Ghanaian poet Kwabena Yeboah Angyare on Ghanaian literature, culture

GENRE OF THE ARTS: Literature/Poetry

Kwabena Yeboah Anyare is a young Ghanaian poet, writer, and cultural ideologist. It was said he had been dubbed with the name “Kumasi’s culture prince” by the UK-based Ghanaian writer and poet, Nii Ayikwei Parkes. Kwabena had studied BSc. Biochemistry back then in his undergraduate years in Kwame Nkrumah University of Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. However he continues to engage literature crossing national boundaries even as from then. His poems and essays have been widely published on literary blogs and websites, and in magazines and anthologies. Some of the notable platforms have been Poetry Foundation Ghana, The New Black Magazine, Kalahari Review, and Sentinel Nigeria.

Kayode Taiwo Olla conducted an interview with him via email, where he talks in-depth about contemporary Ghanaian poetry culture, Ghanaian cultural traditions, and his personal engagement with creative writing. He also shares his opinion about literary criticism.

Do read on and enjoy.

You studied Biochemistry in the university, how did you come to being a thorough poet and literary critic? 

• Kwabena Angyare Yeboah

Kwabena Angyare Yeboah

KAY: Arts is functionality in Africa. We live arts. Where I come from, myth-making is not uncommon. You hear witches and wizards fly in the nights. On market days, spirits come to buy stuff. When I was growing up, we had what was miniature of theatre. We called it “Maame ne Papa”—Mummy and Daddy. On TV, there were programs like By the Fireside, Concert Party, Akan Drama, Kyekyekule and much later, Cantata. I participated—both actively and passively—in these. What I was not aware of was that it nurtured my love for storytelling. Poetry came to me as a channel. Apparently, I was too lazy to write prose.

Biochemistry came much later in life. I always knew I wanted to be a scientist but I could not figure what especially I wanted to do. I read about it in Secondary School and I thought I liked it. So, I went in for it.

I think what I am today is a sum of my experience in life. It will be unfair to separate the two. I am neither a poet because I am a biochemist, nor am I a biochemist because I am a poet. I am just a product of the human agency.

You belong to poetry communities and literary circles both virtual and real, I suppose. What do you feel the circles and communities do for a writer like you, and what do you feel it doesn’t do?

KAY: There are lows and highs of writing. Most probably, the attempt at publishing brings the lowest moments. There have been times that I hit rock-bottom. That I needed people to hold me and say, “Go on, Kwabena.” There have been times that I questioned everything and felt I was on the wrong path. I needed somebody to hug me and say, “It is well.” I needed that human connection. I needed somebody whose truth was “I know how it feels.” Many a time, I turned to my writer-friend.

Writing is like a child growing up. Your parents will like to see people around when they outdoor you. You need people to cheer you on when you start to walk. You need family and people you can call “my people.” When you are bereaved, you need people to mourn with you. On your wedding, you need people to share those glorious moments with you. Sometimes, you snitch them or they do that to you. Sometimes, you disappoint them or they disappoint you. Life is like that. But family is family. They do for you what is humanly possible or, humanly permitting.

As regards your composition process in poetry, how do you strike a balance between the communal influence from the public community and the flow of personal creativity in your own solitude?

KAY: There is a mythical bird in Akan mythology. It is called Santrofi. Much more like what Shakespeare calls “Poisoned Chalice” in Macbeth, to capture it means to take on curses, yet to let it go is to let go of untold blessings. A writer is nurtured by an environment – it includes fantasies and the unseen. It has an influence on her. The dirge, for instance, is a public statement as much as it is a personal statement. I balance the two by finding my voice in tradition. In that sense, I move from the question of Santrofi to the choice of Yin-yang. In other words, I balance by escapism.

I watched a video you shared on your Facebook wall some time ago, and that is a group composition spoken word poetry project by contemporary Ghanaian spoken word poets. What will you say about this type of group composition in performance poetry—does it mean poetry composition, especially of spoken word poetry, could be more than a private experience?

KAY: That was a project undertaken by Prince K. Mensah. It was done on Facebook after everyone contributed three verses at a time until we all got exhausted. Spoken word artistry and poetry are just channels for expression. It could be a private experience or anything else.

What will you say about the emerging voices of Ghanaian spoken word poetry in respect to the pioneering writer-performers like Kofi Awoonor, Kofi Anyidoho and Atukwei Okai? Do you feel the emerging voices are actually following in the steps?

KAY: You are asking me about the burden of tradition, if I get you correctly. These people who you mentioned borrow from traditional oral poetry. I do not see many “emerging voices” follow this. There have been other influences in the course of time like the Poetry Slam and Hip Pop.

Now, to literary criticism—In your own opinion, and based on what you do, do you expect literary criticism to be as creative and nonconformist as postmodernist creative writings themselves are, or to be done within guiding specified literary theoretic, principles and schools of thought?

KAY: Arts will stop to be what it is if we confine it. There will always be tradition and the individual talent. We will always wrestle with the two like the Akan poem-song: “River crosses river / who is the elder?” To think of it more closely, it takes people to build a tradition governed by theories and it takes people to break it. There have been times in history that were introduced to a philosophy, first, by its theoretical framework before literary works. There have been times that it has been otherwise. There should be that freedom to find where people’s geniuses are.

As a writer, critic and reader, what do you really always expect the goal or purpose of a piece of literary criticism to be?

KAY: Truth is, literary criticism is always opinionated. Objectivity, I think, should border on logic and reasoning. I might not agree with a particular criticism but I will respect it if it does not aim to spite the author.

Thank you for your time, Kwabena. We’re pleased to have you.

KAY: Thank you, too. I appreciate it.

This interview was first published in Bravearts Africa PDF Magazine Vol 1.
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Kayode Taiwo Olla is an intense lover – of the arts, of a certain lady, and of Jesus. He is a lecturer as well as a graduate student by daytime and a reader as well as a writer by dusk. He wishes for ever he can just paint with brush like artists do!
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