Friday, October 18, 2013

Interviews Here and There: My Views on Writing, Reading, and Poetry in Ghana

One can sometimes bring out what he or she feels only when asked or only when certain questions are asked of him; this - in my view - is one of the functions of interviews. They are to bring out what you think of issues and sometimes to extract the truth, directly (through confession) or indirectly (through contradiction). The latter method mostly works well for politicians and socialites.

However, for ordinary folks like us an interview only allows us to express ourselves on issues. Over the year, I - through ImageNations - have granted a few interviews to folks who think I am doing something. Below, I bring you the first few questions of each interview and follow it up with the link to the blog for the full version.

At the Street of Books and Authors (October 2013) - This interview focuses on reading and writing in Ghana & Africa

Darko: Out of an avid reading habit, and a critical mind, you have built a reputation as, what convinces many, a prolific reviewer and critic. I'm curious. What inspires you to do what you do?

Nana: The need to contribute to the development of the literary arts in Africa is my inspiration and driving force. We can't continue to complain and do nothing about that which we complain. I don't know if I have the reputation yet, or could even call myself a critic.

Besides, one can lead but one life. Books offer the individual the opportunity to live several other lives and be whoever one wants. Through books one can accumulate certain experiences and knowledge impossible in one's singular, non-lateral, life. Art is life, we must not forget.

Darko: From Amma Darko to Martin Egblewogbe, and from John Mahama to Kofi Annan, you have reviewed diverse Ghanaian authors of recent publication. Do me a favour: Summarise the quality of modern Ghanaian literature, if you can.

Nana: Modern Ghanaian literature, like any literary epoch anywhere in the world, has the good, the bad, and the ugly. However, we need all these to move forward. Time will save the best and kill the rest. The names you've mentioned belong to the good and, in addition to Nii Ayikwei Parkes, their works will stand the test of time. They love what they do and spend time with it. Good writers know their craft and know its demands. They know that the beauty of writing isn't the name embossed on the front page of the work but having someone commend you for what you've done. Amma Darko's social commentaries are what should be assigned to assigned to readers in Secondary Schools by the authorities and not the Sweet-Valley-High kind of books they currently read. John Mahama and Kofi Annan have shown that any African - leaders or otherwise - who has led a great life must put his or her life's work in books to inspire others. I like what they have done even if I disagree with some of the things they have done or they espouse. Martin's writing shows that there's another way to African writing; that the African writer need not cocoon himself or herself into a one-subject matter author or necessarily pretend to be the voice of the millions of Africans. The African has the same capability to question life, the universe, the metaphysical in his work just as Kafka, Mann and others did.

Unfortunately, there are those who think too highly of the things they do. They have no patience with the craft of writing; they are eager to publish and so come out with something that has hardly been edited or critiqued. They cover themselves in titles that put off any form criticism. This could mostly be found wit that amorphous group called poets. The anthologies they produce are weak, unfocussed, and most often prosaic. I don't exclude the novelists at all, but the poets carry with them that I-know-it-all arrogance. What we need are hard-hitting critics. I might have failed here. People should be told directly that what they are doing isn't art or creative in any form. I once expressed a negative view of a novel and I was attacked by readers. But this is what we need, frankness.


At GeosiReads (May 3, 2013) - This interview is mostly about my writing and partly about my blogging

Geosi Reads: Is/Are there any circumstance(s) that led you to write poetry?
Nana Fredua-Agyeman: After Secondary School - what they now call Senior High - I loked back and was touched by all that my mother did for me when I was in school. So to show appreciation, I decided to write something. At the time I didn't what it was supposed to be. But I really did put pen to paper and began writing. This produced something that was later polished and could then be regarded as a poem. The other circumstance that made me write the second poem, and therefore totally reduced the inertia, was when I watched a documentary on Female Genital Mutilation. I was so touched that I cried. That evening I wrote my second poem.

Geosi Reads: Does writing come easily for you?
Nana Fredua-Agyeman: Sometimes it does; at other times, even if I make a conscious effort to write, nothing comes to me. However, if I've thought over a subject for a long time and I finally decide to write, it comes smoothly.

Geosi Reads: How do you start a poem? How d you know when you've come to the end of a poem?
Nana Fredua-Agyeman: There is no one specific start to any poem. Each poem is unique in how one conceives it and writes it. However, sometimes a title will come to mind. Something interesting; then I start to think what can be done to this beautiful title. Sometimes it takes months to develop a subject to the title. Then and only then - after I've mentally conceived the subject - do I sit to write it down. This would be followed by several revisions. At other times, an idea for a poem will be kick-started by a passage, sentence or a word in a novel I'm reading or a documentary. There are times where I know what to write and later think about the title, when the work is done. 

When I can no more generate enough verses, without being repetitive, to address the subject or title, I stop. Sometimes I end after two verses, sometimes after ten pages. However, with time, I've come to adopt the minimalist's approach to writing. I like how cryptic they turn out and how one can say a lot with few words.


At The African Thought (August, 2013) - This interview focuses on poetry in Ghana 

As a poet, writer, and blogger, what do you think the future holds for Ghanaian poetry?
The number of poetry programmes springing up shows that there is hope for Ghanaian poetry. However, it would help most if subject matter/theme also change. Poetry should address several issues. As it is now, there is a crowding around of topic - basically, colonialism. Whilst this is good, since we need to understand colonialism to spot neo-colonialism, we must also realise that we inhabit a bigger world. Again, poetry has moved beyond mere rhymes. Low, Flow, Blow, do not a poetry make. However, we need everybody to be writing to get quality.

What is your impression of poetry outside Accra?
I have not participated in any poetry programme outside of Accra. However, I've heard of a series of activities buzzing in various cities and towns. I know of Poetry Foundation working hard in Kumasi. I also know there are programmes in Winneba. However, like commerce, everything buzz around Accra.

If you were to mentor a young poet, what will you teach him/her?
LOL. I am still young here. I have not arrived, not yet. However, if I were to advise a poet, I will say, keep it real. Don't force it. Let it come from within. Don't mistake rhyming with poetry. It is not. Finally, work at it - revise, revise, revise.


  1. I have read Geosi interview...
    I just read the interview at the street book and authors.. very enlightening. What actually leads to the spreads of AIDS is not polygamy per se, but the practice of unprotected sex.
    LOL @ But do I have a compulsive obsession to read to the point of it requiring clinical help? No.


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