There’s a new thing in the air in Ghana. Thanks to our generous colonial masters for the foundation, and the present political and economic climate, we are witnessing a flourishing of the arts.
The traditional literary arts in Ghana particularly amuse me. From Uncle Ebo’s plays and the numerous ones being staged on campus here at KNUST, to the ALEWAs and P.O.E.T.S, we’re seeing a blossoming of art in the country.
Naturally, I will be very concerned about anything that takes the public’s consciousness. Especially when that thing matters so much to me. And that means poetry.
I had a talk with one brilliant young Ghanaian tech entrepreneur and professional photographer, Kwame Poncho.
It was in a short session with this literary group called SASA, so the talk was towards that direction. Two things struck me; during the introductions, the guy sitting by me was asked what he did [as his art]. “I rhyme” was his response. The other thing, which became apparent was, whenever poetry was mentioned, the stage was refered to, not the page.
Taking the zeitgeist as evidence, the stage has clearly triumphed in the hearts of Ghanaians. It saddens me, and I hate the fact, but I cannot do anything about it. I would go on and on about this debate, but I digress.
The worrying thing about the new organisations that are springing up in the literary world is the commercial aspect. It kind of feels very dirty, but it is there. And it’s working. And people are “hitting”. The chaos this excitement breeds gives rise to both noblemen and charlatans, wanna-bes, trash talkers and general bullshit-makers.
Obviously, I am not pleased with this, and I feel it waters down the nobility of the art in the country and the eyes of the world. It makes it a rag that is easily stepped on, trampled for gain and quick fame, and then discarded when the next big thing happens. That leads me to the titular question: What does poetry in Ghana need?
My simple answer: a non-profit organisation that will set the pace by presenting to the world the very best of Ghanaian poetry.
This simple function will have many effects on several people. Beginning with those who want to find out what all the buzz is about, this organization will put everything poetic into perspective. It will tell you who is doing what, where the person is doing it, and how the person is doing.
In this function, the organisation will touch on the uniqueness of the Ghanaian art, and highlight the efforts being made to improve it. It will have profiles of such groups as the Writer’s Project Ghana, the kind hearts at Goethe Institut, P.O.E.T.S, Alewa, Moonlight Cafe and such. It will provide a platform that will make these organisations and their activities known to the world.
Next, for those actually creating art in the country. The Internet is democratic, and we all can set up blogs. What will make this organisation relevant to them? By featuring the best poetry blogs in the country, it will give the already good guys even more reason to hone their skills to become good poets (or performers).
Besides selectively featuring such poets on the site, the organisation should award the most deserving through competitions open to all of them. Local content on the Internet is becoming a strong force to reckon with. Associating itself with organisations like BloggingGhana, and BarCamp or BlogCamp or whatever, will make it more relevant.
Through online journals and features in the leading newspapers, the organisation can make the poets in Ghana known.
Such an organisation must have enough clout to decide what is a good reflection of Ghanaian poetry, and what is rubbish. And a deserving poet can help raise awareness for the art form. Poetry doesn’t need mics & music, jokes and rap to stand up. It can, if the right thing is done.
For the old guns, and for the sake of our forefathers, the organisation can appease history by putting modern poetry into perspective. By highlighting the great forgotten poems of those Ghanaians of stellar reputation, the organisation will position itself as the primary source of the before, and present generation of poets. I once read a sweet love poem by Du Bois that convinced me of this forgotten treasure.
The organisation should not take it upon itself to teach people poetry. It cannot. It should not. It can stir open debates from bloggers and facilitate discussions. Intellectual discussions. It should not teach.
I write all this, and discuss the ideal organisation that will help poetry in Ghana, because it is one of my deepest passions. I love poetry. I love people who write poetry. I abhor people who exploit poetry, or who write bad verse.
I recognize, but have little to say about performers. They are poets, and such an organisation should not shun them. It should be seen as relevant to that large crowd, but must primarily focus on writing. Even the performer, one day, will sit and think and write for the page.
The organisation should not try to do all and be all. I believe a dedicated, focused organisation with the very simple goal of “(re)presenting the best of Ghanaian poetry” will be the greatest help poetry will have seen in this small West African nation.
May the best group win.