BOOK REVIEW (ISSUE 6)
Author: Adjei Agyei-Baah
Reviewer: Akwu Sunday Victor
The Haiku draws its essence and being from the flora and fauna of Japan. In the early part of the Twentieth Century, English writers, especially Ezra Pound adopted the haiku poetic form. The brevity of the form and its dependence on sensory imagery makes the English to call their writing imagism. However, “haiku is a term sometimes loosely applied to any short, impressionistic, poem.” The dominant features of this genre of poetry include “observation about a fleeting moment involving nature, some aspects of the seasons, impressionistic brevity, non-rhyming of lines…etc.”
The genre, as mentioned earlier captures aspects of nature or seasons. Adjei Agyei-Baah in his Afriku aims at inventing a haiku form that captures African experience, natural and seasonal scenes, sentiments and sensibilities. Hidonori Hiruta, the Japanese who wrote the foreword to the collection identifies this sentiment when he says: “Adjei Agyei-Baah has great interest of pioneering this art, Haiku, in his country…Haiku in Africa …tells their African stories and wondering settings in nature…”
The collection of poems contains eighty six poems. The first poem in the collection reminds the reader of Basho, the legendary Japanese Haiku poet whose poem about the splash left behind in a pond by a frog is parodied by Agyei-Baah. The poet, however, makes use of African seasonal names, animals and things that constitute the African fauna and landscape in the poem:
The farmer digs
Into his breath
The word, “drought” depicts a season of no rainfall. The farmer, in the course of harvesting what has been planted (in the rainy season), encounters difficulty that causes implosion. The poet thus captures a season and the occupation that goes on therein. In the poem:
On his lips
The footprints of harmattan
The poet captures two situations, “a beggar” and “harmattan.” Harmattan is a windy and droughty season in Africa. Fierce wind blows coating everything with brown dusty apron. The beggar’s lips in this situation are cracked and dry. At deeper level, the harmattan indicates the jejune and barren condition of a beggar who chooses to make the pavement his trading post but remains unsatisfied and un-replenished.
The poet draws heavily from African landscape and ecosystem. Words that indicate this sentiment include: “woodpeckers,” “charcoal,” “fireflies,” “moon,” “harmattan,” anthill,” “cobra,” “pipe,” “mosquito,” “worm,” “shea butter, “weevils,” “chalk,” “thunder,” “stuck dogs,” “dry season.” The poet highlights experiences that have to do with air, water, railway etc. Apart from the poems with natural theme, the poem:
the absurdity of politics
served fresh on the airwaves
captures the confused state of politics in Africa. Listening to or reading about African politics reminds one of a chaotic traffic gridlock where confusion reigns supreme. The media keeps ditching out the confusion with different twists and turns. While the poem:
describes a land that is contended over. The land lies docile and crows fly about it. However, it is a site of conflict. This expresses the futility in materialism as well as engaging in conflict.
One of the beauties of this collection is that it is bilingual. The poet, a Twi provided a translation of each of the Afrikus in his mother tongue. Adjei Agyei-Baah is indubitably the first poet from Africa to have written and published a bilingual collection of Afriku poems. This is an act that must go down the annals of literary history with the mode of remarkableness. With Afriku, we can say that Agyei-Baah has created a haiku movement, steeped in African flora and fauna, describing sensory and fleeting African experiences, seasonal and natural states. Afriku is therefore a poetic form that is a gift from the Twenty First Century Africa to the literary world.
Akwu Sunday Victor hails from Olamaboro L. G. A., Kogi State, Nigeria. He holds a degree in English & Literary Studies and is studying for M.A. in English Literature, Kogi State University. His writing cuts across poetry, drama, prose and literary criticism. He is the author of Breaking the Cycle of Silence (play), editor: New Voices from the Confluence: An Anthology of Creative Writing. His scholarly works have appeared in Matatu 47, ONA Journal of English Language and Literature, ANYIGBA Journal of Arts and Humanities and PIN Quarterly Journal.