Adjei Agyei-Baah is the co-founder of the African Haiku Network, editor of Mamba Journal on Haikus, judge of the #Babishai2016 Babishaiku Competition and guest at the #Babishai2016
Babishai is so pleased that you took up the position as judge for our inaugural Haiku competition, or Babishaiku. As the co-founder of the Africa Haiku Network, which you co-founded with Emmanuel Jessie Kalusian, you hold strong values connecting Haiku to African language. Share a few please.
Yes, Africa can ‘nativise’, and even translate and write haiku in our widely spoken indigenous languages like Swahili/ Kiswahili etc… in order to become part of our literature thought at schools and colleges. But I think connecting haiku to only our language would display a limited role and benefit and would be appropriate if extended to embrace our culture and values in its entirety. In fact, I still see haiku among the less explored arts that Africa can take advantage of in telling her story. Its brevity and power of delight can easily cause people to stop and read,especially in this technological age where people have limited time,to read lengthy texts and images generated by the various applications and social media platforms. In such situation, haiku then becomes a teaser or bait to entice people to pause and read for a moment.
Surely, haiku can be used to record our daily observations and happenings in our environment. For instance the haiku below captures the pitiful sight of the deplorable state most Africa’s railway networks, which presently have their tracks going rusty, compared to the advanced Germany’s Sky and Japan’s Bullet Trains, which travel at lightning speed:
end of road—/railway truck runs/ into earth
And by this simple haiku, awareness can be created for people in authority to give such as state the needed attention or becomes a call toinvestors to come downto salvage the situation:
Similarlya haiku can be used to tell Africa’shistory to the generation yet to come, be it good or bad. In the haiku below, I share a rich historical experience with readers on my visit to the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana (formerly called the Gold Coast), where the colonial masters left forts and castles as colonial monuments after the collapse of slave trade that have become haunting structures of terror showcasing to some of the atrocities committed against the black race.
On top of these castles, remain their planted cannons, mockingly acting as sign-posts, pointing the direction were they came in and the route where they exited:
castle cannons― /pointing where/ their owners gone by
Indeed, haiku as art has so many benefits to Africa but would prefer to speak extensively about it some other time to come.
The Mamba Journal is Africa’s first single Haiku publication. How have audiences responded to it so far?
Response have been so far great, in fact we received congratulatory messages from almost all international haiku journal editors/ founders like Shamrock, Heron’s Nest, Cat tails, Paper Wasp, Modern Haiku etc. and other haiku societies and lovers around the world. In fact, they were happy for our feat, in finding Africa a spot on the world haiku map. But from Africa have been few messages since the haiku art is not much known and even seasoned poets and academic institution have not been practicing it. Prof. Wole Soyinka was happy about our historic breakthrough and sent us his first haiku which we hope to publish in our 2nd edition, if he grants us permission.
Do you write Haiku in any other language apart from English?
Yes, I have often translated my haiku into my mother tongue, Twi, the widest spoken language in Ghana. Fortunately for me, some of my haiku(s) have also been translated into Japanese, Romania, Russia, French and German. But I have the intention of translating my upcoming collection “Afriku” into Swahili and other international languages such as French, Spanish and Chinese for these countries to also experience and appreciate our unique seasons and settings outside their own.
Ghana is heavily invested in the arts. Which arts and culture events do you always attend while there, and why?
I am devotee of poetry and spoken word, for I see these two art as channels to create social awareness, as a means of talking about the corruption and bribery in high places, the church taking advantage of poor, the commoner overburdened with taxes and also as a mean of providing entertainment to ward off our daily stress.
How important is it, in your opinion, to conduct poetry competitions for Africans living in Africa?
It is a smart way of telling the African story by Africans themselves to their unborn generations, rather than leaving it in the hands of foreigners who may record it with ugliness. It’s like making an effort to define oneself before someone else does it for him.
You have been a judge before for a Haiku competition. Describe that experience.
Nope, this is my first time, but would say as a co-editor and aficionado of haiku, I have regularly been mentoring and editing chunk haiku everyday. The difficult part has always been sending a “rejection” mail to a submitter, it has always been quite hard. You have go about it in a “fine” way so as not extinguish the feeble fire of first-timers. Most at times too, there are friends, who want to take advantage of their friendship with you, to force you to accept “anything” they pen as haiku for publication. And here is where I stand my grounds, since a good editor need to be a bit ruthless, so as to separate the chaffs from the grain.
Do you use Haiku to woo women?
Eish… I wish I could but not in its wrong sense but would rather want to entice them with it. In fact when it comes to haiku in Africa, its rather unfortunate that only few women are doing it.On the international scene, I can only point two heads, Celestine Nudanu (from Ghana) and Nshai Waluzimba (from Zambia) who are devotees and have received commendation for some of their haiku pieces.
What diet is best for poets, in your opinion?
Hmmm, this is quite a tough one. Honestly I am stuck here. But I will recommend any food that ward-off stress and make them stay up refreshed at night and write their heart out.
At the Babishai Poetry Festival this year, what three things do you expect?
I expect to meet new young African poets, not the same old faces we already know. A little freshness, will surely spice up the show. I hope to see a lot of books, more especially anthologies to get know of what is happening in the world of poetry in other Africa countries, most especially from East Africa. I think my people back home will be delighted to know about it and will as well love to witness some performances which I will personally love to perform one or two poems from my upcoming collection “Embers of Fireflies”.
Any parting remarks?
Thanks for this opportunity to share my thoughts with the world, in my quest to promote Africa to find her rightful place of the World haiku map.
The #Babishai2016 poetry festival runs from 24-26 August in Kampala. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org