Tuesday, August 30, 2011

98. Look Where You Have Gone to Sit, Edited by Martin Egblewogbe and Laban Carrick Hill

Title: Look Where You Have Gone to Sit
Editors: Martin Egblewogbe & Martin Carrick Hill
Genre: Poetry Anthology
Publishers: Woeli Publishing Services
Pages: 63
Year of Publication: 2011
Country: Ghana

Look Where You Have Gone to Sit is a bold literary statement by young Ghanaian writers who have lived in the literary underground for a very long time. It is an anthology that brings hope to a literary scene which on the surface have become lethargic. This lethargy is not a manifestation of a lack of activity, but the lack of opportunity, of space, of medium, for the physical expression of the arts. This lack comes from two main sources: the sensationalism of our media outlets leaves no room for the acceptance and publication of literary arts (poetry, fiction etc). For instance, the most widely circulated newspaper in Ghana Daily Graphic has no room for poetry or fiction. This is taken care of by its weekly sister newspaper Mirror. Yet, a cursory glance through the latter shows that the arts have been reduced to nothingness. The second cause of this void is the gap between the elder generation of Kofi Anyidoho, Atukwei Okai, Kofi Awoonor and others and the newer generation captured in this collection. The sub-heading of this collection 'New Ghanaian Poets' attest to the latter cause. In effect, the latter generation of poets has been cooking their recipes in crevices, catacombs, subterranean cloisters full of stalagmites and stalactites making a push upward impossible. Yet once a person has been possessed by the arts like gods, that individual becomes its slave, its worshipper, unable to turn against it.

This dissociation has also led to the development of unique poetic voices and topics. This book, a representation of post-colonial literature, concentrates on our present lives: urbanisation and its influences; and in places where neo-colonialism sentiments are raised, and rightly so, some fingers are pointed to ourselves. Religion has also not escaped scrutiny and poets have resort to poetry for the answers. In spite of all these, it is the experimental forms that seek to break boundaries and enter into places previously unknown. From Darko Antwi's We Blacks to Teddy Totimeh's Evensong, Look Where You Have Gone to Sit is the definitive anthology of Ghana's literary future.

Opening this anthology of 36 poems by 20 poets is Darko Antwi's We Blacks where he defines what Africa is with a different view. Here he acknowledges our differences and show that it is in this difference that we become a people, just as the Ashanti forest is made up of different shades of verdant green. Using names like 'Apraku', 'Ngozi', 'Dibango', 'Makeba', and 'Yemi', Antwi defined what Africa is all about. In No Canto Nana Nyarko traces the art of writing poetry in a country where the opportunities for publication or readings is conspicuous in its absence. The inks are stuffed in 'dormant cages/muffled pieces lie about in globes,/brittle images pilot/fallen wings of rhythm... .

In don't you tell or you'll die, Nana questions the age-old moral norm of respect by children towards adults even when these individuals have clearly shown that they hardly deserve it. In this piece a girl gets raped and is warned, as is usually read about in several rape stories published by newspapers, not to tell anybody lest she dies. And here the girl is prevented from expressing herself. Though the theme is a known one, the treatment is not. This piece is highly experimental in the spirit of e.e. Cummings yet different from Cummings. Nana painted words instead of writing thoughts. Lines like these keep the reader thinking:
I am berated for being repulsed by the men who stole my early days,
for saying, a-b-c- to -f-a-r-k-u, (in silence)
when they ask "how are you?"
In another stanza, Nana writes
(h)/IS tongue reentrant
in paper bags            then plastic bags,             then the ocena
hugged to my juvenile nose
Finally, the girl who bares it all is
... thrashed for loathing men who want to break-in,
I remember their ID in alphabet
a-b-c to m-a-t-h-a-f-a-r-k-e-r-s!
Trotro Chronicles is one of the pieces on urbanisation and its ills. The beauty of Kwabena Danso's piece is its language tapestry, combining Pidgin, French, Twi, Ga, Hausa and English to form a complete coherent poetry. He chronicles what goes on in queues, at stations and in the trotros until the passenger gets to his or her destination. Here the economic level of many Ghanaians is brought to bear for even as the 'Tired lanky civil servants like jot' in the trotro pass by we see the traffic workers selling all sorts of things, from ice water to CDs:
Imliedzɔ eiIce... pure water for sweating brows and teary eyes
An entire drive through super market opens up before you
Wetin you dey search from plantain chips to brand new shoes
Dog chains, dogs, dolls, bofrot, CDs to car tools
This keen observation by Kwabena Danso deserves to be commended for every Ghanaian whether a passenger of a trotro or one who uses his own car have seen and been involved with this. This theme is quasi-present in Novisi Dzitrie's Ol' Driver Grand-Papa. However, Novisi in his advises the grand-papa to park his rickety car for it has done 'many a rocking to the bone!' Theresah Patrine Ennin's A Woman in a Taxi, treated this urbanisation and city-life with a twist. Here we are confronted with the usual solitude or individualism that seems to pervades city life. Is the girl in this poem afraid of the man beside her or is she worried about something, internally? Closely related to Kwabena Danso' is Crystal Tettey's Kokompe to Lapaz both of these are suburbs in Accra. Crystal paints the exactitude of events which go on in trotros.

Martin Egblewogbe's poetry is like his short stories. The poems could represent mystical equations of life, questioning and philosophising the ordinary (events) till it becomes extraordinary. A piece like A cigarette with Sonia as the fan went round and round begins with two people smoking cigarette and blowing the smoke into whorls, such a simple beginning but ended with:
Fellow travellers in this space ship
sharing the loneliness of our private gehenna.
Sonia and I, turning words into thoughts
And thoughts into words: ...
In Death and Friday night, Martin turns the usual Friday wake that follows the burial of a person and an old Ananse tale into a funny piece that borders on reincarnation. According to the persona, if he dies he will 'connive with the digger/when the mourners are all gone./Then in the night/I will open the coffin;/I will flee'. Even in the seemingly love piece the stars still shine despite the clouds loss and hope are juxtaposed and linked to celestial bodies in the universe. Is the author's background as a Physicist showing here?

Bernard Akoi-Jackson is an Artist. He describes everything he does as an Art. His two pieces are prophetic. For instance, in the sentence-long one-word-a-line poem Na Waa! he tells us that the things we have seen with our eyes are more than we could count. And here the question is 'what things?' The corruption? And credence is given to this by the title, which is a sigh of ruin/problem/quagmire that the person has no control over. Its more of an exclamation. The prophetic warning that he sounds in his poems is clear in Ena Akuba's Pots, which warns of the correlation between the upsurge in Petrol (Gas) Stations and the oil finds at the Western Region of Ghana.

Mercy Ananeh-Frempon's Susan Boyle shows the influence of television and the globalisation on the world. She portrayed how the judges and audience of the Britain's Got Talent Show reacted towards this contestant as she took the stage, because in their minds she does not represent a star; she can do nothing because she is 'improperly' dressed. However, a universal theme of this poem is to withhold judgement until the quality, the substance of the matter, has been verified. It behoves us to see beyond the physicality and outwardness. What comes out clearly from this piece is how stars are made and how star-life could be all faked up for if you break everything down, we are all like Susan Boyle.

One characteristic of this poem is its ability to be accompanied by drums, like Fredua-Agyeman's Finding my Voice, which is a search for a writer's unique voice; one that is not influenced by the 'Wesley chorales'. However, it is in Nii Lantey's Obunkutu, written entirely in Ga and translated into English, where rhythms of drums could easily be felt in the read. These invocations and chants, even in its adulterated English translation, depicts the past the present and the future of the country.

Teddy Totimeh rounded the collection up with his set of poems. Using words and sounds in Ghana Teddy tells us that if we wait and look, if we pause to listen we would find the 'colour in the squalor', 'the order in the odours', 'the humour in the clamour', 'of a suffering people/ waiting for progress.' If we pause and look, we would find that though the landscape is dry, the clouds are gathering. Elavanyo, better days are ahead!

The title look where you have gone to sit could be a play on a line in Atukwei Okai's 999 smiles, a poem about loss. In this poem, Atukwei Okai tells of a friend who has gone to sit on the other side and 'throwing stones at us'. Would the older generation be the ones to throw the stones this time at the new generation, or would they hold their hands, bridging this literary gap?

Each of these poems is unique. Each has something to say. Each would touch you in a different way. Each voice is fresh. This is an anthology worth the read and it is the first book to be published by the Writers Project of Ghana, a literary organisation formed to spearhead the development of literature in Ghana.

Brief Bio of Editors: Martin Egblewogbe currently lives in Accra, Ghana. He is currently a PhD student at the University of Ghana and lectures at the university. For several years he hosted/produced the literary programme "Open Air Theatre" on Radio Univers in Accra, and organised "Just Imagine", a series of poetry recitals from 2003 - 2006. He currently hosts the Literary Appreciation programme on Citi Fm. He has also participated in several public book readings in Accra. He currently helps run both The Ghanaian Book Review (Kpoklomaja) and Ghana Poetry Project. He is also a co-founder of Writers Project of Ghana

Martin's writing has been featured in The Weekly Spectator and The Mirror, and his works can be found in a number of collections, including An Anthology of Contemporary Ghanaian Poems. He has won prizes for a number of short stories and spoken word performances. He has a short story collection Mr Happy and the Hammer of God to his credit.

Apart from Physics and writing, Martin is interested in Philosophy, Still Photography, and Computers (software, hardware).
Laban Carrick Hill is the co-director along with physicist and writer Martin Egblewogbe of the Writers Project of Ghana, a nonprofit based in the Ghana and the US. Founded in 2009, the WPG promotes literary culture and literacy through creative writing workshops, readings, discussion groups, a reference library of world and African literature, and a small press. He is a core faculty member of the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Low-Residency Program at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, MA.

Hill's newest book Dave the Potter: Artist, Slave, Poet is a picture book poem illustrated by Brian Collier and appearing in September 2010 with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. His award-winning America Dreaming: How Youth Changed America in the 60's (also with Little, Brown & Co.) won the 2007 Parenting Publications Gold Award. The New York Times Book Review wrote, "Excellent." Howard Zinn praised the cultural history as "a phenomenal piece of work, extensively researched and visually stimulating; an essential resource for children and adults of all ages." America Dreaming examines the legacy of the sixties, and how the events that took place then inform our lives today.

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  1. Oh sounds really interesting. I really enjoy gettng a window into Ghanaian literature through your blog!

  2. Sounds like a really interesting collection with many topics explored. Thanks for the review.

  3. @Nana, your exposition on Akoi Jacksons' poems is very fascinating.

  4. @Novisi, I know. When I read it first I didn't get it. Then I read it again... and certain keywords popped up and I connected the dots. It's all there. After my Eureka moment, I discussed it with him.

  5. I have finally got this. Your poem is of much interest to me and so I look forward to reading it. Hey, bro, Congrats.

  6. Finally got my hands on a copy of this anthology. Reading and enjoying it. I see al ot of names whose poetry I like. I;m looking forward to it. Thanks Nana

  7. I'd love to read your thought on this.


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