World Poetry Day – two favourite poems

Today – 21 March – is World Poetry Day as proclaimed by UNESCO.  A UN press release says among other things

“World Poetry Day is an invitation to reflect on the power of language and the full development of each person’s creative abilities.”

Personally I have to admit that I am not a great poetry reader.  But once in while, I will come across poems that really strikes a cord with me, and I would like to share them here.

The first is by Mamle Kabu, a Ghanaian writer who is mainly known for her short stories.  The following comes Laban Carrick Hill’s website, for which I say thank you:

Orange Juice

My dying wish?
Orange juice
From oranges that are yellow
Not orange,
Oranges from the forests of Ghana
Grown wild in cool shade
And careless beauty

Why orange juice?
Because it’s the colour of the sun
And tastes like life,
And even better things
that have no name
But can be drunk

Oranges loaded onto mammy trucks
Piled high by the roadside
Hawked with peel neatly shaved
Sucked dry, turned inside out
For the last drops
Of trapped sunlight
posing as juice

That’s what I want
That dying day,
The sun distilled
Light as liquid
A mouthful of life
No, even better things
That can’t be named
But can be drunk

The second, interestingly enough, also has a food element in it, and is by Grace Nichols (available on the web, but taken from Poems on the underground, edited by Gerard Benson, Judith Chernaik and Cicely Herbert. 10th ed. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London. 2007.)

Like a beacon

In London
every now and then
I get this craving
for my mother’s food
I leave art galleries
in search of plantains
saltfish/sweet potatoes

I need this link

I need this touch
of home
swinging my bag
like a beacon
against the cold.

Enjoy!

Writers Mamle Kabu and Kuukua Yomekpe at Goethe Institut

Last week I attended another of the Writers’ Project of Ghana readings at the Goethe Institut, here in Accra.  I wasn’t actually sure that the event was coming on as it ended up being on the day that the Eid el Fitr holiday was officially celebrated in Ghana (despite the fact that virtually all Muslims I know actually ended their fast the day before!)

For me getting to the venue was in itself an adventure as I had forgotten that it is a custom in the area near I live to have a kind of SallahFest, which means a major road is more or less blocked to ordinary traffic but filled with cars/trucks/pickups full of revelers, accompanied by many on foot, wearing the new outfits which are so characteristic of these celebrations here.  Fortunately there were some police on duty, and eventually I was able to make my way towards the east.

Because it was a public holiday, the venue for the readings was shifted outside – but as luck would have it, there were sprinkles which threatened to turn into real drizzle, and we did move inside.

This time there were two writers:  Mamle Kabu and Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe.  Both read excerpts from a recent collection, African women writing resistance:  Kabu excerpts from her short story “Story of Faith” and Yomekpe excerpts from her memoir “Musings of an African woman”,   In different ways the “stories” these two women writers read rang true – either because they told of pressures faced by contemporary women in Ghanaian universities, or for trying to find a suitable identity in the media driven world of the US.

Yomekpe’s recounting of her change of name from Melanie-Ann to Kuukua echoed for me, as well as the issues with her hair, mainly because of what I know from my own family and their experiences.

Naturally I bought a copy of the book – and fortunately many others did the same! I only wish there were more copies available in local bookshops.

Mamle Kabu and the Caine Prize

I read a couple of posts over the last week concerning the Caine Prize, and am finally responding to these, and more specifically to implications that yet another Ghanaian writer has been shortlisted for an international prize. There isn’t anything on the actual Caine Prize website – yet, but I suspect it should be up fairly soon – at least I hope so.

I did make a post not that long ago on the shortlisting of two writers from this country for the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2010.  Actually neither of them won, in their categories, but that doesn’t really matter, in a way.  Being on a shortlist is an achievement, and I wish we made more fuss and honoured our writers.  However, that is another story

This time it is Mamle Kabu, some of whose short stories I have been privileged to both hear first hand (partly because she was involved in the British Council’s Crossing Borders programme), as well as read in books or on the web.  Two of her most well-known stories include “The end of skill” which was actually included in a collection for the 2009 Caine Prize and “Human mathematics” which is included in an anthology entitled Mixed, edited by C Prasad.

This time I mention one of Mamle Kabu’s poems  – “Orange juice” which I came across first on Laban Hill’s blog, but which is also on the American PEN website .  For me, the poem beautifully expresses so many things about Ghana, and what one can miss and wish for.  Personally I do not eat oranges while on visits to the US or Europe; I feel I would be disappointed. In many ways Kabu’s poem reminds me of Grace Nichols’, “Like a beacon” with its call of plantains, saltfish and sweet potatoes.  It touches so many emotional buttons for me.

It’s funny how food can be so evocative.