Baobab Shade – A Review of Afriku: Haiku & Senryu from Ghana, by Adjei Agyei-Baah.

His haiku “leafless tree” which won the Akita Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Award for the 3rd Japan-Russian Haiku Contest shook me awake to the beauty of haiku and for the first time drew my attention more closer to the art. I would then start to uncover many of such gems he had written and left behind on his Facebook page, countless journals and online haiku contests like trails. Following these with the interest and appetite he had hitherto aroused in me, I picked up his intent to not only write and make the art acceptable to poets and lovers of poetry in Ghana and Africa, his works shone of this consuming desire to make this foreign art more local, more relatable to the people of his homeland, the continent, thus his unrelenting desire to push to the fore haiku that draws on the sights and sounds of Africa.

Afriku: Haiku and Senryu from Ghana is the maiden collection of Haiku and Senryu poems by Mr. Adjei Agyei-Baah, Co-founder of Africa Haiku Network and founder of Ghana Haiku Society. Great things come in small packages and no doubt, in these wonderfully written minute pieces are depth and wealth of literary brilliance. Herein is a true embodiment of this spirit, desire and intent to tell the African story in a new voice of Haiku (a three line Japanese seasonal poem). Taking for instance:

castle cannons-
pointing where their
owners have gone

What is so identifiable with the African story than colonisation, which is aptly inferred in this poem with the poet’s use of ‘castle cannons’. It is a cruel way to point us to the past but one which cannot be helped by the poet anymore than we can delete the harrowing effects of colonisation from our history. The first line is thunderous, evoking the ‘boom’ sound of cannons plus all its destructive nature, heightened further by the use of the alliteration in the ‘c’ sounds. But we are not left in this dark stage of manipulation, exploitation and extortion. The next two lines provide some comfort; these cannons point where their owners have gone. In these lines we are reminded of no other thing than Africa waking up to independence, her colonisers abandoning their weapons, which are but representations of their forceful influence, where they only now serve as monuments. But are they just monuments or they represent something bigger, something to say that the colonial ties were not utterly severed because they left parts of their controling selves behind? This presents a good case for those who challenge the independence of Africa. But the poet in these three lines walks us through our perilous past, our confused present and perhaps like the cannons points us to an uncertain future.

As an observer, one who in his capacity as a haiku poet is only to show not tell, Adjei, without shovelling it down our throats the folly of dispute and the freedom it robs us of, points us to an example in nature to observe and see what truth we can learn for ourselves in these lines:

disputed land-
crows flout
the borderlines

The poet’s careful and good selection of words as “disputed land”, “flout”, “borderlines” shows some crows who are defiant to some borderline laws that they do exactly what people, out of the fear of sanctions, are restricted to do, flouting the rule. These crows, happily getting together, seem to tell us it is better to flout borderline orders than keep people apart over just some land dispute. Somehow, it echoes in same voice Gabriel I. Okara’s poem, “Moon In The Bucket”, who also teaches a great lesson from noticing the moon in a bucket of murky water:

…look at the dancing moon
It is peace unsoiled by the murk
And dirt of this bucket war.

But it is not only issues of politics that the poet is preoccupied with. He’s on a mission to also show the beauty (sights) of his continent and, as a result, employing the fundamental aim of haiku effectively draws the reader into his world of lights in this one below:

village night out
the lamps of fireflies
everywhere

Flashlights have vastly replaced lanterns nowadays but what a beautiful way to remind us of them in fireflies who do not change with time or technology.

shoreline
my footprints
go to sea

This is a fun way to suggest that one has been to sea without actually being a sailor. Perhaps those of us who have envied sailors on their adventures in movies can console ourselves knowing our footprints at beaches have done so for us. More so, it is a reflection of the peace and serenity gained from having to go for a walk at the beach and yet another implication that we can boast of good beaches.

mountain walk . . .
only our shadows
dare the cliffs

These poems do not only elevate the pleasure we feel in reading them, suddenly we see ourselves atop this mountain where our fear of heights is exposed. But a part of us still dares to take a risk with our shadows daring the cliffs. Herein are we exposed as people with strengths and weaknesses, courage and fear. But besides, this is a beautiful picture of the mountainous side of the homeland, the greeness, trees, valleys etc.

We observe also that Afriku serves from within its pages doses of Senryu as well. Described as a cousin of haiku, Senryu is seen as a non-seasonal poem unlike haiku. Plus, Senryu focuses on idiosyncrasies which render them satirical or ironical in tone.

tipping on the escalator
the new migrant
introduces himself

Adjei Agyei-Baah has been successful in this uncompromising grit to make his haiku more African that he translates all the poems into his native language, Twi. It is a way to make even these accessible to those of his homeland who may not be familiar with English, as well as to show that haiku can be enjoyed in whatever language of expression.

In all, this is a very good collection and one suited for this very time as haiku takes a solid stand in Africa. It is a highly recommended book for all lovers of literature; teachers, students, lecturers, professors etc and for any purpose; research, lecture, pleasure etc.

Afriku enjoins all of us, anyone anywhere in the world to take a rest under one of Africa’s giant baobab and in the shade enjoy the friendship that is haiku. Thus brought together we help the poet achieve his dream . . .

black coffee
white sugar
I stir the world into oneness 

 

Kwaku Feni Adow is a writer, poet and student from Ghana. He is a member of Africa Haiku Network, Ghana Haiku Society and UHTS (United Haiku and Tanka Society, America). He writes Haiku from his home country and has received publications in haiku journals the likes of The Mamba, Brass Bell, Under the Basho, Frameless Sky, Cattails, including Honourable Mentions in online haiku contests. He is the winner of Babishaiku 2016, Africa’s first haiku contest organised by Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation, Uganda.

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