by Johannes Goransson on Oct.02, 2013
Kofi Awoonor(13 March 1935-21 September 2013) was grounded in the exploration of the Ewe oral epic as a resource for poetic renewal. Through song and chant and story he relived the cultural identity of his people from their ancient days to the present. Both in utilitarian and aesthetic terms, his atmospheric poetry was an ongoing life-long restoration project. Yet there is a massive wattage of modernity in his poems: in subject and technique.
Though form-minded, the elegiac traffic of his verses seems unappeasable. In “Song of Sorrow,” he writes:
” I have wandered on the wilderness
The great wilderness men call life
The rain has beaten me,
And the sharp stumps cut as keen as knives
I shall go beyond and rest.
I have no kin and no brother,
Death has made war upon our house-“
Buoyant eclectic constructions: sharp and brown and dusty and snowy. The sea and all the other bodies of water that permeate his tense stanzas never cease pounding their fists across the page and stage and doorsteps. Ancestral energy connecting with contemporary frenzy. Primes and cracks a reader with fury, vulnerability, heart’s toast. The resources of sagacity convoking history. A certain kind of political tension that need not preclude a wild party.
His published corpus endorses an alchemic autobiographical buzz. Accordingly he flays crudity, brutality, artificiality. Embedded in his work are the forethought and afterthought of a weathervane; an incitement to some kind of love. He knows that to both raptor and prey romance is not naive. His poems validate the harried human spirit and the spirits of the air. They seem to say that sometimes it is through harnesses that one gets to the site of freedom. Opening those drawers full of pythons. Muttering that maybe there is somewhere else happening and we are afraid to admit that we do not know where it is. For this place sounds no less than shattered octave. The wind drunk with spice. Near noon,missiles. Near night, missives.As soon as he leaves anchor. And this may be the kenke
groves where he goes looking for his childhood. A way to customize a rectangle of glass.
Still working on not fidgeting. A warning on the wages of weirdness. If one track is messed up they jump tracks. Seaseer, first responder. He cannot afford to be virginal around minecraft. Wrong twilight, beacon’s shipment. Bent to a perambulator by reverb. Rapt in agnosis while a jumblesale abandons a permanent installation. Interstellar characters included. An interesting class of valences. Unwary in their raw shots. Formal duties tumbling through the air. Keen edge of scrollwork. He notices that the inquisitors postpone the bad jokes for as long as possible. Spondee,hands-in-pocket,prodigious stubbage. He does ride the jump cuts. He does burrow into their bad jokes. Criticizing Emily Bronte from the perspective of Empire? This affectionate munimeter. Another generation worth puzzling over.
Affirming life is not inevitable.In “This Earth,My Brother,” Awoonor sings:
” In time my orchestra plays my music
from potted herbs of anemone and nim
pour upon the festering wounds of my race,
to wash forever my absorbent radiance
as we search our granary for new corn.”
Of thrusts and counterthrusts of pedestals.All those legends written on logs of iroko and oak. Squared away sharply,meaning is in the process itself, scattered in every direction. In gold, cocoa, coal tipples, beams,juts. And this is his response to the constraints of time.The glory and crassness of Ghana,of course,were catalysts for his profuse lyricism. Occasional exile was part of his artistic momentum. Subliminally, sensuously, paratactically. He was not just a watcher or sayer, he believed in public action. He felt compelled to participate in the tough evolution of Ghanaian politics in order to bring positive change to his nation.
But far from the public arena, there are mythic planes contextualized in his poetic subject-hood. And there are allegorical ideals assemblaged. He was a poet as well as a critic who applied a usable past to style, practical problems,sacrality. He was true to his own sensibility and in doing so risked being misunderstood
Even at 78 years of age, he never stood for resignation.It took murderous religious terrorists in Kenya to stop him from testing his footing as he advanced on the page and street and podium. And the poetry? The range of his various approaches to writing suggests that most of his poems will resist Time.