Wednesday, April 27, 2011

76. Accra! Accra! More Poems About Modern Afrikans by Papa Kobina Ulzen

Title: Accra! Accra! More Poems About Modern Afrikans
Author: Papa Kobina Ulzen
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 28
Publisher: Edward Ulzen
Year of Publication: 2011
Country: Ghana

At a mere 28 pages, this chapbook manages to pack a lot of within its pages. Whether questioning the reasons why we are still bound in chains, even though our prisoners left many years ago, or questioning his own father for some of the decisions he made - especially why he divorced his mother - or even reminiscing about all the places he has lived, the poems are poignant and straightforward, devoid of the elaborateness and the curlicue phrases common to most poems. Here the reader need not to conjure deeper thoughts to understand the theme or fall in love with the text. All that is required is a ready and prejudice-less mind.

The collection begins with 'Kyekyewere' which is a small village about 70km outside Accra. Here the author reminisces a voluntary work he carried out to help construct a classroom block. This is followed by Accra! Accra! in which the author, Papa Kobina, reminisces his days in the busy city of Accra when as a young man prepared to go to work he waits for the a public transport. The informal conversations that go on between the driver's assistant (popularly known as mate) and the passengers have been nicely captured in this poem. The poem begins with 
"Accra! Accra!"/"Sorry, full up"/"Accra! Accra!"/"Circle only, sah!"
How many of us, in Accra, haven't held such conversations before? These conversations have morphed into both telepathic and sign language, where a potential passenger could look at the driver and the driver would shake his head or where the potential passenger would twirl his finger or point in a specific direction - sometimes towards the sky - to signify where he/she is going. And what a way to begin the collection knowing that the author has travelled to and lived in many countries in Africa and the world at large. 

In 'What was, What is?' the author compares events in apartheid South Africa with that in Independent Kenya. It's a fascinating piece especially when one realises that nothing much has change: though the song has changed the puppet remains the same. Here we see how black natives file, like a herd of cattle, into the mines in black townships in South Africa - which reminds me of Mine Boy by Peter Abrahams - and also from Kiberia township in Kenya to Nairobi's industrial area in the hope of being 'chosen to work for a day in low paying jobs...'. This is one mark of this anthology. Papa Kobina does not pretend that all is well after independence, he sees it as it is and asks why it must be so. He punctures the reverie we have created and spreads the mat of reality deep in our minds. Why haven't things change? Why must the before and after be the same? What impact has freedom had if our plight remains the same? These questions are similar to those asked by the post-colonial writers (fiction) like Ayi Kwei Armah in his The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born, Ngugi wa Thiong'o in Matigari, or Chinua Achebe's A Man of the People and many others.

It is in this vein that he writes 'Any Better?' This piece begins with a blunt and rhetorical question
Are we any better than them/those who came and enslaved/those who came and colonised/so many years no, they've been gone/yet our crimes are like theirs...
and why are our crimes like them when we claim to be independent and when our independence is supposed to fetch us freedom and our freedom, development? He answers it himself:
for still we enslave one another/not in the name of nation religion and race/but in the name of tribe/still we colonise one another/not from country to country/but the urban colonise the rural
And how many times have we seen the disparity between the rural folks - whose sweat 'capital' feed us - and the urban rich - whose mouths are widely-open to swallow this sweat - as colonisation. All over the place people are much more concern on being this or that. And in so doing, instead of identifying this as our weakness, we try to impose ourselves, creating some sort of superiority akin to the colonialists'.

But Papa Kobina Ulzen do not only leave us with problem identification. He admonishes us to 'take steps to become better for they left us long ago'. And it is what is not said after this line that is taunts and haunts. What would happen if we do not change for the better? This is left to the mental gymnastics of the reader and all that he/she has to do is to look around; the effects are there for all to see. Yet, those who 'left us long ago' are not left out of Ulzen's keen eyes for in 'A little Light Please (from the slave quarters)', the author provides a vivid image of the conditions of the dungeons in which slaves were damped before shipment. Here, the author regards himself part of those in this dungeon requesting for a little more light 'for it's hot and stuffy' and the 'one foot by one foot aperture' provides not enough light and air, especially when they have been 'crammed (...) like sardines and can barely breathe.'

Two main subjects are treated in this anthology: reminiscence (parents and Africa) and hope (Africa) and metaphorically we can equate the two. So that whether the author is talking about the 'Conversations we Never Had', which he directed at his father, or 'Prayer for the Black Child' or even 'Reclamation', there is a sense of nostalgia and hope threading through all. And it is on these poems that the collection ends. In 'Reclamation' he talks of not blaming the colonialist but we should come together to forge our own future. In 'Prayer for the Black Child' he reflects on racial discrimination and what we can all do 'to make this world a better place a safer place for the black child'.

This is a strong collection of poetry. I can only advise you to read Papa Kobina's poems but can't tell you where you could get one as this was given to the participants at the Monthly Ghana Voices Series Book Reading participants. However, it is a great collection of poetry, that is relevant to and would be relevant tomorrow. He shows that poetry need not be complex.
Brief Bio: Papa Kobina Ulzen is author of Accra! Accra! Poems About Modern Afrikans, which includes pieces that show glimpses of the three African countries Papa lived in – Ghana, Kenya and Zambia as well as the seven other African countries he travelled in – before migrating to Canada over two decades ago. Papa Kobinna Ulzen is a Ghanaian-born writer based in Toronto. His poetry is also published inAkwantu, Thoughts of a New Canadian.

Papa Kobinna has written and produced several short plays including Karibuni Canada, Malaika, Bus Stop, Lunch Time, Lunch Time Again. Papa is currently working on his first African themed feature length play Ekua na Kamau. This is a love story set in Accra. (Source)

ImageNations Rating: 4.5 out of 6.0


  1. Thank you for posting about this, sounds like a really great collection. I'm going to have to do some searching - the author lives in my city so the book must be available somewhere for me I would think :)

  2. Seems like an interesting collection. I think his play is one to watch out for.

  3. It is. Though i don't think one can access copies. The title me the play itself shows how widely the author has travelled. For it brings together a Ghanaian name and a Kenyan name.

  4. You know, I would have to fetch for this wherever it is. Thanks for the review.

  5. @Sure. Give it the attempt and let me know the results


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