An exploration into the nightmarish experience of a warmhearted poet

Interview with Andy Aryeetey. By Darko Antwi

Introduction: Aryeetey is a graduate of University of Ghana, Legon. His poems have appeared in several magazines and anthologies, including Look Where You Have Gone To Sit, published in 2011 by Woeli Publishing Services. The interview centres on When the War Came to Ghana, a poem which has become a favorite of critics, to Aryeetey's acclaim.

DARKO: To the best of your memory, you started writing at primary two. You were gifted from quite an early age. And you have sharpened your skill since. In an interview with Rob Taylor, in February 2011, you made references to your involvement in literary activities at Presec and University of Ghana. Has any encouraged your creative ability? How profitable is that?  Would you recommend same for aspiring writers who are presently in high schools?

ANDY: Involving oneself in literary activities has always been profitable and it goes a long way to shape one’s writing skills. I would recommend it to all aspiring writers presently in high schools. My teachers, even from primary 6 have always been an encouragement. I have fond memories of them and I am grateful for their honest assessment of my writing. I remember each assessment to heart. It was an immense confidence booster and receiving English Language awards too didn’t hurt. However, award or no award a good critique taken in good faith would certainly challenge your creative ability. I first got introduced to Ehalakasa by Sir Black etal in my first year at University of Ghana and they most certainly inspired stage poetry performance in me as well, especially spoken word on the spot. There is always more to learn.

DARKO: Poems like Fool, Eno Serwah and In Slow Motion have carved you sharply as a writer with priority for humour. As if that is not enough, your earliest biography states that you “enjoy[s] having a good laugh and always having playful thoughts”. The quote from your biography must have ruled out the argument of coincidence. Your interest therefore makes you a humourist. Do you agree with such a label? Do you like labels at all?

ANDY: I am indifferent about labels. For humour I can’t help it. I have always been a bit of a ‘joker’ but it always seemed to me that when I try too hard it doesn’t work, so I just go with the flow. If a piece incites humour, yes, good for a laugh whilst I write (I do laugh out loud when I write such things).  To tag me as a humourist won’t take away tries at ‘humourless poems’. Many have asked me to do comedy also on stage,  this is still under consideration . Let me quote from a fellow poet and friend Nana Nyarko Boateng: “When I think of a funny poet, I think of Andy Aryeetey”.

DARKO: Aryeetey is a poet who is unafraid of telling his society what he sees in the mirror, said Prince Mensah in a superb commentary about your highly-rated poem, When the War Came to Ghana. Taking a clue from Mensah’s view, I think the poem is geared towards plain darkness, without any reservation whatsoever. Only a pessimist can write that about his country. Are you a pessimist? Or just courageous? Or none?

ANDY: I won’t see myself as a pessimist, if anything at all I have been labelled as too much of an optimist (again with labeling). However I won’t say I am in between, I think I can create the mood or effect I strive to achieve in a piece.

DARKO: This poem has an extraordinary background. It’s a manifest beyond the imaginary. I have learned that it came to you in a nightmare. If so, how would you relate it to premonitions of war, which are occasionally issued from ministers of the gospel? Should a nation of justice be alarmed by an individual’s subconscious revelation – to the helm of a religious order (i.e: fasting), to the negligence of its legitimate laws in dealing with war-inciting utterances, and irresponsible journalism?

ANDY: I think it should be a bit of both, premonitions serve their purpose and if it aids in averting an imminent disaster so be it. With that said, irresponsible journalism, war-inciting utterances should not be neglected and I believe a nation should deal with that also within the confines of the law. The tongue is a fire. Fasting and prayers as a religious order has always been important in this part of the world and everyone should say a prayer for the nation I agree but common sense can tell you when something bad is likely to happen, we don’t need ministers of the gospel to profess it, but that nothwithstanding a nation should not take premonitions lightly. Do both. Religions preach peace and laws in a country are also made with the intention of preventing anarchy.

DARKO: We forbid it happening, but if the drama in your poem was real, then Ghana would have definitely been “on the map for bloody reasons”, according to the 9th stanza. But don’t you think of it as normal for a country with functioning democratic institutions like Ghana to enjoy some degree of stability, at the odds of political differences and ethnic diversity? Has Ghana been overly praised by diplomatic cheerleaders? Or it deserves all the credit earned so far?

ANDY: So far I believe Ghana deserves the credit. I mean in comparison to what is happening elsewhere I think that is enough of a yardstick to measure which country deserves the credit. The whole matter is not to take things for granted however because history has proven that anything is possible.

DARKO: In an interview you stated that “Peace is priceless”. What then is peace, if your definition would be different from the following quote by Archbishop Duncan-Williams: “Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of justice.” If you share the Archbishop’s view, would you be positive that Ghana has attained “peace” to the letter?

ANDY: I won’t pretend to be an expert but if it is anything to go by I will coin a definition from that and say peace is the absence of conflict AND  a presence of justice. I think I am peaceful when I am sipping my morning porridge without conflict or anyone stealing it from me, and if someone stole my morning porridge or took it away from me with force, perhaps I can report that injustice to the nearest police station (especially if the bloke was twice my size), otherwise Ghana hasn’t attained ‘peace’ to the letter; but let’s not be too harsh on Ghana, she is doing well.

DARKO: According to the voice of your poem, the elite suffered, and the rights of children were abused in that violent outbreak. Women too had to go through some ordeal. "Sophisticated Akwele was no longer beyond the reach of Ato..." is one of the images you've used to represent vulnerability of women in particular. Sexual attack is indeed a reality of war. In your opinion, do you believe that the women groups in Ghana are active enough in the national peace campaign. What more can they do to improve upon their effort? 

ANDY: I think they are active enough in their campaign, if the stories in the newspapers are a good indicator. Crimes like rape are not going unnoticed and perpetrators are facing the music. The girl child is empowered to report even any unwanted advances. This is geared towards a national peace campaign. Individuals who start NGO’s should be supported and not discouraged. Recently Maame Dokono complained about this on Thank God Its Friday, KSM’s weekly show. More NGO’s should be established by the women.

DARKO: The confident Nii Lantey Lamptey has written the entire Obunkutu in Ga. Edzordzi Agbozo has a complete poem in his native Ewe. Nana Yeboaa has also written Owuo with Twi and English combined. Never the least, you have also done a few phrases in Ga.These examples are remarkable! Do you see any future in the local languages?  

ANDY: Yes. The local languages have a lot of future and it is to be encouraged. I remember reciting Ga poems at primary school and I love that poetry is deeply rooted in our mother tongues. I do have a few poems entirely in Ga and my ‘home boys’ will always love to see this trend as well. Afterall we are Ghanaian. There are poets I know who would like to write in their mother tongues but do not speak it, however unfortunate that is, they can have it translated for them. There are poets I know who write only in the local language, Archiebald is one example who only writes in Akan.

DARKO: When you are not on your writing desk for a ‘priceless’ poem that reflects on peace and war, what else do you do for pleasure?

ANDY: I watch movies and play football or video games for pleasure.

DARKO: Thanks for your time on The street of Books & Authors. You have our best wishes.
ANDY: Many thanks for having me as well. 

                                                                                      *** July 2013
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