwe’s Noviolet Bulawayo, Nigeria’s Teju Cole, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Kenya’s Binyavanga Wainaina and the likes. What has accompanied this interest is the growth of local publishing houses. In a recent tweet, Binyayanga Wainaiana spoke of how Kwani? (a publishing firm he founded) is bringing  back the excitement that greeted the African Writers’ Series in the 1960s in Kenya. Some African writers in the diaspora have found a way of having their works published by local publishers in their home countries. This has not only given the authors large audience but has also made world-class books available on the local market at a cheaper cost. Some publishers even hold exclusive worldwide rights to some of these works. The home writer, on the other hand, benefits from this growth.

In a sharp contrast to what is happening in Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Uganda, Ghana’s literary output is slipping further and farther away in flames. The Ghanaian publisher has not been able to compete during this period. The focus of the Ghanaian publisher is still on producing educational textbooks which seemingly are more profitable. Sadly, most of Ghana’s best writers of this generation live on the internet- blogging and putting their works on social media with the hope of at least getting some readers. The more persistent ones opt for self-publishing. It has become a common practice for young writers to put their works on Amazon with the hope of raising some money so they can print locally. Unfortunately, in most cases, the force of economics decides otherwise.  

It does not matter what path of publishing that one chooses in Ghana. One will come to appreciate that the high cost of printing is a put-off.  This is one of the factors that make businessmen-publishers see this as no venture. Coupled with the increasing shutdown of bookstores, the businessman-publisher has no option but to pursue what will be profitable.

This Ghanaian odyssey is a complex paradox knitted in a way that will take a complete synergistic effort aimed at reversal by all stakeholders. In this state, I speak of the great Ghanaian talents that world has not seen yet. I speak of Jonathan Dotse whose imaginations paint the future in astonishing awe. He writes science fiction. I speak of Jesse Jojo Johnson whose mythopoeic, adventure and high fantasy pieces evoke a feel of classical European literature. I speak of Amma Konadu whose depth of interrogation of contemporary romance is an admiration. I speak of Aisha Nelson whose weave of contemporary psychology questions the Ghanaian. I speak of the many folks who are waiting for a take-off.   

We need to bring back the columns that encouraged writing and talked about books. We need to bring back Okyeame, the literary magazine that excited many talents. We need to bring back Talents For Tomorrow that blessed this nation with amazing talents. We need to bring back By The Fireside, Fun World and the others  that stirred our talents up when we were children. We need to bring back the editors of newspapers who were not only interested in the news but also books. We need to bring back the Valco Short Story Contest. We need to be Ghana again. We need to bring back out made us who we were. We need to tell our story again.

E.C. Osondu wrote about a group of children in a refugee camp in his 2009 Caine Prize winning piece, Waiting. They lived everyday expecting that someone would come for them. They waited   for food and water in queues, chasing trucks and fighting one another for what would keep them sustained to see yet another  day  of troubles.   Their hope was that some photographer would come and take pictures of them so that the Red Cross would send it abroad. Maybe, someone would come for them. And so they waited. . .  Like, Osondu’s plot, the writers of this generation are waiting for that glimpse of hope. I guess it is more about social suicide more than anything else.

 Above all, I pray for a day a kid  can dream of becoming writer in Ghana without worrying about the bills.