Anyidoho, Kofi 1947–
Kofi Anyidoho 1947-
Ghanian poet, critic, essayist, and editor.
Anyidoho is considered a major figure among African poets writing in English. Noted for his ability to retain a distinctly "African voice" in his poetry, Anyidoho treats themes involving his native Ghana's political struggles, the abuse of the oppressed, social decay, the resilience and strength of the African people, and what he sees as the destruction of African traditions and values after the arrival of Christian missionaries. Anyidoho's poetry is meant to be chanted, or performed, and much of his early poetry in particular has its roots in the Ewe oral poetic tradition, to which he was introduced as a child. His later efforts increasingly have turned toward the Pan-African movement.
Anyidoho was born in 1947 in Wheta, Ghana. His mother, Abla Adidi Anyidoho, wrote and recited traditional poetry, providing her son with a background in the oral poetry—particularly the dirge tradition—of the Ewe people, native to South Ghana. Other poets in the family include two uncles, one of whom, Kodzovi Anyidoho, helped raise Anyidoho and oversaw his education. After completing primary school, Anyidoho entered Accra Teacher Training College, where he began contributing poetry to anthologies devoted to publishing works by students. Later, after receiving a specialist diploma in English at the Advanced Teacher Training College at Winneba in South Ghana, Anyidoho taught at secondary schools. In 1974 he entered the University of Ghana, earning his undergraduate degree in English and linguistics. Transferring to the United States, Anyidoho earned an M.A. from Indiana University in 1980, then a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Texas in 1983. The following year he began a longtime association with the University of Ghana, where he is an associate professor of English literature and the director of the School of Performing Arts. He has also served as visiting scholar at Indiana University and Cornell. He is married to Akosua Anyidoho and has two daughters. Stressing poetry as performance, Anyidoho has included music, dance, and audience participation in his readings, and in 1986 had the theater company at the University of Ghana stage a number of his poems. Among his numerous awards are the 1976 Valco Fund Literary Award for poetry for Earthchild, with Brain Surgery (1985); the BBC "Arts and Africa" Poetry Award, 1981; the Davidson Nicol Prize; and the Langston Hughes Prize. In 1984 he was named Ghana's Poet of the Year.
Anyidoho's early volumes—including Elegy for the Revolution (1978), A Harvest of Our Dreams, with Elegy for the Revolution (1984), and Earthchild, with Brain Surgery—reflect Ewe folklore and poetic tradition. Focusing on re-creating the voices and linguistic style of the Ewe people, the poet makes free use of imagery, repeating refrains, and verbal repetition, structuring his verse for an overall somber effect. His first collection, Brain Surgery, contains many poems that were first published in periodicals; they appeared as a group in 1985 along with Earthchild. These verses reveal the poet's political and social consciousness, revolving around themes of materialism, the loss of African ancestry through the spread of Christianity, Ghana's moral and social decay, political corruption, and the betrayals of fellow countrymen who flee the hardships of their native land in order to live lives of ease and comfort elsewhere. In an often-quoted passage from "The Song of a Twin Brother," for example, the narrator remarks, "You forget / Atsu my father's former son / You forget the back without which there is no front." Abandoning his relatives in their wretchedness and need, the brother is denying an essential part of his own being.
Anyidoho's first published volume, Elegy for the Revolution, centers on the poet's sense of loss and disappointment over the moral abuses, fraud, and violence enacted by the revolutionary government, which overran Ghana's pro-Western prime minister in 1972. Written in the mid 1970s, Elegy for the Revolution is modeled after the lament of the Ewes, mourning the decay of the poet's native land. A Harvest of Our Dreams details the atmosphere in Ghana as the revolutionaries are removed by the military, which took control in 1979 and subsequently handed over authority to civilian leaders. The title poem talks of the betrayal of Ghana through the figure of an industrious honeybee, whose harvest of fragrance is seized by another. "Dance of Death" expresses the poet's support for revolution even to the point of death, conveying the persona's need, even amidst sorrow, to push on toward a successful ending. The volume also includes the narrator's impressions about America, especially its plentiful resources, written as letters from the United States to recipients in Ghana.
These impressions of America are developed further in Earthchild, composed primarily while Anyidoho was in the United States. With verse comparing the wealth of the United States to the overwhelming need in other countries, the volume treats the poet's loneliness while away from his native land as well as the powerful spirit of black people. Ultimately, the collection depicts "Earthchildren"—the strong, unified black race—as victims of the primary race, the "Moonmen," who control technology and, in essence, "own" the world. In an expression of hope, however, the title poem celebrates African music and song, emphasizing that even though vicious slave-traders and zealous missionaries entered Africa, these forces cannot destroy the power of African musical expression, through which Africans gain the power to overcome their oppressors. The collection AncestralLogic & CaribbeanBlues (1993) marks a turn toward self-reflection, as the persona considers his role as a black man throughout history and ponders the theme of Pan-Africanism, unification of the blacks of all nations—and, by extension, all peoples suffering from exploitation and invasion. Subjects also include European colonization, slavery in America, the contemporary struggles of Africans, and the Desert Storm war. In 2002 Anyidoho published the poetry compilation Praisesong for the Land.
Since the favorable reception of Anyidoho's first collection, Elegy for the Revolution, the poet has continued to gain a reputation as one of Africa's most renowned and admired poets. Critics have remarked on his perspective as a revolutionary, commenting on his sense of betrayal over the corruption of General I. K. Acheampong's regime, which practiced extortion, enacted public beatings of those in opposition, and clashed violently with students at the University of Ghana, resulting in the deaths of several students. Assessing A Harvest of Our Dreams, with Elegy for the Revolution, critic Emmanuel Ngara found Anyidoho's poetry "extremely successful in articulating a passionate revolutionary vision." Scholars have also pointed out how in AncestralLogic & CaribbeanBlues the poet shifted his focus toward support for Pan-African ideas, focusing on the persecution of blacks as well as on the hope that persists among all those subject to exploitation. Other commentators have studied Anyidoho's use of Ewe oral traditions, particularly his reliance on the dirge form. According to Ezenwa-Ohaeto, Anyidoho has used the dirge to reflect on modern realities of pain, joy, and hope, and in doing so he has crafted new poetic forms out of traditional ones.
Elegy for the Revolution (poetry) 1978
Our Soul's Harvest: An Anthology of Ghanaian Poetry [co-editor with Kojo Yankah] (poetry) 1978
A Harvest of Our Dreams, with Elegy for the Revolution (poetry) 1984
Earthchild, with Brain Surgery (poetry) 1985
The Fate of Vultures: New Poetry of Africa [co-editor with Peter Porter and Masaemura Zimunya] (poetry) 1989
The Pan African Ideal in Literatures of the Black World (nonfiction) 1989
AncestralLogic & CaribbeanBlues (poetry) 1993
The World behind Bars and the Paradox of Exile [with Jane Guyer] (nonfiction) 1997
Beyond Survival: African Literature and the Search for New Life [co-editor with Abena P. A. Busia and Anne V. Adams] (essays) 1999
Praisesong for the Land: Poems of Hope and Love and Care (poetry) 2002
Emmanuel Ngara (essay date 1990)
SOURCE: Ngara, Emmanuel. "The Artist and the Revolutionary Dance: Kofi Anyidoho of Ghana." In Ideology and Form in African Poetry: Implications for Communication, pp. 167-75. London: James Currey, 1990.
[In the following essay, Ngara discusses how Anyidoho expressed his views as a revolutionary in A Harvest of Our Dreams, with Elegy for the Revolution, focusing on the lyricism of the verse and the poet's use of imagery and symbolism.]
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
Tanure Ojaide (essay date winter 1994)
SOURCE: Ojaide, Tanure. "Ghana—AncestralLogic & CaribbeanBlues, by Kofi Anyidoho." World Literature Today 68, no. 1 (winter 1994): 191.
[In the following essay, Ojaide considers the Afrocentrism of AncestralLogic & CaribbeanBlues.]
Kofi Anyidoho has established himself as one of the major figures of the new generation of African poets with his Elegy for the Revolution (1978), A Harvest of Our Dreams (1984; see WLT [World Literature Today] 59:4, p. 647), and Earthchild with Brain Surgery (1985; see WLT 60:3, p. 508). These earlier collections were influenced by his study of and familiarity with African—especially Ewe—folklore. The orality of his style has given his work a distinctive African mark. Many of his poems are written to be chanted or declaimed.
AncestralLogic & CaribbeanBlues reinforces the qualities for which Anyidoho is well known. Focusing on Africa and Africans of the diaspora, the poet appropri- ately uses African folklore for the formal, linguistic, and imagistic reinforcement of his Afrocentric ideas. Perhaps to show the connection with his past poetry, he includes in his new volume "Earthchild," from his 1985 collection.
The poet's preface, "IntroBlues," sets the sad tone for poems about the condition of Africans both in the diaspora and on the home continent. The poems are divided into three major sections: "CaribbeanBlues," "AncestralLogic," and "Santrofi Anoma." They move from travel abroad to the African home, from the historical and geographic to the philosophical. This also corresponds with a movement from the past to contemporary issues.
The "CaribbeanBlues" section opens with a remembrance of the Taino, a native Caribbean group wiped out by the European settlers. Written in 1992 on the five-hundredth anniversary of the so-called discovery of the Arawaks by Christopher Columbus, these poems evoke memories of pain for both the native Caribbeans and the Africans brought there as slaves. Writing mainly travel poems, the poet moves through the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba. He says, "The Haitian Batey / Is a living Wound / In the throat of the Sugar Mill." In the Dominican Republic he hears a Bakongo voice in the drums. There is irony suggested in the discrepancy between the natural beauty of the Caribbean region and its turbulent, sad history. The poet pays tribute to the heroic struggle of the oppressed people of the area.
"AncestralLogic" contains perhaps the two most moving poems in the collection. The speaker of "Lolita Jones" is an African American who chastises Africans for not acknowledging the great pan-African achievement of Kwame Nkrumah. This poem in black American English evokes strong pan-African sentiments. "Air Zimbabwe: En Route Victoria Falls" treats European colonization of Africa and its aftermath.
The third and final section deals with topical issues ranging from "DesertStorm" to military rule and political development in contemporary Africa. The poems here do not move as much as do those of the two earlier sections, maybe because the events are still very close and also because there are many philosophical statements. Santrofi, the dilemma bird of Akan mythology, seems to reflect the current plight of Africans. Dedicated to Jack Mapanje, who was perhaps still in jail at the time the poem was written, "Santrofi" relates the dangers of being an artist in Africa, a fate suffered by, among others, Soyinka, Ngugi, and Awoonor. "Husago Dance" deals on a personal level with the existential theme of life and death.
The interlude poems, one of which had been published earlier, are significant. The symbolic "Earthchild" talks of the destruction of termites—apparently imperialists—and sings of hope despite past exploitation. In "The Song of a Twin Brother," ironically dedicated to Awoonor, the major poet and exponent of Ewe folklore, Anyidoho warns Africans abroad not to lose sight of the traditional African roots that nurtured them. The final poem is an invocation of fertility rites in which the poet raises hope as life continues in new birth and growth.
The collection represents a major development in Anyidoho's poetic career. The language is witty and strong, the images drawn from African folklore and environment give concrete form to the poet's pan-African ideas, and the expression of pan-African experience and perspective is most fulfilling in its orality, passion, and use of African (Ewe) proverbial and other oratorical figures.
Ezenwa-Ohaeto (essay date summer 1996)
SOURCE: Ezenwa-Ohaeto. "Survival Strategies and the New Life of Orality in Nigerian and Ghanaian Poetry: Osundare's Waiting Laughters and Anyidoho's Earthchild." Research in African Literatures 27, no. 2 (summer 1996): 70-88.
[In the essay that follows, Ezenwa-Ohaeto examines the "oral poetic strategy" employed by Niyi Osundare and Anyidoho, respectively, in Waiting Laughters and Earthchild, concluding that both writers "effectively portray an enrichment of modern African poetry in terms of craft."]
Contemporary Nigerian and Ghanaian poetry derives much strength and vitality from Africa's oral tradition. Thus it is possible for a Nigerian or Ghanaian poet to appropriate those oral traditions and subject them, through an individual creative forge, into varied new and interesting poetic forms. However, this poetic strategy was given an impetus by a somewhat unfortunate development on the continent. The economic recession in Nigeria and Ghana created a great impact on the publishing industry, which made it impossible for many of the poets to be read by many people. Robert Fraser insists that "the hiatus thus caused was severe, and in the meantime, while the indigenous publishing sector gathered strength, there was a growing tendency for African poets to reassess their priorities." He also makes the insightful remark that "the positive result of these developments was that they thrust the oral transmission of verse, hitherto regarded chiefly as a standby, into the limelight, and hence procured a much needed rethinking of the way in which highbrow art could learn from the oral tradition. In many cases the consequence was a rediscovery of the immediacy of orality as a means of communications" (314).
This period of economic recession coincided with the now famous statement by three Nigerian critics—Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie, and Ihechukwu Madubiuke—concerning modern African poetry. The three critics had argued particularly that the older Nigerian poets write with "old-fashioned, craggy, unmusical language; obscure and inaccessible diction; a plethora of imported imagery; a divorce from African oral poetic tradition, tempered only by lifeless attempts at revivalism" (165). Although Wole Soyinka, one of the poets criticized, has labeled them "neo-Tarzanists" who are asking for "the poetics of death, and mummification not of life, renewal and continuity" (68), Roger Berger argues that "nearly all critics of African texts whether or not they agree with Chinweizu, have read (or are in some way familiar with) Chinweizu's criticism. For this reason, the criticism of African Literature can never be the same as it was before the appearance of Chinweizu's book" (148).
It could be argued that the view that Chinweizu and his colleagues propounded coincided with the independent views of the emerging poets, but there is no doubt that they are cultivating those recommended creative strategies. In an interview with Frank Birbalsingh, Niyi Osundare from Nigeria states that the poems of his elders, like "Soyinka, Okigbo, J. P. Clark, and Kofi Awoonor," were "extremely difficult, particularly those by Soyinka and Okigbo. Our enthusiasm soon fizzled out. When I started writing, this negative influence was in my mind and I felt it was the duty of the new generation of Nigerian poets to bring poetry back to the people. Since everything about our culture is lyrical and musical, how come, when we put this in written form, we alienate the people who created the material in the first instance" (Birbalsingh 97). This notion is amplified by Kofi Anyidoho from Ghana who confesses pointedly that, for him, "the primary source of influence and interest … has been the Ewe oral tradition" and that he "had a fairly extensive exposure over all" his life as "a child to various forms of Ewe oral poetry" (qtd. in Wilkinson 8). Thus many modern Nigerian and Ghanaian poets exploit and explore their oral traditions, thereby invigorating and rejuvenating their poetry.
This study uses the poems of the Nigerian poet Niyi Osundare in Waiting Laughters and the poems of the Ghanaian poet Kofi Anyidoho in Earthchild to discuss the features and characteristics of the new life of oral cadences in modern Nigerian and Ghanaian poetry. The selection of the two poets is informed by several reasons. They are both prize-winning poets, for Osundare has won the Association of Nigerian Authors Poetry Prize, the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, and the Noma Award, while Anyidoho has won the Poet of the Year Award in Ghana, the Valco Prize, and the BBC Arts and Africa Poetry Award. Furthermore, the two poets are critics of African poetry who are also aware of the resources of their oral traditions and their uses in adding new life to modern African poetry.
The twin issue of waiting and laughter as the major aspects in the collection Waiting Laughters provide a thematic focus on hope in the midst of despair as the poet utilizes various devices informed by his oral traditions. This collection, significantly subtitled "a long song in many voices," immediately calls to mind many of those elements associated with music that are usually exploited by the oral performer. The collection is in four sections, and the first section immediately sets the scene through the poet's pervasive use of images. These images are structured in parallels and they engineer responses that are related to the poet's satiric purposes. The poetic scene is set thus:
I pluck these words from the lips of the wind; Ripe like a pendulous pledge I pluck these murmurs From the laughter of the wind The shrub's tangled tale Plaited tree tops And palms which drop their nuts.
This statement of purpose is clearly related not only to the poetic objective to pursue a dedicated creative enterprise in either asking for accounts of "pledges" or insisting on appropriate redemption of those pledges but also to the conscious use of local imagery like "plaited tree tops" and "palms which drop their nuts." These images foreshadow the subsequent condemnation of the injustices associated with inequitable distribution of resources related to the "dropped palm nuts." It is, however, interesting that the poet refers to a "tangled tale," which could be a metaphor for the impediments to the equitable distribution of wealth in the economy of "dropped palmnuts." Furthermore, this image emphasizes the issue of hope because "palms which drop their nuts" symbolize abundant wealth and the remedy to the "tangled tale," which the poet implies is the possibility for the "shrub" to benefit from the tall palmtree; in other words, the deprived people in the society could benefit from the privileged group.
This social concern is illustrated further in the same poem when the poet uses the element of cumulative repetition which blends technique with subject matter. Thus the poet like an oral poet-performer intones:
And laughing heals so fugitive In the dust of fleeing truths Truth of the valley Truth of the mountain Truth of the boulder Truth of the river.
The poet continues in this kind of association of opposites by further linking the truth of the flame with the truth of the ash, the sun with the moon, the liar with the lair, the castle with the caste, and the desert with the rain. All these objects or behavior or status possess their own truths, but the poet implies that those truths cannot subvert the inviolable truth of life, which is the primary focus of Waiting Laughters. In depicting these truths with objects that are in opposition but placed in apposition, the poet clearly seeks to establish the omnipresence of truth, especially in a society that is prone to manipulations of truth. He insists that the truth, for in- stance, could be in the valley as well as on the mountain and in the flame as well as in the ash, but it still remains the truth.
As the poem progresses through other voices, since the poet conceives his work as a long poem in many voices, the poet's orality becomes part of the poetic movement. His cumulative repetition, which is heavily dependent on the Yoruba oral poetics, becomes clear, for part of that poetics includes the creative use of imagery associated with the environment; an apt deployment of refrains and chants; the exploitation of proverbial structures, aphorisms, and even idiomatic expressions; and the deliberate repetition of phrases in order to emphasize or evaluate observations. Thus the poet makes use of repetition:
Teach us the patience of the sand which rocks the cradle of the river, Teach us the patience of the branch which counts the seasons in dappled cropping, Teach us the patience of the rain which eats the rock in toothless silence.
The cumulative repetition of what should be taught the persona is portrayed to generate success, which is the expected purpose of patience. The images of rain that "eats rocks" and "the branch that counts the seasons" stress the optimism of the poet that the trope of laughter in the title indicates. In addition, the manner in which these images are deployed and the repetition of the phrase "Teach us the patience" produce the semblance of a poet-cantor addressing an audience and clearly involving them in the incantation with the use of the pronoun "us." Thus the envisaged dividend of the education implied in the incantation is the act of obtaining strength like the sand, the branch, and rain for decisive action. In addition, the fact that the poet insists that there is the need to learn wisdom from some of these inanimate objects shows that there is also the need to reexamine the environment and derive from it the kind of knowledge that will enable the people develop and progress.
Repetitions of phrases, whole lines, and even stanzas are regular features of Osundare's poetry. He also uses certain proverbs with regularity. There is a proverb that appears twice in Waiting Laughters. The poem "The Feet I See Are Waiting for Shoes," where the poet criticizes the injustice of social deprivation of stomachs "waiting for coming harvests," water pots waiting in famished homesteads, and the eyes "waiting for rallying visions," ends with the following proverb:
Time it may take The stammerer will one day call his Fa-Fa-fa-ther- ther's na-na-me]
The written orality in that last line, which is aimed at reproducing oral speech, lends credence to Osundare's conscious exploitation of orality. Nevertheless, this same proverb also appears in the poem "Waiting like the Crusty verb of a borrowed tongue," where the poet interrogates the issue of historical experience, the limitations of borrowed languages, and the appropriate utilization of talent for general benefits through an apt medium, as he questions:
History's stammerer When will your memory master the vowels of your father's name? Time ambles in diverse paces—
Just as the poet states that time "ambles in diverse paces," so his use of the proverbial lore is subjected to diverse paces. In this second use of the proverb it is no longer starkly embedded because its intrinsic idea has been worked into the texture of the poem. It is no longer the issue of a child desiring to pronounce the father's name but a fundamental issue where one who is "history's stammerer" or history's destroyer must memorize "the vowels of the father's name," and create positive history in the interest of the society. In effect, Osundare's use of Yoruba proverbial lore has undergone changes as he refines and weaves the associated ideas into the poem rather than leaving them bare as we find in his early collections of poetry. This use of proverbs is much more interestingly presented through a chain of proverbs in the poem "Waiting like Yam for the Knife—," which questions the weakness of the oppressed in subduing the oppressor in whatever form. The persona justifies the dedication of the poet to the social use of poetry when he praises himself:
My tongue has not stumbled I have not told a bulbous tale In the presence of asopa, I have not shouted "Nine]" In the backyard of the one with a missing finger
These instances of what the persona has not done are part of the Yoruba proverbial lore which states, for instance, that one does not talk about bulbous objects in the presence of an asopa, who is a man with swollen scrotum. Nevertheless, these instances of injunctions inserted through the proverbs are used ironically and satirically because the persona has mentioned all the instances of abnormalities in the society through indirect references as well as ridiculing the perpetrators of those abnormalities. This is in the tradition of Yoruba oral poetics, which makes great use of insinuations, and the orality of Osundare's poetic craft derives its energy from such exploitations.
Furthermore, the aphoristic flavor of the poet's Yoruba tradition emerges clearly in the poems. In three short aphoristic poems that exemplify this tradition, the poet expands certain ideas derived from his oral traditions into wider contexts by generating intellectual responses. In "A Baby Antelope," he writes: "a baby antelope / once asked her pensive mother: / Tell me, Mother / How does one count the teeth of a laughing lion?" (72); the second poem reads: "Waiting like the eternal wisdom of / Mosafejo / who gave one daughter / in marriage to six suitors" (75); while a third poem that is clearly political says: "Waiting / like a hyena / for the anniversary of its pounce; / Waiting / like an African despot / for the seventieth year of his rule" (55). The ideas in these poems are locally derived, but Osundare widens their semantic implications, thereby making it possible for the interpretations to refer to other societies. The reference to Mosafejo, which means "I-am-a-verse-to-litigations" who creates personal difficulties for himself while making contrary onomastic claims, is used to satirize those people who originate destructive activities while claiming innocence. The onomastics in Osundare's poetry is highly illuminating because, in the culture of his people, names possess distinct semantics and they can be exploited in Yoruba rhetoric. The satiric humor in the baby antelope desiring to count the teeth of a laughing lion cautions aphoristically against foolish behavior, while the aphorism of the African despot waiting for the "seventieth year of his rule" distinctly criticizes dictatorships. The association of the hyena "waiting for its pounce" with this despot calls to mind the possibility that the hyena, a carnivorous animal, is related to the despot as a destroyer of human lives.
These aphorisms are sometimes illustrated through songs in some of the poems. The fact that Osundare calls this poem a long song in many voices indicates that he is consciously subjecting the songs to his own poetic ends. Quite early in the collection the poet makes his desire to manipulate the songs clear when he states: "my song is space / beyond wails, beyond walls / beyond insular hieroglyphs / which crave the crest / of printed waves" (25). The songs going "beyond wails" portrays the inevitability of joy and hope because the persona's insistence on the songs' going "beyond walls" indicates an unwillingness to be restricted by mundane impediments. The suggestion in this poem reflects the subtle ways that words can be made to insinuate ideas in the Yoruba oral tradition. Thus, the songs of the poet derive their vitality from Yoruba song traditions. In the poem "Waiting like the Bastille, For the Screaming Stones," which is critical of rulers who misuse power, the poet deploys one of those songs:
Orgododo Orogodo A King who dances with a dizzy swing Orogodo straight he goes.
The poet explains that in Ikere (his hometown) mythology, Orogodo is a remote place of banishment for dishonorable rulers. This song reflects on the fact that power is transient, for the persona says further that "the crown is only a cap," the king made of bone and flesh; "the castle is a house of mortar and stone," while "the chair is wood which becomes a throne." This particular song establishes the thematic focus of the poem on the hope implied in the idea of laughter waiting to emerge, although there are some other instances where the song may not possess a didactic bearing on the poem but could serve as a chorus song, such as the one which says, "the water is going / Going, going, going / The water is going" (67).
The orality in Osundare's poetry illustrates what J. O. J. Nwachukwu-Agbada identifies when he says that "proverbs, tongue-twisters, riddles, communal traditions, even folktales in snippety forms are built into poetic lines, certainly with the intention of Africanizing poetic mediation" (S5). In two poems we find instances of Osundare's poetic mediation with snippets of folktales. In the short poem "says the Hyena to a clan of lambs," the tale concerning a hyena that tells a group of lambs complaining about his eating habits that they should select a spokesman who will "come freely to my den / With your woes and sundry views" (62) becomes a metaphor for the oppressors and the oppressed in most societies. In the second poem, "Okerebu Kerebu," which means "wonder of wonders," the folktale dialogue between a hungry snake and a wise toad indicates that only courageous acts can defeat implacable foes. The snake who threatens that it will swallow the toad regardless of what it turns into discovers that when the toad turns into a rock and the snake swallows it, the stomach fails to function. The parabolic nature of this tale indicates also that exploiters are restrained only by suitable actions. This is why the poet ends the poem with the phrase that "our tale is a bride" waiting for "grooming ears" (64), which means that the tale requires relevant interpretations. Thus a relevant interpretation justifies the idea of the poet that the laughter (of hope) is just waiting to emerge even in the midst of despair.
There are also other poetic devices that reinforce this vision that the interpretations of creative works must be relevant, and this is done through cultural associations derived from value-loaded words. The employment of Yoruba words like "Ibosi o]"—which is a loud cry for help—in the midst of a poem not only emphasizes the orality of the poetic structure, but it is also woven into the poetic purpose of hope indicated in the reference to the act of waiting "for the green fingers of laughing showers" (93). In addition, the profuse similes that codify the images also reveal through their associated meanings the undeniable hope of the poet-persona because "the season calls for the lyric of other laughters" that are like "a boil, time tempered / about to burst" (97). Osundare clearly shows that the craft of his poetry is reinforced by the orality of this Yoruba tradition. This is not surprising, and a previous study has established that his technique "enables the poet adopt abundant materials such as witty aphorisms and phrases from the Yoruba oral traditions" to create "highly political and social" poetry (Ezenwa-Ohaeto, "Dimensions" 161).
Other critics have confirmed, after an examination of his early poetry, that his "use of Yoruba words and mythical allusions suggests that many of his pieces have close ties to oral poetry" (Arnold 3); that like "other African poets with an Africa-centered consciousness Osundare finds himself going back to images of nature" (Ngara 184); and also that he makes creative exploitation of "a proverb or a maxim," "Yoruba satirical songs," and "traditional images" (Bamikunle 54-55). These critical observations are devoted to Osundare's earlier collections, A Nib in the Pond, Village Voices, Songs of the Marketplace and The Eye of the Earth. But the critical discussion of Waiting Laughters here confirms those observations and indicates further development.
However, the orality in Osundare's poetry is not isolated, because in the poetry of Kofi Anyidoho there is the same conscious use of his Ewe traditions. Thus the Ewe dirge tradition is an intrinsic element of the poems. Anyidoho informs us in an interview: "Some of my poems are very closely modeled on the Ewe traditional poetry, particularly an the dirge tradition. Partly because my mother and the immediate people around me were very much involved in the dirge tradition and I used to listen to their songs, so that quite a bit of that comes through my poetry" (qtd. in Wilkinson 9). Nevertheless, the dirge impulse proceeds beyond the fact of death, for it projects into what could be described as a synthesization of sadness and hope in terms of projecting beyond current sorrow into the future. The issues of sadness and hope in Anyidoho's collection of poems entitled Earthchild remind us of the themes of Waiting and Laughters in Osundare's Waiting Laughters. But Anyidoho subsumes his own laughter within the ambiance of sorrow, thus making the hope connotative rather than declamatory.
The opening poem, "Fertility Game," is a lament in the true Ewe dirge tradition as the persona insists with a refrain, "come back home Agbenoxevi come back home." The implication is that "Agbenoxevi" will return, and in the third stanza the hope in that expectation becomes symbolic when the poet writes:
And your voice shall rise deep across the years through rainbow gates to the beginnings of things It will come floating through seasons of glory thundering through deserts and painfields where our people died the deaths of droughts and of wars Where they died and lived again Where they die and wake up with seeds of life sprouting from their graves
The voice of Agbenoxevi is expected to "rise deep across the years" and even "thunder through deserts and painfields." It is that reference to "pain fields" which highlights the trope of sadness, for it could be said to be a "field" where there was tremendous suffering or an image of the terrible tribulations of the people. However, the ideas that those "who died" would "live again" or that those who die "wake up with seeds of life sprouting from their graves" portray the poet's concept in the utilization of the Ewe dirge tradition to comment on present reality and generate hope. Anyidoho also strives to incorporate the varied mores and norms of the oral traditions in he bid to reflect both the orality and the thematic purposes in the poem. In the later segments of the poem, the persona indicates that "Each midnight moonlight night I walk naked / to the crossroads," and this reference recalls a traditional ritual of propitiation or even expiation that is expected to attract rewards. But more important, this poem illustrates what has been identified as the achievement of lyricism through "the organization of verse in such a way that it has an incantatory and mournful effect" (Ngara 173). This incantatory effect reveals the use of a persona from both the traditional angles of character and subject matter to create arresting poetry.
The sorrow prominent in Anyidoho's poetry is not an end in itself, for in the poem "Honeycomb for Bee Children," the persona stresses that for "every dirge Adidi sang / I now must weave a song of new birthcords" and reaffirms later in the same poem that "long before the reign of thunderclouds / we were rainbow's favoured child" (6). This optimistic note and the theme of hope in the exploitation of the dirge tradition may not be clear to the reader who merely glances at the titles of some of the poems. Anyidoho, for instance, gives some poems such titles as "A Dirge for Christmas," "A Dirge for Our Birth," and "A Dirge of Joy," thus illustrating the possibilities in the utilization of paradox and irony in the exploration of the Ewe dirge tradition. Christmas, births, and joys are normally socially associated with happiness and merriment but in their association with the "dirge" in those poems Anyidoho is not only calling attention to the unreliable nature of contemporary reality but also to the fact that pleasure and pain, or sadness and hope, sometimes possess indistinct boundaries. The underlying elements of poetic objectives in these instances of paradox are thus portrayed through such statements as: "so let alone our Poets / To mourn Christmas with chants of Easter songs" (62, "A Dirge for Christmas" ) and "Now we ask our mothers to confirm / the things our grandmothers say. / We beg our children to tell us who we were" (63, "A Dirge for Our Birth" ). The statements therefore generate the view that "these dirges kill our little Joys" (64, "A Dirge of Joy" ), which confirms their ironic implications but not at the expense of hope. Anyidoho is clearly distinct in his use of this dirge tradition because he proceeds beyond the normal association of the dirge, which was explained by the celebrated Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor in his The Breast of the Earth in the following manner: "T he Ewe dirge establishes a relationship with the dead in order to emphasize the loneliness of that death, its desolation, and the accompanying sense of loneliness" (202). In the poems, Anyidoho does not focus on particular deaths, but he uses the tone, the tradition of exhortation, and even philosophical concepts to comment on reality. The dimension he adds is the apt use of those features of the dirge form "to evoke contemporary images of fear, pain, hope and joy" (Ezenwa-Ohaeto, "The Poetry of Anyidoho" 22).
In addition, the nature of these dirges reveals a poetic dimension that is significant. Eustace Palmer notes that Anyidoho's "favourite themes are the brutality of regimes, social disintegration, the betrayal of the revolution, the destruction of optimism, the conflict between tradition and Christianity, the clash of contrasting life styles, social deprivation, persecution of innocence and injustice in general" and he also adds that "he can be personal too" (79). It is the use of this personal voice in a manner that widens its horizon which makes Anyidoho's poetry interesting. Thus the dirges could be interpreted to refer not only to Ghana but to humanity in general, although the basic inspirational incidents originated in Ghana. Kofi Awoonor confirms in his essay "Three Young Ghanaian Poets" that Anyidoho's "clear understanding of Ewe dirge has widened his own primary appreciation of the substance of the lyrical form of lament as both a personal and a public statement" (163). Thus in the poem "The News from Home", the poet affirms hope when he states:
I have not come this far only to sit by the roadside and break into tears I could have wept at home without a journey of several thorns
The hope projected here by the dirge is related to the stubborn will for survival even in the midst of social devastations. Later in the same poem, the poet insists: "And I am tired / tired of all these noises of / condolence from those who / love to look upon the anger of the hungry / nod their head and stroll back home." This attitude accounts for the view at the end of the poem that "those who sent their funeral cloths / to the washerman / awaiting the mortuary men to come" will "wait for the next and next / season only to see how well earth children grow fruit and flower" (26), which is a reiteration of the hope of survival in spite of sadness. The socio-political issues are clearly the substance of these dirges, and in this instance when the poet writes of the ability of "earth children" to "grow fruit and flower," his reference could be extended communally to other societies, other groups, and other peoples who portray signs of survival in their cultures despite enormous disasters.
The significance of this communal voice in the poems, which Jawa Apronti regards as "the poetry of the speaking voice" (41), is the blend of vision and poetic craft. In the poem "American Fevers," the poet writes that a "Star-General is urinating peace on Capitol Hill" (20), which ironically links the positive state of peace with the obnoxious act of urinating carelessly. In effect the poet is saying that the General is encouraging not peace but violence. Later in the same poem he writes of "a broken fence across the backyard of the skies" where a "brood of new godlings / broke away in the heat of God's nightmares" and "become the skyrangers who spread rumours / of coming droughts and thunder waves" (29). The irony portrayed in this dirge is that those in possession of divine qualities like the "gods" have become destructive elements; this is a reference to the devastation by most leaders in contemporary societies like Ghana. On a smaller scale, in terms of subject matter, the poem "Song of a Twin Brother" dirges on the fact that, "many many moons ago," the persona had a "twin brother / we shared the same mat / But parted in our Dreams" (56). The sense of loss here which constitutes part of the dirge tradition is used to reflect on interpersonal relationships. In another poem the elements of the dirge discuss interpersonal relationships but through another dimension. This poem entitled "To Ralph Crowder" ends thus:
We suffer here so much But they say your case is worse And you've fought with all your blood Always fighting on the bleeding side And you cannot go on like this—Come brother come But I tell you all is not well at Home.
The reference in this poem to Ralph Crowder, who is an American, deftly links the Ghanaian experience with the Harlem experience in America. In effect, Anyidoho is exploring not only the fate of the African but the fate of a race. He succeeds in creating such links through the fibers of mutual sadness and the repetition of phrases like "all is not well at home" woven into the poem in a bid to channel the perspectives on the legacy of suffering towards its general elimination.
The oral poetic strategy in the poetry of Anyidoho also emerges through the deployment of cumulative repetitions and refrains. These refrains are particularly effective in the thematic reinforcements and in the emphasis on the poems' lyrical dimensions. In addition, they also portray the performance strategies intrinsic in the creative works. In the poem "Memory's Call," the poet examines the issue of maladministration by referring to "stolen gold" and the subsequent desire of dedicated leaders like Neto and Biko who "took away our funeral songs / to house of storms sending back / the rhythmic throb of infant hopes" (12) as efforts made in order to enable the people recover their sense of progress. This hope also counters the feeling of distress encapsulated in the refrain "I hear the harvest songs of Moonchildren / But where are all the planters gone?" (11). The refrains in these poems are clearly consciously fashioned, for in the poem "For Kristofa," the refrain "Expect me my dear Mother expect me / But only when you shall see me coming …" (16) reflects the tragic loss of Kristofa, whose death creates a sense of hopelessness for the members of the family. Interestingly, the other refrains emphasize hope—especially the one in the title poem "Earthchild," where after each description of a disaster the poet stresses:
And still we stand so tall among the cannonades we smell of mists and of powdered memories
It is therefore to be expected, since the people "stand so tall among the cannonades," that in the end they will overcome their tribulations. Thus at the end of the poem the poet reaffirms:
And those who took away our voice Are now surprised They couldn't take away our song.
It is equally significant that the refrains are fashioned to reflect a communal sensibility that Robert Fraser identifies as the plural sensibility and explains as the "communal experience … which pertains to the well being of each." In effect "the poet is his people, and they are he, which paradoxically in no way reduces his individuality" (336). Thus the poetic voice becomes the communal voice that echoes the communal ethos and public aspirations, reinforcing the view that the sadness will be erased as well as indicating the hope for a better future.
Another interesting dimension in the poetic strategy of Anyidoho's poetry is his ability to institute varied voices, exhibiting varied characteristics of people of different social status. In the poem "Mr. Poacherman," he uses the voice of a character who is clearly an African-American and whose thoughts show the social problems of his cultural environment. The persona in the poem is perplexed by the infidelity of his wife and his address to the poacher is fashioned by the poet to illustrate the tribulations of a man who is the victim of those who "likes to poach for love" and "shoots arrows into virgin territories," thereby scaring "some-brother's joys away." The poem ends on a sad note:
I grabs at things ain't there no more I sometimes catches only cobwebs in my dream poacher man poacher man please mr. poacherman she don't live here no more so don't you come here no more.
The social status of this persona makes his experience particularly sad but his use as a poetic character illustrates the manipulative capability of Kofi Anyidoho. Thus his retrieval of an American experience here confirms the observation by Kofi Agovi that Anyidoho "succeeds in retrieving" the "common store house of values" in order to transform them into "realms of contemporary relevance for all Ghanaians" (171). All the same, this utilization of different poetic voices reaches a climax in the long poem "In the High Court of Cosmic Justice," which uses the historical events in Ghana of the sixties and seventies as the focus for an anatomy of contemporary reality. In this poem which is a trial scene of a past Ghanaian leader, several witnesses appear and in their varied voices and varied perspectives they present a scene showing the devastations that occur in society when hasty decisions are taken to discredit past leaders. Several witnesses-personae who appear in the poem are versed in their oral traditions, and both the men and women witnesses in their contrastive presentation modes reflect Anyidoho's conscious orality in making the words of the characters suit their social status. However, the sixth witness is most interesting and he introduces himself by saying: "My name is Musa / I am ten years old / I go to Walewale Primary School / when my mother and my father born me / I didn't know how much the world would give to me …" (87), while the seventh witness insists: "Salaam aleikum / Me / be Malam / And Malam no fit tell lie / Som bigi bigi men You sabi dem name—/ Dey for back / Dey put Malam for flont" (88). These varied poetic speeches reflecting mother-tongue interferences are used to portray linguistically the social background and status of the characters, and they indicate orally the young and the old, the poor and the wealthy, with either simple or complex minds, and they add to Anyidoho's infusion of new life into African poetry, thereby illustrating the view that his poetry clearly "comes across as a variegated somewhat labyrinthine poetry" (Kubayanda 75). Moreover, the artistic use of words from the cultural environment of the poet not only enriches his poetic forms but also echoes the embedded cultural ethos. In the poem "Agbebada," the expression "Miede za Miegbo za," which translates as "we went by Night and we came by Night," highlights the tragic implications in a community where the people are driven to bury "a brother alive" because he committed the abomination of "digging a grave into which / he would decoy his Grandfather" (60). In the poem entitled "Okyeame" (118-19), that Ghanaian word is a title indicating that it should be about someone who has become a spokesman and who could speak on behalf of the group or be spoken to on behalf of the group as a recognized channel of communication. But the persona in the poem has like "the snake allowed his head into a trap / And / Now must use his tail in self-defence" (119). The significant idea for which Anyidoho uses that culturally loaded word "Okyeame" is the sad disappointment that those who are expected to put their talents in the service of the people could betray that trust. Thus the poetry of Kofi Anyidoho in Earthchild clearly complements the poetry of Osundare in Waiting Laughters in the exploration and exploitation of the oral traditions of their respective societies and in the emphasis on sadness and hope.
In their use of proverbial lore, snippets of folktales, aphorisms, refrains, apt choices of personae, cumulative repetitions, culturally loaded phrases, songs, images, exclamatory words associated with verbal rhetoric, and the dirge tradition, Osundare and Anyidoho have contributed to the distinct tradition of oral cadences in African poetry. They highlight clearly what Tanure Ojaide, another Nigerian poet and critic, acknowledges as "the current shift in poetic materials and themes" (20). This shift also corresponds to the injunction that it is necessary to make "an imaginative deployment of symbols and techniques in a way that resonates the changing expectations and life styles of the society" (Okpewho 24). The poetry of Osundare and Anyidoho effectively portray an enrichment of modern African poetry in terms of craft, and the poets establish that a conscious assimilation of oral traditions could act as both creative inspiration and creative strategy in order to invigorate modern African poetry.
Agovi, Kofi. Rev. of A Harvest of Our Dreams and Earthchild. Presence Africaine 142.2 (19XX): 166-72.
Anyidoho, Kofi. Earthchild with Brain Surgery. Accra: Woeli Pub. Services, 1985.
Apronti, Jawa. "Ghanaian Poetry in the 1970s." New West African Literature. Ed. Kolawole Ogungbesan. London: Heinemann, 1979. 31-44.
Arnold, Stephen H. "The Praxis of Niyi Osundare, Popular Scholar-Poet." World Literature Written in English 29.1 (1989): 1-7.
Awoonor, Kofi. The Breast of the Earth: A Survey of the History, Culture and Literature of Africa South of the Sahara. New York: Anchor, 1975.
———. "Three Young Ghanaian Poets: Odamtten; Anyidoho and Agyemang." Ghanaian Literatures. Ed. Richard Priebe. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1988. 151-67.
Bamikunle, Aderemi. "Niyi Osundare's Poetry and the Yoruba Oral Artistic Tradition". Orature in African Literature Today 18 (1992): 49-61.
Berger, Roger. "Contemporary Anglophone Literary Theory: The Return of Fanon." Research in African Literatures 21.1 (1990): 141-51.
Birbalsingh, Frank. "Interview with Niyi Osundare." Presence Africaine 147 (1988): 95-104.
Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie, and Ihechukwu Madubuike. Toward the Decolonization for African Literature. Vol. 1. Enugu: Fourth Dimension, 1980.
Ezenwa-Ohaeto. "The Poetry of Kofi Anyidoho." Daily Times 10 Jan. 1990: 22.
———. "Dimensions of Language in New Nigerian Poetry." The Question of Language in African Literature Today 17 (1991): 155-64.
Fraser, Robert. West African Poetry: A Critical History. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986.
Kubayanda, Bekanuru. "Dream, Betrayal and Revolution: Independent Ghana in the Poetry of Kofi Anyidoho." Legon Journal of the Humanities 3 (1987): 62-78.
Ngara, Emmanuel. Form and Ideology in African Poetry. London: James Currey, 1990.
Nwachukwu-Agbada, J. O. J. "The Eighties and the Return to Oral Cadences in Nigerian Poetry." African Literatures in the Eighties. Spec. issue of Matatu 10 (1993): 85-105.
Ojaide, Tanure. "The Changing Voice of History: Contemporary African Poetry." Geneve-Afrique 27.1 (1989): 107-22.
Okpewho, Isidore. "African Poetry: The Modern Writer and the Oral Tradition." Oral and Written Poetry in African Literature Today 16 (1988): 3-25.
Osundare, Niyi. Waiting Laughters. Lagos: Malthouse, 1990.
Palmer, Eustace. "West African Literature in the 1980s." African Literatures in the Eighties. Spec. issue of Matatu 10 (1993): 61-84.
Soyinka, Wole. "Aesthetic Illusions: Prescriptions for the Suicide of Poetry." The Third Press Review 1.1 (1975): 30-31, 65-68.
Wilkinson, Jane. "Interview with Kofi Anyidoho." Talking with African Writers. London: James Currey, 1992. 7-16.
Additional coverage of Anyidoho's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: Black Writers, Ed. 3; Contemporary Authors, Vol. 178; Contemporary Poets, Eds. 5, 6, 7; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 157; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; and Literature Resource Center.
"Anyidoho, Kofi 1947–." Black Literature Criticism: Classic and Emerging Authors since 1950. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 3, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/anyidoho-kofi-1947
"Anyidoho, Kofi 1947–." Black Literature Criticism: Classic and Emerging Authors since 1950. . Retrieved September 03, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/anyidoho-kofi-1947
Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).
Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.
Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
- Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
- In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.