FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Poet of the Week from Ghana: Atukwei Okai

Poet of the Week from Ghana: Atukwei Okai

This week’s poet of the week is Dr. Atukwei Okai and he hails from Ghana (official bio is below).  At the Maritime Safety and Security Conference that I attended last week there were a ton of representatives from Ghana.  In speaking with them, I was disappointed that I hadn’t yet featured a Ghanaian poet. 
I liked this excerpt because it made me want to read the entire poem. The first poem is an excerpt from his
Kperterkple Serenade 
Okai’s diction is clear and the cadence moves the reader quickly through his train of thought.  And that final linethat’s the clincher. 
make room in your inn for me –
I know:
when karl marx grabbed his bibliography
and ballpen and pocketed his toothbrush
and his shaving stick

he went and bought a ticket to london

when ghandi girded his loin cloth, it
was london he had in mind.
when lenin fled his beloved motherland
his final haven-crashpad was london.
but america
your address book too has memories that yield
the names
of von braun and charles dickens and
marcus garvey and amerigo vespucci and
christopher columbus who boarded the wrong bus
and maxim gorky and mayakovsky and uncle
einstein and mr. carnegie and rockefeller
even your ports
report how
the mayflower moved in to deflower at night
the virgin land
of the red indians
jesus christ it seems and judas did not make it
you are a funny girl…
everybody dreams of kissing you

Concierto Oblogo is the second poem and I love his alliteration and the way in which he embraces the nature of the poem with his posture and stance as he reads it in the video below.  If the video doesn't work you can click this blog post's title and it will take you to it.   The video is below this blog post. 
   Dr. Atukwei Okai was born and educated in Ghana before traveling to Moscow where he obtained his M.A. (Litt.) from the Gorky Literary Institute in 1967. After returning to Ghana for a year, he was awarded a post-graduate scholarship from the University of Ghana to pursue his Master of Philosophy degree at the University of London. In 1968 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (U.K.) and from 1971 to 1991 he served as President of the Ghana Association of Writers. In 1989 he was elected the first Secretary-General of the Pan-African Writers' Association (PAWA) a position which he still holds today.
Okai lectured in Russian literature at the University of Ghana from 1971 to 1984 when he joined the Institute of African Studies as a Senior Research Fellow in African Literature. He is presently the Head of Language, Literature and Drama Unit of the Institute. The Entertainment Critics and Reviewers Association of Ghana acknowledged his pioneering role in PAWA by presenting him in 1991 with their highest award, the Flagstar, which marked the first time in the 15-year history of ECRAG that the Flagstar award has gone to a writer.
Okai's poems have been published in numerous anthologies and international journals such as The New African Okyeame, The New American Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Black World, and Literary Cavalcade, and have been translated into several languages. He has also performed his poems for radio, television and to live audiences in Africa, Europe, Canada, Australia, Russia, Japan and Vietnam.
Okai has received 13 national and international awards, among them The President of the Republic of Ghana's Special Prize in 1960, the Iqbal Centenary Commemorative Gold Medal by the Government of Pakistan in 1979, and the International Lotus Prize and Gold Medal awarded in 1980 by the National Council for Research in Italy. The musicality of his poetry is attributed to the Northern ambience of Ghana, where he grew up, which is rich in music and music-dominated idioms. Prof Femi Osofisan of Nigeria declared in the Second Annual African Studies Lecture at Leeds University that "Okai was the first to try to take African poetry back to one of its primal origins, in percussion, by deliberately violating the syntax and lexicon of English, creating his own rhythms through startling phonetic innovations…"

FUUO Past Poets of the Week:

Some of my favorite poetry books:

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