Of plenty harvest and passive labourers: the case of Ghanaian Poetry
From the shores of Jamestown to rural Navrongo, Ghana – in its field of contemporary literature – has been advanced by an assemblage of personnel who have the interest and cognitive strength to take up poetry as a career. Not merely is this group of young men and women perusing the revered genre, but they are, in a sense, redefining the art in the context of the Ghanaian environment, along the margins of the diverse culture of their republic state.
In a bid to influence traditions, and to contribute to the sociopolitical wellbeing of their respective communities, their creative themes, which cut across a variety of subjects, have been mostly evangelical, confrontational, sarcastic and wildly phenomenal. In parallel to the hypersensitive issues, this company of poets has given room to humour and the romantics. If you will, approximate humour to non-sense poetry, yet the poets’ urge to enthrall readers with funny expressions establishes itself as a character of their youthful instinct to be playful, than it is a necessity for relief.
The variety of their subjects swivel between the sacred and the mundane: reflecting the shades of ideas they bear upon the modern Ghanaian society, which undeniably has a bright record, and a very dark side as well: thus, a democratic hopeful in whom national unity is collapsing into ethnic disparity – and so throbbed by false accusations and gross disrespect for authority – under the guise of freedom of speech.
Per the labyrinthine background of the Ghanaian society, there are many reasons for the poets to celebrate. The contemplative should be expected too. It is therefore not surprising if the pride of Cape Coast, Fiifi Abaidoo, goes soul-searching in Strands Of Enigma and thereafter goes carefree in Princess. In the psychiatric poem, M.A.D, Abaidoo then reads serious meaning into the mental health of a patient. It is also worth noting that Adjei Agyei-Baah could be soft-toned and highly moral in To My Mother (The Confession of a Stubborn Goat), and nevertheless trade courtesy for radical pledges, in his love themed poem: Unshaken. While Reginald Asanga Taluah is steadfast in probing an identity crisis in I Am the Glowworm, he takes relaxation to eulogize the grandeur of nature in the following title: A Look at the Endless Sea. In his mystery decoding poetry, When the War Came to Ghana, Andy Aryeetey is critical about Ghana’s vulnerability to civil hostility. After unlocking the codes of war, Aryeetey gets his audience amused by the fanciful Eno Serwah, and the outstanding comedy: In Slow Motion. Almost all the poets fall within this element of paradox, should we extract the database of titles. The facets of appreciation regarding the virtue of present Ghanaian poetry could be infinite. Whatever angle from which one decides to look at their collective work, the uniqueness of the poets' style would compare to an avant-garde generation.
Presently, the party of Ghanaian poets is afloat and feasting on rhetoric and a miscellany of subjects: some are complex, some are simple, some are august, some are not so impressive crops to be picked, some are just minor verses, but most are of Olympic quality. In the heat of the party, some poets have even gone through the baptism of changing either their first name or surname, in dedication to poetry. What a commitment!
But what shall it profit a poet if he goes through the ritual and writes all there are to be written and yet lose the opportunity to have a book printed in his name? Unfortunately, you can only imagine a few published poets. In an interview at Writers Project on Citi, the publisher Woeli Dekutsey, at sympathy with the plight of Ghanaian poets, affirmed the fact that the artists have gone far ahead of the local publisher. Dekutsey’s goodwill sounds like a deus ex machina – but how real the excelling poet gets a contract remains a frustration at large to be dealt with.
“Write, young ones, write” is the theme that marked the Ghana Association of Writers Book Festival 2012. Commenting on the theme, in his Daily Graphic column, Joe Frazier mimicked: “Publish, publishers, publish.” In the same article, he continued his counteract with the following: ‘It is not true that a publisher should always aim at profit and the author for fame.” In agreement with his title, Missing at GAWBOFEST 2012 – where words should shine like the panenka, Frazier speculated concerning the event that: “a lot of panenkas could have been scored by the brilliance of first timers, but their manuscripts had not seen the light of publishing.” Oh Frazier, thanks for two points and a military salute. You couldn’t have said it any truer than you have.
The harvest is indeed plenty. And the crops cannot harvest themselves. Needless to say it requires harvesters. In view of this wisdom, the literary gaint, Martin Egblewogbe didn’t reserve an opinion in one of his weekly radio presentations on Citi FM. He bellowed forth: “The time is ripe for a literary magazine to hit the newsstands. Unfortunately writers [and for this matter poets] are not businessmen” In adding to the consensus, Abeiku Sagoe cautioned that “If you bother yourself to do the enterprise or administration of your work, you can’t have the time to put ideas on paper, when they pop up.” Well said, Sagoe the unofficial spokesman!
The scene is not too bad. Not so gloom. By opportunity, some of the poets have had stage performance at theatres and public halls. And almost every Ghanaian poet has been published in an online magazine. That is a sort of achievement, but the credence of such platforms does not go far to compensate the majesty and contentment that come with a bound of pages and a copyright message that could be inscribed exclusive to their individual names, according to merit. The royalty per annum wouldn’t be a bother to be thought of. Would it?
For the majority of poets, the physics of getting published remains a dream. But a few have, however, tried self-publication. This choice of publishing one’s own work can also be termed as vanity publishing. It is ‘vanity’ because the writer goes on a quest to 'promote' his works, at the bereft of a publisher. In most cases, poor quality of material is the result of the writer’s input.
In compromise with Egblewogbe’s motion, let us assume a writer could act as a businessman. Let us go ahead and think outside and inside the realities of success. Yet, may we not take risk in the world of specialization, where a jack of all trades could fail at the highest probability. A successful practice or not, poets like Elikplim Akorli have found it worth doing the double task for a desirable International Standard Book Number, credited to their hardwork. There is precedence. Several of them: the famous Efo Kodjo Mawugbe is a locus classicus of those who published themselves in the past. But Mawugbe's eventual success should not be taken for granted. It has to be examined to the width.
Apart from vanity publication, there is another loop I term: charity publication. This is how it works: once in a while a publisher from nowhere will circulate an electronic call for submission, or drop a notice at popular Ghanaian literary sites. The appeal for a poet to contribute a stated number of poems often goes in aid of a health project. That sounds nice. It’s benevolent. But as to whether the nature of short-run printing and brief promotion of those charity books is rewarding to the poets’ career, is another question.
While he goes through the trauma of publishers’ refusal to handle his works, the average poet has also sought for an alternative medium. That is available on the internet. Overthere, a writer can simply register a blog of unlimited pages. It is not difficult, once the person publishing at the blog (the blogger) has basic computer knowledge. Being free of charge, numerous blogs have sprung up – with respect to Ghanaian poetry. Most of those blogs are barely visited. Some of the works posted are poorly edited. And just a handful of blogs do not suffer the wasteland of scanty readers. Sometimes it hurts to know that some good poems have been rendered aloof at remote places of the electronic globe. Perhaps the only good that saves this method from being as conceited as 'vanity' is that; the writer can easily be contacted or communicated to, via his blog.
It seems the Ghanaian poet has tried all avenues in getting his voice heard. He must have been stressed by the roadblocks to the publishers’ doorstep. He needs a place for solace. And that place is none other than the World Wide Web, where he hangs out with colleagues at social networks. On a boring day, he pastes on his profile page, a title that befits the mood. And when he receives comments and thumbs-up from friends and family, his satisfaction is incomparable. Nonetheless, he remains a crop ripen to be reaped.
Verily, verily, the harvest abounds, but the labourers are passive. Perhaps the publishers have a fair reason to be passive. Maybe poetry is no more a saleable commodity. Hence, they might lose a great deal if they dare fund a poet. If the publisher is afraid of loss, who then should be held for ransom? Who would sacrifice to redeem the art which serve, among others, the purpose of stimulating the mind of a nation and soothing the spirit of a people? Has the Government of Ghana any lesson to be learnt from the Arts Council of England? Is the nation left with any faith in the importance of the poets? Does anyone believe in the idea of leaving the poor poets to chance: to rot like mangoes on a wayside ghost tree? Should the literary agents stand idle again for MUSIGA to scoop millions of fortune meant for the general creative industry?
For the records, there are some active labourers – very few though they are – who should be encouraged, lest they grow weary. May we congratulate Woeli Publishing Services for its successive titles of collected poems for the past six years. Look Where You Have Gone To Sit is the latest book, edited by Martin Egblewogbe and his American partner, Laban Carrick Hill. Also, worthy of mentioning are Nana Agyemang Ofosu and Adjei Agyei-Baah who have co-edited the first and second editions of Poetry Ink, an anthology of amateur and established poets, published by Poetry Foundation Ghana.
Upon all the difficulties, upon all the efforts done and undone to collect their fruits in a basket, upon all the fora of ideas and faint pragmatics, upon all the discouragement and pessimism, may this poetry community burrow assurance in the words of their comrade, Nana Asaase. I am referring to his celebrated line: “Life is hard. But there is hope in the flatulence of a bee.” Where action has failed, maybe supernatural words of this kind could console the Ghanaian poets within the whirlpool.