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The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry: Ghana

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It has taken me a while to write this next review in my series of posts working through The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry for the simple reason that Ghana has such a rich depth of poetry included and such a number of poets included. I wanted to make sure that my review, although unable to cover every poet and every poem, nevertheless did the country’s poetry justice, especially since there were many poems included that I enjoyed reading.


Poets Included: Ellis Ayitey Komey, Kwesi Brew, Kofi Awoonor, Ayi Kwei Armah, Ama Ata Aidoo, Atukwei Okai, Kojo Laing, Kofi Anyidoho

The main thought that I had as I came to the end of the poems from Ghana in this anthology was just how rich the history of Ghanaian poetry is. The final three poets in particular, Atunkwei OkaiKojo Laing, and Kofi Anyidoho clearly demonstrated that strength and depth of poetry as they utilised and subverted poetic conventions to bring weight to their themes. In addition, throughout all the poems included in this collection, there was a real strength in evocative descriptions and phrases that had me regularly making notes of lines that particularly struck me and I wanted to remember. That this was true even in the poems I didn’t enjoy as much is a testament to the importance and skill of poetic images and phrases in these poems.  

My favourite poem of the collection was Atunkwei Okai’s ‘999 Smiles’, with its fascinating visual structure and contrast between the constants of nature and the changes in people. I was particularly struck by the opening lines of the poem, also repeated in closing: ‘nine hundred and ninety-nine smiles/plus/one quarrel ago, our eyes and our/hearts/were in agreement full that still’ (ll.1-5). Even setting aside the interesting enjambement of these lines, the phrasing itself was really striking and revealed a lot about the speaker and the person they are writing about. There were so many small details in this poem that I would love to delve deeper into, such as the recurring metaphor of the speaker having lost their hands to the person they are writing about, particularly since I think there is still a lot that I have missed or overlooked.


Overall, this was a really enjoyable introduction to Ghanaian poetry, and I am glad to finally have been able to write this review on it. I was really impressed with the writing of all the poets included, particularly their creative images and phrases, and I have enjoyed making notes of the ones that I want to remember. I am looking forward to continuing my read through of this anthology and, as always, am finding it rewarding learning about the literature from these different countries.  

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