Martin is the Author of "Mr Happy and the Hammer of God", which is a collection of short stories. He is also coordinating the Talk Party, a poetry reading at Nubuke Foundation located at East Legon, and also presently working on the Ghana Poetry Project. Martin is a man of many parts and has been able to fuse all these parts into the arts, for it is in art alone where one can dump all his diverse talents. This is my first interview and I am glad that it was with Martin. Martin keeps a website kpokplomaja where a lot of issues ranging from articles, essays, poetry, books are discussed.
#1: Can you tell us something about yourself, your background both in literature and outside of it?
OK. I live in Accra, my hobbies are still photography and collecting coffee mugs; I am interested in astronomy; I love to be engaged by philosophy; I write poetry and short stories, I am involved in advocacy for Ghanaian writing -- that's how come I'm involved with the Ghana Poetry Project, The Talk Party, and others. Long ago I hated sleeping, but I've now given up.
#2: You are a Physicist, as I understand, how did you come to be so attached to the literary arts and what challenges have you faced so far? Is there anyone who motivated you?
Well, I'm more of a physics student -- writing though is a serious hobby. My father was a writer -- so I cannot escape the fact of his influence, but I guess the larger impact came from all the books that were living in our house with us as we grew up (my siblings and myself, that is). And I think like playing with words and meanings, in general. And I like telling stories.
#3: How long have you been writing (literary)?
Oops -- Ages? I believe that my first serious attempt at a story, which ended with the glorious line ("...and he COLAPASED and died"), was written when I was eight or nine years old. Long ago.
#4: What inspires or motivates you to write and what do you intend to achieve or accomplish with your writings (poetry, stories, essays, etc)?
Different stuff motivates writing in different genres. Things long thought about usually generate short stories or novellas -- things due to sudden events -- bereavements, etc. usually yield poetry. What do I intend to accomplish?
- Some of the works are written just to help me see through situations in clear and stable light -- if I transpose actual events (over which I have little control) into a story (over which I perhaps have much control), then manipulating parameters etc. etc. I can see better.
- Some of the writings are simply to tell a story imagined -- and hope others find it fun.
- Some of the stories are to present ideas -- maybe generate thinking and arguments and rebuffs...
- and I guess just to have fun with words.
#5: Having read your novel "Mr. Happy and the Hammer of God" I must say I am deeply impressed by your writings, choice of words (diction), and the depth of your writings. Is this your first novel? What difficulties did you encounter whilst putting these stories together and finally getting it published?
Thank you. Well, not my first publication. I've short stories and poems in other books (see, for example: Face To Face: Poems and Short Stories about a Virus). Some of the works in "Mr Happy and the Hammer of God" have been published earlier, elsewhere. Getting published -- methinks that in general the publishing industry in Ghana is rather barren and not yielding much fruit -- but things happen. There are books out there -- by Ghanaians, published in Ghana, etc.
#6: I realised that your writings deal mostly with the metaphysical, the surreal and are very philosophical. Why are you interested in these subjects? Besides, almost all the stories in the collection borders on the pursuit of happiness. Any reason for this? Is it based on any personal experience?
Not all my writings are on such topics or themes. For this collection I put together stories that were similar, and which were based on a common thread of "the happiness thing". For a long time in the past I thought deeply about what happiness was all about, and some of the thoughts led to these stories, which try to suggest that happiness is not really the point of our living. (Not to say that it is unimportant -- only rather pointless). -- OK, let's argue about this...
#7: Even the names you choose for your characters (those that you choose to name) sound mysterious. You would agree with me that names like Dervi, Bubu, Subu, Mhan, Dobo, Jjork are a bit mysterious. How do you come up with such names and is there any reason for these names or what are they meant to signify?
I suppose such names are to firm up the sense of other-worldliness. But there are some that have slightly deeper meaning. Dervi is a few letters short of "Dervish" -- in a sense, he is an imperfect attempt at a holy man of some sort...
#8: I also realised that sometimes your characters remain nameless, making them mysterious. This was so in "To-morrow", "Coffee at the Hilltop Cafe", "Pharmaceutical Interventions", "Down Wind", why did you choose to keep them nameless?
This was an attempt to give less a handle to the characters in the stories and to coax the mind towards the story itself; in some of these stories (for example, "Down Wind" and "Pharmaceutical Intervention"), the "idea" in the story is itself a character in the story -- so the name somewhat distracts and therefore I did not give the characters names...
#9: With the exception of "Pharmaceutical Interventions", which is obvious, almost all your characters are male. Do you have any special attachments to this sex? Are you a male chauvinist?
I guess I do have special attachments to this sex ... I am male... (laugh). Chauvinist? Oh well. I'll leave that to others to decide ...
#10: Which authors did you read when growing up and which of them are your all time favourites or have inspired you in your writings?
Hard to give an accurate list. But maybe the following might give a rough idea... All time favourites? Beckett. Kafka. Dostoevsky. Thomas Mann. Ibsen. Shaw. Mark Twain. Orwell. Tennessee Williams. Gore Vidal. Enough. Africa? Ngugi. Soyinka. Dennis Brutus. Ghanaian? Bill Marshall. Atukwei Okai.
#11: What is your view of the Arts in general (literary and visual) in Ghana (problems, achievements etc)? Is there any hope for the future, especially these days when children prefer playing video games to reading a book?
Hmm... that's a really big one. In a word, it's disappointing. From where I sit, I see little public interest in the Arts. Besides, people tend to see the arts as entertainment -- there is an aspect of entertainment, but the arts are actually much more serious -- to quote Joyce, "Art is the affirmation of the spirit of man ..." It's depressing, really, to see this. But there's always hope for the future though...
#12: Are you working on any projects that we should be aware of?
Mainly the Ghana Poetry Project -- which has spawned interesting things like an upcoming anthology, and contributed to the Talk Party sessions at the Nubuke Foundation...
#13: Anything else to tell us, those of us with the intention to publish our works?
No, nothing really. I want to hear from you instead.
#14: Thank you for your time.
Thank you Nana. I must also congratulate you for this great idea of running a blog of book reviews.
Read my review of Martin's 'Mr. Happy and the Hammer of God' here...