The Speech That Didn’t Happen. The Win!

Reader Dear,

I thought you might have learnt somewhere, but might still want me too to tell you about the 2018 Professor Kofi Awoonor Literary Prize and how it was won by a certain Sheilla Nelson. Or an Aisha Nelson.

I am the same, the said Nelson – whether Sheilla or Aisha, whether Aishetu or Aisha. (One day I will talk about my name(s) properly, fully.)

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Picture mine: A copy of the unpublished anthology I submitted for the prize.

Bits and bigger about the biennial prize are known: from the earlier official announcement in 2018, from related social media posts  by various people including my Facebook post days after the awards ceremony, and from a blog post by James Murua.

In a later Facebook post related to a stage adaptation of Osiris Rising, I will mention how the novel’s writer, Onukpa Ayi Kwei Armah, inspired – and more – the titular short story of  my unpublished anthology, Lens and Other Stories

This is the work I submitted for the prize – a soft-bound book. A manuscript.

Perhaps, the only new thing about the 2018 (Fiction) edition of the Prize was that its awards ceremony was grafted into the Academic Directorate of the University of Ghana’s second day of what has come to be called “Vice Chancellor’s Ceremony in Honour of Academic Award Winners” – for the 2017/2018 Academic Year. This awards ceremony is done on two consecutive days, usually a Thursday and Friday, for the Sciences and Humanities respectively. I received the prize on the second day, it being administered by the Department of English, which is a part of the Faculty of Humanities.

All of this arrangement, it was unlike the maiden/2016 (Poetry) edition of the prize, which was held as a separate and full event at the Kempinski Hotel in Accra. This edition was won by one Sarpong Kumankoma (Agyei Sarpong Amos).

The rest of the details of the edition for which I was adjudged winner? Nothing so new. Everything quite personal:

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Picture mine: The brochure for day 1 (Sciences) and day 2 (Humanities) of the awards ceremony.

1.   Like how I had been at The Balme Library and other places on the University of Ghana campus quite more than a few times to put finishing touches on and to print the manuscript – per the submission requirements – and finally, to submit the package at said Department of English.

And how months later, the next year, I got a WhatsApp message one afternoon (when I was still not fully peeled from the hold of a nap) to come pick up a letter and sign my acceptance of the prize and of attending the awards ceremony at the Great Hall of same university.

Dates include July 4 and 17, 2018; and February 22 and March 1, 2019.

2.   How I was joined by my long time and academic friend Agnes Quansah, my friend and writer friend Agnes Gyening, and my past-student-turned-friend Vanessa Aduama, for the awards night.

3.   The surprise but understandable story about how Sheilla Nelson came to be the name on the award certificate, even though I had submitted for the prize as Aisha Nelson.

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Picture mine: The prize certificate given me.

(I have already said to tell the story about my name(s) later, remember?)

4.   How earlier versions of more than half of the 10 short stories in Lens and Other Stories have been variously and previously published and sometimes, re-published here at Nu kɛ Hulu (Water and Sun) .

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Picture mine: The outfit I nearly wore for the awards night.

5.   The funny little story about how I came to decide what to wear for the awards night and the later funnier story about how I put away that beautiful red dress (something decidedly unconventional, stylishly formal, and girlishly diva) and settled on what I ended up wearing (something shyly conventional and formal, something accidentally mature and chic).

How in the end, it all turned out to be a hearty, event-full and love-filled evening which could neither be undone nor even touched by the rains that poured, and by the fact that my three friends were meeting each other for the first time, me being the mutual one…

6.   The speech I had written a day before the awards night, in ready, in case I am asked to give any. Because that should be expected. The poem, I had added to the speech, in case I am asked to do a reading of (some or any of) my writing. Also.

Choosing a poem and not anything prose – prose, which would have been in perfect keeping with the genre of that year’s edition of the prize. Choosing, again, a poem because of its typical brevity, its more organic, self-contained qualities. And choosing the particular poem I chose because I had it written, already, years earlier, in honour of the man in whose honour the prize is.

7.   Both speech and poem.

Because I had no way of knowing the awards ceremony was not going to be what I had it imagined to be, a gathering of people involved in, with interest in the prize – writers and academics and people in the circles of these, the prize runners-up and other participants, the friends and perhaps families and others of all these. Until I arrived. Because I wanted to not have to be under the gaze of lights and eyes twice. And for long. Because I did not want to be taken unawares, unprepared for a speech and such during the fun and buzz and such of the ceremony. A ceremony I had no idea changes had been made to…

8.   Now, said speech:

*    *    *

Speech for Awards Ceremony of the 2018 Professor Kofi Awoonor Literary Prize (Fiction) – by Aisha Nelson.

I am highly honoured, quietly but very excited to have won this second and fiction edition of the Professor Kofi Awoonor Literary Prize.

Somewhere and sometime in the past, I have told the story of how I never remember setting out as a writer. But here I am now. Again. Much of that story was not about me.  Much of that story is not about me.

And from today, much of that story will not be about only me. I have mentioned with great gratitude and fondness, the late Ms. Wobson, my senior high school English teacher who first saw and said I am a writer one time in class; Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond, who also went too early and sadly.

I have written more than a story and a song about and for the gift of fathers and teachers and friends and believers including Dr. Mawuli Adjei, Professor Kofi Anyidoho, Dr. Martin Egblewogbe, Kwabena Agyare Yeboah, Jonathan Bill Doe, Agnes Quansah, Agnes Gyening. And Kojo – because he insisted I mention his name too.

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Picture by Vanessa Aduama: My (other) friends and meAgnes Quansah and her son on the left, and Agnes Gyening on the right.

I can talk forever about the Giver of all good and beauty-full Gifts, Ataa Naa Nyɔŋmɔ.

I can talk long about my late Grandmother, Mary Ansaba Botchway; Mother, Naa Amanuah Ankrah; my late Father, Ali Nelson. And my nephew, Kofi Poku Odum – who nearly joined me here.

 And right now, I want to share a poem, a poem I was to contribute – a few years ago – to an anthology in honour of the man in whose name and legacy we are gathered here, Professor Kofi Awoonor. Onukpa Kofi (Nyidevu) Awoonor.

 

No Praise – for Onukpa Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor.

I

Grand-e-mother said someone’s one can be more
than another’s ten. One Child.
So here, take corn, salt, take
Pepper. Take that which sates and has character.

Where I come from, they say one can be the killer
of cow for feeding the whole town. (Wo)Man.
Oh smile. laugh. even in death (read SLEEP).
Shine. live and sing. now and on. and again.

Where I come from, they say he does
not age (together) with his claws. The Old Leopard.
So here, take dew, wine, take
Water. Take that which fills and extends…

 

II

fate got it
Wrong. And it’s not fate’s first time. It bit. It
chewed. And it will forever be left
With the swallowing, the eating proper.

fate forgot
One time too many that even in death (read SLEEP), some
Leopards, with one stone of a leap, kill that two-bird of
a death, of a cow, with one leap of
A life, of a life that shames both age and grave.

 

III

praise is
ugly in mouths still munching the pay to praise. praise is
sickly when the one it is poured on needs to look askance,
to look behind to see if it is not for another the praise is…

Praise
will not be forced, will not be poured, not be willed.
Praise is comely on Its own self. So here, take no praise.

Be. Take. You.—-Praise. Are. You…

 

Thank you.

*     *    *

Love,

AishaWrites, 
AishaWinsToo.

Tuesday, 11th June 2019;
Dansoman, Accra, Ghana.

 

A Poem and Some: To Onukpa Atukwei Okai, In Memoriam. (Part 2)

 

This is the second and concluding Part of this writing. Read the first part.

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Picture of Prof. Atukwei Okai – Image may be protected by copyright.

The next and last time I encountered Onukpa Atukwei Okai, it was not at PAWA House.

That next and last time, it was a phone conversation, a conversation which occurred days before my getting into what has always been the very closed undergrad (third year) Introduction to Creative Writing class at the Department of English, University of Ghana, Legon.

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Foregrounds of the The Balme Library, of the University of Ghana, Legon – Image may be protected by copyright.

Prof. Kofi Anyidoho was to be the lecturer, and he would later be a teacher, and a father, to us his students – and when I am not too shy, he would be a friend too, to me, like any of the rest.

And this was throughout the two years that the full Creative Writing courses ran – that is, throughout the two years the course progressed from Introduction to Creative Writing (year three, first semester) and congealed into simply Creative Writing (year three, second semester) before caking with a frightening but freeing intent into Advanced Creative Writing (final year, year-long).

And this was throughout same two years during which the class size was whittled down from 21 to 15 and then straight to 5 students.

From Twenty-One

With the One sitting odd and decidedly detached from the neatly even Twenty, the One sitting aloof yet playing like It belonged to the defined, recognisable form of the Twenty…

I was that One

And for reasons and circumstances I am – again, even up to this day – not able to fully understand and believe, I was one of that final Five.

I was One. Anyway. Despite. In the end.

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Picture Mine: Personal copies of portfolio submitted for grading at the end of each semester of the entire Creative Writing courses: ENGL 363 – Third Year, First Semester; ENGL 364 – Third Year, Second Semester; ENGL 450 – Year long, Final Year. ENGL 450 portfolio is submitted at the end of both semesters, the final one being the ‘fuller’, final student work.

Somewhere during those two years, Dr. Mawuli Adjei would take the classes for some four or two weeks, while Prof. Anyidoho needed to be away. And this was not necessarily the beginning, but definitely was a reference point for his becoming my former lecturer and an ongoing teacher, a kind father and great friend. (And oh, for a reason I’m yet to know, and perhaps, too shy, as usual, to ask, he calls me Sheilla, not Aisha! But not like I mind. So…) Dr. Mawuli Adjei.

Again, forgive me if I (seem to) have digressed again: I only want to tell this story and tell all of it (in one piece, at one place) and never have to tell (another bit of) it elsewhere, again.

So that phone conversation with Onukpa Atukwei Okai. The point of it all was as urgent and grave as the great good which his bringing of Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond and I together brought to my writer-life.

So somewhere in that very brief phone conversation, there was something Onukpa Atukwei Okai said, something after which our conversation had to die a natural, sudden end.

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Credit: BBC Pidgin// ‘Proverb’ Translation: No matter full a bus gets, nobody sits on the driver’s seat.

Something which sank with indelible impact in me because Onukpa Atukwei had taken the time and care to say it in Ga, the mother-tongue he and I shared.

Something which I would later ponder and wonder long about for days and hours, weeks and close to months and a year.

Something which, in the end, would seep and pour and pool into a poem I would write and include in the portfolio I would submit for grading at the end of the first semester of the entire Creative Writing course.

A poem which, in its own weight and ways, would add to the grades which would keep me in the class throughout those two years, the two years at the end of which only 5 out of the initial jagged-edged number of a 21 – rather than the crisply neat 20 – students remained. Solely by merit, I must mention.

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Picture of Prof. Atukwei Okai – Image may be protected by copyright.

And even though I am certain Onukpa Atukwei Okai did not know, and might/would never know about this poem, I do not want to forget to let it be known that long before he passed on, he had lived and will continue to live in a poem he inspired.

A poem he could have as well written and written far better.

A poem he would have all but written if not that it would have been – or at least, have seemed – too novice of him.

A poem he inspired, singularly, all the same.

A poem, I say.

*

The Car 

I have a destination
I have a ticket
the car is full
some said

I have to get there
I have what it takes
the car is full
all chanted

I shall be there
I ought to
the car is full
conductor comes

here I am
out-standing them all
the car came full
and I was the driver

*

Love,

AishaWrites,
AishaRemembersToo.

Monday 20th August, 2018;
Kalpohine Estates, Tamale, Ghana.

*

PS.:

 The Car was one of the poems I read on the weekly radio programme, Writers Project on Citi, on Citi 97.3 FM, on Sunday, 6th May 2012. Before then, I had performed this poem at an open-air theatre event by the Academy of Young Writers – Ghana, at Mensah Sarbah Hall, University of Ghana, Legon

A Poem and Some: To Onukpa Atukwei Okai, In Memoriam. (Part 1)

The Onukpa Kobena Eyi Acquah love story is told. And the poetry for Onukpa Kofi Awoonor is…

The love poems for Onukpa Mawuli Adzei (also Adjei) and two or three others abide. And so does that story about Awula-nukpa Star Nyaniba Hammond, the story about how I Never Remember Setting Out as a Writer…

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Picture of Prof. Atukwei OkaiImage may be protected by copyright.

But there is more. There has always been a not-exactly-little more to that story. And this is how I come to talk of a memory, a poem, and a not-so-little more.

Particularly a poem for, about, and singularly inspired by Prof. Atukwei Okai, as he is better known as.

*

When I first heard of the passing of Prof. Atukwei Okai, I was shocked and still reeling from the sadness of the passing of Greats gone ahead – Greats like Prof. Kofi Awoonor, a few years earlier; Kojo Laing, a year or so afterwards; Efo Kodjo Mawugbe and Peggy Oppong (pseudonym for Magaret Sarfo), more years earlier; and Dr. Kobena Eyi Acquah, whose passing was some days, maybe even weeks, before Prof. Atukwei Okai’s.

My earliest memory of Onukpa Atukwei Okai was a meeting that happened during my senior high school years, at a time some of my earliest poetry and short fiction were getting published in Graphic Communications Group’s, The Mirror.

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Photo mine: Some of my earliest publications, in The Mirror. Highlighted parts show my name. Handwritten parts are Madam Star‘s: one, my senior high school address on an envelope; the other,  feedback after her reading one of my published work in the The Mirror  a short story, A Friend in Need.

Around that same time, I became friends with one Daniel Asumadu Ndo, who had first written to me, after seeing one of my work –  A True Home, a poem–    in The Mirror.

Mainly through post-mailed letters from Mawuli School to Mfantsiman Girls Senior High School and back and again, Daniel and I dreamed and prayed, planned and worked, and ultimately, published the first installment of what was meant to be a series of The Mfawuli Mail, a pamphlet of episodic life-in-senior-high-school stories revolving around a set of stock characters.

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Photo mine: My personal copy of The Mfawuli Mail, printed and mailed to me by Daniel. Around the copy are one of many letters and envelopes of some of posted letters from Daniel.

That first installment – copies of which we posted to be placed in the libraries of selected senior high schools  in Ghana – will later also be the only installment.

Because Daniel and I  were more than half-way through our senior high school years.

Because we – especially Daniel – were funding this fine dream ourselves, from our student pocket monies.

Because, and even worse, we lost touch for more than five years after we completed senior high school.

Daniel and I got in touch again after he heard me on radio. I was a featured guest on one of Writers Project of Ghana’s Sunday evening literary radio programme, Writers Project on Citi.

But long before we will be re-connected and while our senior high school years lasted, it was Daniel who first mentioned the Ghana Association of Writers (GAW) and Pan-Africa Association of Writers (PAWA) – PAWA House, specifically – to me.

It was Daniel who had encouraged and persisted in making sure I went and inquired at the place, to find out how I could get what he believed would be a big start to my becoming established in this writing thing, something same Daniel was very confident I had a clear, clean knack for.

It was not easy finding the place. PAWA House. Nor was finding my way back home. Not the first time, at least. And I had to use different routes for my latter going-s and returning-s. There not being a clear sign board or anything of the sort about and around the premises on which both the GAW and PAWA offices stood did not help.

I remember standing right behind the back wall of the premises and asking person after passing person, asking people who were confident they knew everywhere in these parts, people who proved to know everywhere but the place I mentioned and claimed was a part of these parts they were sure they knew more than just well. What did help was that I had been told that PAWA House is quite opposite Accra Girls Senior High School from across the main road, so I was sure not to stray past the school, despite all the advice and (mis)directions I received.

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Photo mine: Parts of my GAW membership application, a photocopy.

I don’t remember well how I finally found the place, nor how I found too that the premises’ entrance was not where I had expected to find it – it was not facing the main road.

The first person I saw after going through the gate was an elderly security man.

This kind man would later know so much about me and my going-s and coming-s – which was once or not many times during school vacations – to PAWA House that, he could tell me if the person I had come looking for was around and available. Or not.

Whatever be the case, and being always bent on not wasting my coming-s, I would thank my elderly man friend and then go in, into the reception of the GAW end of the PAWA House offices.

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Photo mine: One of many scribblings of Mr. Ankrah, while our many conversations lasted.

I found a friend in another elderly man I came to know and call Mr. Ankrah. He was an administrator or similar at the GAW end of the offices.

The days I went to PAWA House and I did not (get to) see Onukpa Atukwei Okai – because he was the General Secretary of PAWA; because he had many commitments – Mr. Ankrah always gave me a seat and talked long and full with me, encouraging and educating me, until well into the day, sometimes even dusk.

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Photo mine: A copy of GAW’s commemorative brochure. Kobena Eyi Acquah, the then GAW President, wrote its Introductory Note!

Another person who was of fewer words, who was not as often available to indulge painfully-naïve-and-shy-wannabe-writer-me was Dr. Rex Quartey, the GAW General Secretary at the time.

He was the one to finally receive and file my GAW application form, the same to issue and sign the receipt for the form. Dr. Quartey also gave me a very past – November 1991 – GAW commemorative brochure.

I found about Dr. Quartey’s passing by accident, many years after, long after his burial, such that, it was too late for me to pay any last – I can only hope this suffices – respects to him, anything honourable in memory of him. Dr. Rex Quartey.

About Mr Ankrah again. (Did I say he had my mother’s maiden surname? Well.) He also was the one who told me more about GAW than I could have asked. He had given given me the GAW membership form to fill, and he personally initiated the administrative work after I returned the form to Dr. Quartey.

Mr. Ankrah also told me about Bill Marshall and the approachable brilliance of his novel, The Oyster Man.

It was also Mr Ankrah who told me about Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond, and greatly helped in making my meeting with her happen.

But – no – And for reasons I can only guess, even as at today, it was Onukpa Atukwei Okai who first mentioned and advised with certain urgency that I meet Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond.

Forgive me. For the digression, for my mentioning and talking long and large about other people, when it is Onukpa Atukwei Okai I have said to write about and for, when it was Onukpa Atukukwei Okai I mean to ‘remember’…

What I mean to say, to achieve, with this apparent digression is that, that my story about my ‘…never remembering setting out as a writer’, my story about Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond’s far-too-brief yet far-more-generous an influence on my writer-life story.

That story.

None of it would have happened if Onukpa Atukwei Okai had not mentioned me to Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond.

Yes, none of said story would have come to acquire the place and weight in my being a writer, if Onukpa Atukwei Okai had not, at least, initiated what would be my first and only meeting – not letterwith Awula-nukpa Star Nyaniba Hammond.

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Photo mine: The envelope and the second and last page of Madam Star’s first and only letter to me. ”You must always develop your own style“, she says.

And for people who know the beauty-full and meaning-full gravity of that my meeting with Madam Star on writer me, they can, at least begin to imagine the twice urgent and sheer import(ance) of that one deed by Onukpa Atukwei Okai – his mentioning and advising that I meet Madam Star, and who knows? maybe too his making phone calls and arrangements and such to make that meeting happen.

Now, so far, this is the story behind that my Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond story. And even though this story is perhaps too late in coming, maybe too late in getting told, I am grateful that I get to tell it now, that I tell it at all.

And this, all this, is what I choose to remember and to miss Onukpa Atukwei Okai for.

And all this is but one half of this story…

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Onukpa Atukwei Okai performing… – Image may be protected by copyright.

*

Love,

 AishaWrites,
AishaRemembersToo.

 Monday 20th August, 2018;
Kalpohine Estates, Tamale, Ghana.

Love in Four Persons, Four A-s.

The Love that is Called Mother, Amanuah.
I
Which Mother sends one daughter
a (swim suit kind of) bra,
three strings of waist beads,
a big bottle of corn drink and
generous pounds of salted beef?
Mine does. Naa Amanuah Ankrah is her name.

 

Many a time, it is the thought, it is the state of heart that

matters most, and not the matter…

This too is a kind of L.O.V.E. And I am my Mother’s daughter.

– Saturday, 13 June 2015. 

II 

People say we look
alike. Right now, like
many times, I am trying to find, to understand
what makes this Woman so full and spilling
with giving love, with simple laughter,
with unpretentious dance – a zest, an allure
that is infectious and unfading.

I am Naa AMANUAH‘s daughter. Too.

 

Sunday, 27 November 2016 

 

amanuah

Picture (of a picture) of Mother. Circa 1993.  

 

*

 

A Love Like This

…and I saw Love today. It has
the texture of a father, the taste of a friend,
the strangeness of finding it or of it finding
you in the places you never thought to look, in
the people you never thought could care.

I saw Love today and I am still reeling
from the wonder of not knowing
how to accept it without apologizing
for it, reeling with the shock of not dying
with the shock of it all.

I saw Love today and I want to book-
-mark this day like the sheets of papers I once
said life and days are, and I want to ear-
-mark this day as the day that the fullness of the
Love that you are and you showed
me dawned on me, fell on me

with an immensity that
blesses and lifts, that builds and firms – all at
once. And before that time is come when the
eagle will not need height nor the
keenness of vision to hunt, I will be
forever grateful, and I will write…

Thank you for the gift of you. And whether I am
Aisha
or I remain (your)
Sheilla,
Thank you. Thank you,
I say.

 

dr mawuli adzei

Photo Credit: Dr. Mawuli ADJEI. 

 

*

The Big Loves in the Little Things, in the Not-Actually-Little Things…

They used to called me a crier.

I don’t know if they still will, would or do.

But I do know it was cleansing, healing, and refreshing the first and only time in my life when someone understood me enough to not only listen, but to cry with me.

Don’t they say when one cries, the world only watches on, watches one cry alone?

Don’t they say men don’t cry – not for the seeing of women, any human?

Don’t they say when one cries, the world looks away, lets one cry alone?

Don’t they say men shouldn’t cry – not for anything, not for any reason?

I have not stopped shedding quiet tears in memory of you, and of your passing.

And you still remain the finest Gentle-Man I have ever known. Let them say their worst, I still have you at heart.

And it is because of the seemingly little, the apparently insignificant ways you touched my life, the ways you showed that you believe in me. It is because of these same little things that you are irreplaceable. Rest in Bliss.

 

Sunday, 16 June 2013 

 

II

Tomorrow will be six years since Ali left. If he were here, the day after tomorrow will be LOVElier. And more. The day after tomorrow, I graduate…

We would have laughed about everything. And nothing. Too. We would have been free to be both children and adults, in public.The lines between who I am to him and who he is to me would have blurred and then brightened into LOVE unrestrained and unashamed.

As for age, it would have meant something much less than even a number.

He called me ‘Ishe’. He was the only who called me that. Any other person who used that name easily came across as a desperate copycat and sometimes, as a trying too hard to please me or to get my solemn attention or as having a not-so-sincere motive for resorting to that name in the first place.

When I am too ‘shy’ to call him ‘Bro Ali‘, I called him with my eyes and he always ‘heard’ me call him before the two syllables in his name escaped my lips. It was instinctive: my calling him and his response, his urgent, undivided attention to whatever it was I wanted to say – however childish, curious, silly or very like his Ishe.

No. He was no brother, but he was that and so much more. And no, I have no brother, but for my half-brother, Azuma Nelson, but ALI was more than just enough…

Tomorrow will be six years since ALI left, and if he were still here, it couldn’t have hurt for life to have more hold, more gait, than it does now.
This too is L.O.V.E, of a rare, irreplaceable kind.

And this L.O.V.E. is all the more special because it transcends words, time, space and the material…

Tomorrow will be six years since ALI  left, and I remain my Father’s daughter.

– Friday, 26 June 2015.

 

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Picture mine: February 2017 – At work, in a sweater Father gave me, a sweater I had on the whole day, for reasons beyond cold weather.

*

for A
…With My All.

my flesh aches and faints for
your touch – no, not
your touch – your very
presence or the essence of it or a
token of it, at least.

with a will of its own, my mind
perpetually, steadily
threatens to burst at its seams:
wondering – swelling high and wide with rapturous awe-s of
you;
wandering – whirling free and full within the enthralling aura that is
you…

my all and I
pine and yearn
adore, dwell
crave and groan
with doubly fond thoughts and more…of you –
without a care for the world
without any care in the world

without a care for me-self.

without ready reasons,
my soul shifts and skips
at mere glimpses
of
what beauty-full worlds
of
boundless bliss and primal joys and raw delights (that are)
lying in wait for the moment (that)
You and I
will be trans-FORM-ed,
and are transcendED by

sweet sweet WE.

with
a sway of its own,
my spirit seeks and searches
hard after yours.

my being
desires and is desperate
to do you
only
good
only

If this is
not love,
what then could
it be? If this be short
of love,
what else ought
it be?

– Saturday, 20 September 2014.

 

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A for Aisha. Picture mine: July 2015, Coconut Grove Beach Resort, Elmina, Ghana.

 

*   *   *

 

Love,

AishaThinks.

23-July-2017; Kumasi.

Ben Okri: Of Incidents, Stories, Stirrings. And a Song.

Over this past weekend, I went through one pile of books which I keeping adding to but never seem to find the time to read. I had to go through the pile because I needed to squeeze up stuff somewhere in my room(s) and I picked up Ben Okri’s Incidents at the Shrine and Bessie Head’s Tales of Tenderness and Power, both of which are collections of shorts stories. I picked these two only because I found that they are the only ones in this pile which I had not yet signature-labeled, like I do for all books which are in my possession and are mine.

There is a mound of books – mostly fiction, among a crowd of other genres as well as drafts and pamphlets and other documents. All these and more are permanently sitting, large and airily, in one armchair in my living room. And the situation on the chair is but one spillover of what had long happened to my bed and any other space which happened to be idle and unlucky enough in any other part of the room. It just has to be too bad for such a space if it happens to be in or on a piece of furniture. It will not be spared.

This is how Head and Okri’s ended up on the waiting-to-be-read mound on that armchair. And this is my first time (having) to read both writers writers – or is it to have pieces of their works? Truth is, I never planned to read any of the two. Not this soon, not yet, at least. Now, I’m on the fourth of the eight short stories in Incidents at the Shrine. Disparities is the title. And no, I’m not reading the stories in the order in which they appear in the collection.

For all the three or four I’ve read so far, I hear the voice of Chuma Nwokolo. Voice in the literal, not literary sense. Voice as in the sound, and maybe the personality – but not necessarily of persona – of it. Nwokolo’s. I am still figuring out why this is so for me, but I’m very certain it has nothing at all to do with both Okri and Nwokolo being Nigerians. Otherwise, it could have as well been the voice of Rotimi or Wole Talabi or Soyinka or Ifeoma Okoye or Achebe or Ene Heneshaw or Adichie or Adewale Maja Pearce or others. Or?

The epynomous story in Mohammed Naseehu Ali’s collection, The Prophet of Zongo, echoes the ending or how the main character ended in Okri’s Converging Cities. A major character, Monica, in Laughter Beneath the Brigde vivdly reminds me of Anowa in Ama Ata Aidoo’s Anowa a play; the setting and much of the themes resemble those of Beast of No Nations, the movie; part(s) of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart makes me appreciate how the Egungun part of Laughter Beneath the Brigde later turned out.

I am well into Disparities, a little over half-way through it. Even though the setting and strain of the themes may be distant from those of Ayi Kwei Armah’s Fragments (a novel), there is a lot I see of in both characterization and voice. And this time, voice as in both persona and personality. Still in this story, I find that there remains more truth, sadness and loneliness than one may be willing to tolerate, especially if one has imbibed too much of the sleek lies, divine vanities and well…the exalted follies of (what) this side of eternity (has turned and is growing into).

This also means that, I see a lot of Armah’s Baako (main character in Fragments) in Okri’s I-don’t-know-his/her-name-yet in Disparities – so far in my reading, this other character in Disparities has still not been named by Okri. Maybe this character in Disparities will also go (deliberately) not-named, like The Man, a similar character in another Armah novel, The Beautyful Ones are not Yet Born.

Again, I’m on my fourth story and I can say Okri’s writing tastes like parables.

They touch on the human and the mundane but not without giving that needed, albeit eccentric glimpse – and sometimes, or a little more – of the (sur)real world(s) and or forces that inform and or define this popular side of the known and absolutes. They are as innocent and wild as they come, but with neither apology nor any claim to perfection. They are as easy as they come, but only apparently. The stories exude truths that one may think are simple and familiar, and sometimes even funny, until one finds that they are also sly and slippery and sticky, so that given even the smallest shred of thought, these stories weigh on the mind and refuse to let go…

There is Okri’s story endings, which I find natural but not exactly predictable; conclusive and yet, may as well be cyclical; and then, full and no more. No spillover of any kind, and yet lead somewhere and everywhere and nowhere, all at the same time. The endings.

I can say similar things about Okri writing in the first person voice. It drips with something so far away, beyond mere craftsmanship and empathy for its own sake.

There also is his mastery for language: it is poetic and lyrical, it is lean but generous with layers and dimensions of meaning, it is precision and prudence. Images are apt. The images jump… It is almost as if language finds Okri, rather than he arriving at it. The grit and tune do not wear. The wit and humour are so fluid, so subtle, so married that they startle and saturate at once.

One more thing I find striking…I’m wondering – thinking and learning – what it is with Okri and his use of lizards in the stories. The lizards. They appear and disappear like all lizards do in real time. However, the lizards in the stories are special in that, they hold or are tied to the structure and (some of) the themes in (some of the) stories.

At one time, the lizard motif is innocent but dramatic, and at other times, curiously funny and armed with every power to tear a character’s sanity and or dignity beyond some kind of rest or redemption. They drip with the un-nameable, the un-normal, or maybe the para-normal, bordering of the spiritual. Yes, lizards. Like in Crooked Prayer and Laughter Beneath the Bridge and Converging City. In Disparities, one may see the lizard motif (morph) in(to) something queerer. Dogshit.

Even besides the lizard-y thing-y, the spiritual and the mysterious are rife in Okri’s stories. And where love and madness – or anything in between, and in any degree or status – they never ask for one’s permission (to happen) nor for forgiveness (after happening). And they never need nor even wish for one’s pity or praise. Most of the time. Most of them. Whether as events or as characters. The love or madness or whatever is raw and real and righteous in its own right, and without any restraint whatsoever.

I can’t say I’ve discovered my love for Okri’s writing because it has been there long before I actually read him, for I’ve long been famished with his The Famished Road. This has always been more because of an inexplicable pull, a bottomless yearning for The Famished Road than because it won the Man Booker Prize in 1991. I nearly got to read The Famished Road: a friend would have lent it to me, if not that the friend, at that time, was sweetly, slowly savouring the novel and among other things, was learning something about how Okri crafted dialogue. Even though I never got to read it by borrowing and have not found a copy of The amished Road to buy for myself, I couldn’t and still won’t begrudge my friend the delight and treasures…

When it comes to reading, I am unforgivably erratic – but not reckless – and willful, yet unpredictable. Or so I think. Once, I read Nii Ayikwei Parkes‘  Tail of the Blue Bird in one day; Armah’s Fragments in more than five weeks; Mawuli Adzei’s Taboo in about two days; and I’ve read bits and chunks of several others in such and several other duration-s. So even though I know it is good to set reading  goals, I end up doing with reading goals what I usually do with ‘rules’. Because I find ‘rules’ painfully incompatible, and even antagonistic, to the way I like to think my brain works, I abhor ‘rules’ and relish in ‘breaking them’ for the simple fact that they exist or that someone decided to breathe them into being.

So?

So maybe I will know better as I grow. But right now, I know better than to go setting reading ‘rules’ for the self that is me. So I will try waa diɜŋtsɜ, but I cannot promise myself to finish reading all eight short stories in Incidents at the Shrine, despite all my longing and taste of Okri’s writing.

And I cannot promise myself I will read Tales of Tenderness and Power after Incidents at the Shrine. Yes, even though I expect to come to adore Bessie Head for just about any of her writing like I do Mariama Bâ for her So Long a Letter. Somewhere in the mound on that chair and elsewhere, there are borrowed books and personal and academic and every other reading thing for me to start or finish or start and finish.

Then there and the set texts for the IGCSE and AS and A Level Literature classes that I teach. Somewhere in the set texts are a CIE-selected collection of tonnes of poetry form different places and times and peoples; a hefty collection of hefty short stories including Thomas Hardy‘s A Son’s Veto, (Hector Hugh Munro); Saki‘s Sredni Vashtar; Sylvia Townsend Warner‘s The Phoenix and Rohinton Mistry‘s Of White Hairs and Crickets. Novels include Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake and Adichie’s Americanah. For drama, besides Shakespeare and others’, there are Ama Ata Aidoo’s plays, The Dilemma of a Ghost and Anowa. Thankfully, I’ve already read Adichie’s, some of the Shakespeares, Aidoo’s two, a decent number of the collected poems and a good number of the short stories and others.

At the moment though, and somewhere soft and cozy inside of my being, I feel like I can and will write (more) short stories again. Soon. This has long been coming but I think having read Okri has heaved it all into a sensible motion and dare I say, direction. I feel a re-baptism and a confirmation of that song-full, soul-ish day last year when I knew and said (a) Story is calling out to me, starting and stirring and warming and whirling up…

So I sing of the song of the river and of that some-one’s-only daughter.

So I sing in the tongue that speaks and speaks true, in folds and in stretches, whenever I speak or sing or hear It or Its essence in utterance or in song. Ga.

Mawie Ga. Mala Ga.

Faa lɜ kɜ lɜ miiya e-e-e-i

Faa lɜ kɜ lɜ  miiya

Faa lɜ kɜ lɜ miiya e-e-e-i

Faa lɜ kɜ lɜ  miiya

 

Mɔko biyoo kome too

Faa lɜ kɜ lɜ miiya

Mɔko biyoo kome too

Faa lɜ kɜ lɜ miiya

*     *    *   *

The river is taking her away e-e-e-i

The river is taking her away

The river is taking her away e-e-e-i

The river is taking her away

 

Someone’s only one daughter

The river is taking her away

Someone’s only one daughter

The river is taking her away

 

Love,

AishaWrites

 

Sunday, January 10, 2015.

Fifteen Pieces of Literature: Fifteen Shades of What They Call LO.V.E. (2)

Because of the savour of thy good ointments

thy name is as ointment poured forth,

therefore do the virgins love thee.

Songs of Solomon chapter 1, verse 3 (KJV)

For this reason, the very very few times I have written anything which could easily pass for the ‘love poem’ label, I have gone on to live questioning my own and sincerity – both as a wannabe-writer and more. Long after writing such poems, I like to console myself that I never set out to write a ‘love poem’ from the very onset. With a mind and will of its own, such poems simply insisted on turning out the way they did. As ‘love poems’.

poetryy[1]Photo Credit

These are poems borne of some state and or feeling that transcends mere mind and matter; someThing real, strong and raw. I speak of a reality of a self, an-other and or the world – a reality which is tangible, even if it is yet to get a name, and no matter how momentary or monumental it turns out to be. This someThing can be anything far from love. It may be Love itself. Just as it can be something that is not exactly Love; something that may be barely short of Love. Or this someThing might have started off as Love. This someThing might have as well simply morphed or long moved on…well, from (being or even vaguely having the semblance of) Love.

These are poems which will later on, receive very little or no re-vision or re-write. This is what must happen. Otherwise, I dis-miss – but not, discard – these my ‘love poems’ altogether. Almost always, I dismiss these poems, not without giving myself the ‘What were you thinking?’ laugh and shake of head. Yes, I laugh at my own self for my feeble attempts at – that is if I even ever set out to writeLove poems.

A and B

One day when I grow older in this Thing they call Love, and when I grow as a person and as a writer too, I may change my mind about all these dogmas I have about Love and what is usually called a ‘Love Poem’.

Until that day, I believe in something. That there is something sacred, shifty and so infinite about Love, something which makes pinning Love down on paper, and with words – in poetry, to be specific – an apology of what Love really, truly, fully, is, can be and can mean. One can always try with the pinning down with words thing, but that does not make the whole process any less than an apology, unpretentious and unqualified.

(In the immediate previous blog, the first in this series, I already implied that there ARE, and there will be poems that capture all or almost all that Love can possibly mean and consist of. These are exceptions. And together with their writers, I respect and celebrate these poems.)

Keke 1

Keklevi Ansah

Having said this, whenever I am reading anything that seeks or attempts to deify, demystify or so much as even suggest a description of Love, I find myself too much on the guard to look out for how forced or vain, inadequate or exaggerated, blasphemous or even hypocritical the whole attempt of writing about Love is. Again, in poetry, to be specific.

Of course, there are ‘love poems’ which even on my first time encountering them, I knew right before I ended the first line that this poem is like no other ‘love poem’. Truth is, I did not even know the names of the writers of some of these poems, or that they (the poems, that is) have anything to do with love. And this is not to even mention how I can be very bad I am at remembering names of writers and the titles of their work(s). This chronic forgetfulness happens more times than I can even forgive myself for, irrespective of how I much I was filled and or affected by the said poem – or any piece for that matter – and whether or not the piece was about or had anything to do with love. This will not be my first time saying this, and also citing the two Elizabeth B-s as examples.

I may never be quick to call these other writers and or their works (my) favourites, but I do know that I will always go back to read and re-read many of them over and over and far too many a time. I will read them and enjoy reading them more than I will my own self. This, I know.

For now, and in keeping with the title of this blog series, I have gathered fifteen Love Poems/ Pieces of different peoples and genres, from places and times. In this blog, I present the first set, five pieces. Especially in this first set, more of the writers are from Ghana. Based more on format/ structure than on essence, the third piece of each set is a non-poetry piece. Apart from these, and alternating the pieces based on the gender of their writers, the pieces presented in the whole of this series are in no particular order.

sushiPhoto Credit

For some of the writers – Kofi Anyidoho and William Shakespeare are examples – I deliberately chose their less known ‘Love’ Pieces. This was to present a broader picture and richer texture of their literary works in the context of, and together with those of other writers. And apart from the writer of the very first piece, Keklevi Ansah, I have provided one source, an internet link, for readers to find more about each writer. (Keklevi tells me she is not on any online social network. I know this has everything to do with a personal decision – hers – than it is a matter of access or any other means. I respect Keklevi – her decision and all.) Instead of such a source, I have provided pictures of Keklevi, and she is the only writer I have done this for.

Keklevi Ansah is one of my students in eighth grade and about going to ninth grade. She is also one of the handful of students who beyond my being their Teacher and friend, I am super proud to mentor in anything Creative Writing. In a recent Talent Competition organized by the senior-most class in the college where, currently, I teach English Language and Literature, Keklevi performed a longer version of her poem, When Father Comes Home from the War.

Keke 1

Keklevi Ansah

I am yet to recover from the magic, the…the…well, the Love that is called Keklevi – both on page and on stage. Truth is, I do not even want to.
Recover.
Remember It comes in different forms. And that they call It L.O.V.E.
Enjoy!

 

1. When Father Comes Home from the War  by Keklevi Ansah

I never wanted father to go for that war
He could be hurt
He could be shot
Or he could even die
But when he comes back
I know he will
He will for me

When father comes home from the war
He will bring me daisies
and candies
and all those stories
Yes, he will tell me
When he comes back
I know he will
Just for me

When father comes home from the war
I will tell him never to go again
Or else I will never see him off to the train
All this grief and pain
Like an un-washable stain
He will have to stay

When father comes home from the war
This is what I will tell him
What I want from him
What I need from him
When,
When,
When father comes home from the war

 2. Love After Love by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

  1. Extract from Changes a novel, a love story, by Ama Ata Aidoo

‘Not many women are this lucky…’ Esi could hear her grandmother’s voice. ‘And who told you that feeling grateful to a man is not enough reason to marry him? My lady, the world would die of surprise if every woman openly confessed the true reasons why she married a certain man. These days, young people don’t seem to know why they marry or should marry.’

‘What are some of the reasons, Nana?’

Ah, so you want to know? Esi, we know we all marry to have children…’

‘But Nana, that is such an old and worn-out idea! Children can be born to people who are not married.’

‘Sure. Sure, but to help them grow up well, children need homes with walls, a roof, fire, pots.’

‘Oh Nana. But one person can provide all these things these days for a growing child!’

‘Maybe…yes…Yes, my lady. We also marry to increase the number of people with whom we can share our joys and the pains of life.’

‘Nana, how about love?’

‘Love? … Love? … Love is not safe, my lady Silk, love is dangerous. It is deceitfully sweet like the wine from a fresh palm tree at dawn. Love is fine for singing about and love songs are good to listen to, sometimes to even dance to. But when we need to count pennies for food for our stomachs and clothes for our backs, love is nothing. Ah my lady, the last man any woman should think of marrying is the man she loves.’

  1. Territoriality by Mawuli Adzei

Let not the crab in his psychedelic gait
Stray into my virgin field at night
Nor the tortoise for want of pace
Tarry a minute longer on my hallowed portion
Nor the cockroach encroach
Upon my holy-of-holies

The animal in us is obsessive-possessive
We mark our jurisdictions in style
Some with urine
Some with shit
Some with body scent
Some with barbed wire
And the redlines glow
With the white heat
Of the cremator’s pyre

In the law of dominions
There are no ghosts
No vacuums
No oblivions
Everything is etched in concrete
Pictures hang permanently
On walls of the mind
Smiles illuminate the darkness
Tears empty into the sea
But leave their paths of flow behind
And the heart in all seasons desires
And claims all for a heirloom

The animal in us is obsessive-possessive
We mark our jurisdictions in style
Within the bounds of this microcosm
I call my own
Carved from a million geographies
I bind you in the Gordian knot
Of the spider’s flimsy-tenuous spokes

And I’ll be PREDATOR
WARRIOR-BEE and EPIC-HERO
Defending to the hilt my TERRITORY
Spilling BLOOD
Poised to DIE
Just to hold on to YOU

5. Wine by Nana Nyarko Boateng 

Days
when your heart wakes
without you
and goes to find trouble
hurts itself
and comes back
hides in your stomach
and coils around itself like a snake
pushes against your chest just like a storm
and beats, no end
till you cry
and beat, no end
when you stop
to breath hard
like nothing is enough
to let you be
one heart
without another
attached involved loved
pumping not for its own sake but
for her
for him
for them

Days
when your heart stops
and beats you hear
is only from your memory
how it used to
be, eat, fear
love, love, love
whole
gone.

Keke 3

Keklevi Ansah

Love: AishaWrites.

I never remember setting out as a Writer. I do know that I have not only been a loner, but also, always been a thinker – as in the philosophical, reflective, and yes, the daydreaming sense. The first time I remember telling someone, an elderly person, what I would like to be in future and I mentioned Writer, I was told that no one makes a serious job, a meaningful career, out of being that. ‘Beside, writers are too weird a people. And I don’t like the way they dress. And other things,’ my aunt’s husband had added. I knew little at the time to decide what to make of his words about Writers and their ways…

I never remember setting out as a Writer. I do remember that quite early in my first year in high school, I was to write a story on a theme similar to ‘Ball in the Soup’, a story in our English Language textbook. Our Teacher had a few of us students read the stories we had come up with. Then she called me – and I had not even raised my hand, to be called – to read mine. It so much looked like one of those pranks Teachers sometimes like to play on students who are rather too quiet (but not necessarily passive) in class, just to get such students too to talk. The Opening of my story, everything In Between and The Ending made nothing, if not nonsense, of all that our Teacher had taught us about what makes for proper, well-crafted stories.

I never remember setting out as a writer, so I could not have meant to be rebellious or something of the sort to all the tips – or were they tricks? – which my Teacher had taught, and very well so. I just wrote my story the way it came to me, and that, I read to both Teacher and classmates.

I never remember setting out as a writer, so I could have expected my Teacher to be disappointed with what I read. My teacher waited too long to give the remarks about my story. There was something ominous and everything intentional – reflective, even – about the wait. While I had read and when I had finished with the reading, my classmates had been far too silent than could be true of them. They seemed to be both afraid and eager to hear what rebuke, whether harsh or hushed, that our Teacher would give me. Theirs was one worrisome wait. In an already thin voiced which had waned shrill with sheer wonderment, the rebuke came…

‘I tell you! There are writers in this class’, was all that my English Language Teacher had said. Miss Wobson is her name, and the last time I searched for her, she is late…

I never remember setting out as a writer, so during those same years, when I met Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond, I was more surprised than elated when she gladly offered to mentor me. And I did not ask, just as it never would have occurred to me to ask… She had only read one short story of mine which had appeared in Graphic Communications Group’s The Mirror. Her first letter to me – I was in boarding school by then – was more praise and love than recommendations and encouragement. That letter was to be my first and only from her. After several writing and calling back, all without any response whatsoever, I later learnt Madam Hammond passed away…

I never remember setting out as a writer and even now, and for a long time to come – and maybe forever, I will remain careful to call myself a writer. Too.

One day, I will tell of Ali Nelson and Naa Amanuah Ankrah and Ansaba Botchway.
One day, I will also tell of Prof. Kofi Anyidoho and Dr. Mawuli Adjei (Mawuli Adzei).
One day, I will tell of Adza Gloria (as I used to call her) and one Mrs. Ruth Benny-Wood. Too.

One day, I will tell of more others and properly tell this story of how it became that AishaWrites.

Until then, it just happens that Love is, that AishaWrites.

Until then and in in keeping with the name and spirit of this blog, Nu kɛ Hulu (Water and Sun), here are two poems, the latter of which was first published in the Kalahari Review.

with heads up

They went as fast as they came
leaving behind stuffed air for reasons
around all the dreams we wove
They went as fast as they came
leaving behind tired knots for cords
on the songs we strung and sang together

the dreams turned into walls
and echoed the ugliness of
the love-turned-hate songs
For a long lost memorial,
the love-turned-hate songs
smeared, smudged on the blanched walls and all

They went as fast as they could
leaving behind fine feathers for trails
to some place without a name
They went as fast as they could
to build fancy, fairy castles
with strange elements and stranger people

the feathers became wings
and fanned time, age and more time on
their haste-turned- castles
For a sorry, soul-less thing,
the haste-turned-castles
stood, drooped under the wasteful wings

They went
as fast as they came
as far as they could
leaving me with plenty room
for everything,
and all the Sun
for all things…

Thursday, 26th April 2007

…at the scent of water

not water
not dew
at the scent of water

let the frayed stump spew green
let the foul egg vomit a being

let that which was birthed to die
find life
let that which died before birth
know life

at the scent of water
not dew
not water

Friday, 19th June 2009

Do remember
to share the Love,
to spread this Love and
to leave a comment.

Do have
a merry Christmas,
a happier new year and
a fruitful, fulfilling life.

Love,

AishaWrites.

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