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Opinions of Sunday, 20 March 2011

Columnist: Appiah, Papa

Doctorbanza Mponkyerhythms

The race is not for the swift and history remembers us, not for how brainy we happen to be, but for our contribution to civilization. So we recognise Albert Einstein for his theory of relativity which has out-lived generations, though he failed in school. I must hasten to add, that he failed only because, in his own words, the spirit of learning and creative thought were lost in strict rote learning.

In the future, our children, yet unborn, will remember Bill Gates for his contribution to computing, and Mark Zuckerberg for establishing facebook. But they will also remember Steven Spielberg for Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park and JK Rowling for her contribution to literature through the Harry Porter books. Our children may remember Kwame Nkrumah, Atukwei Okai, Ama Atta Aidoo, Kofi Ghanaba, Nana Ampadu and Osibisa, for, in their own small and varied ways, contributing to civilization.

Having a PhD is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Those of us who studied in Ghanaian Universities remember PhD holders who had published nothing since their thesis and, who, year after year, dictated the same notes from some tattered exercise book to students. So, much as people may dislike Okoampa Ahoofe Jr PhD, I think he deserves some respect. We are talking here of an award-winning poet and journalist who has several publications to his credit. I believe, that in his own small way, he is adding to civilization. In the future, our children may research his books, even if only to criticize them. That is how the world develops. And yes, he has a right to flaunt his academic credentials.
Flaunting academic credentials, however, comes with responsibility. You have a responsibility not only to honour the credentials you flaunt but also the institution that conferred them on you. Your writings should reflect the broad horizons that your degrees offer you, so even when we strongly disagree with you, we cannot fault the style, substance and reasoning. You should be able to adjust your style for the most effective communication. To put it rather bluntly, and forgive me for that, if you have something sensible to offer, say it in a way people will understand! A blanket policy of writing professorial thesis for every article without a certain level of protean sensitivity to the target reader smacks of arrogance.

But I like to believe I am a fair man. So, I spent fourteen pounds of my hard-earned cash in these difficult economic times to purchase a book of poems by Okoampa Ahoofe – Dorkordicky Ponkorhythms, and have actually read it to the end. He told a story, in the introduction, of his father inviting him to listen to a poetry-reading programme on BBC World Service around 1998. After the programme his father said “I just wanted you to know that good poetry does not have to be difficult to understand” It was a poignant admission of a weakness in his style, and in fact, the book I bought was a rewrite of an earlier version and designed to be more reader-friendly. But I liked the book, my favourite poem being “Idea,” for the pain and hurt it exudes.

“The idea of breasts is all there is left on your bust—Lust-laced love smashed to smithereens.......Wistful memories, all there are left to make up for both time and beauty lost in breach---Now we are beyond the teething stages of love and trust, necessity and survival dictate the terms; and so every thing is solid and real, tea and pee, food and shit---I have been accused of bad breath; it is indeed nothing of the sort, just the stale recall of mutton savoured in a mouth of unwashed dreams”

I must admit I have become a fan of Okoampa’s poetry and I intend to buy another book after payday. I cannot deny that. But I did not end there. I searched the web for articles he has written in the past for the New York Beacon to see whether a black newspaper in the States would tolerate his rather verbose “linguistic turgidity” I found an article written in 2003 – “Home-Made Food is Still the Best”, the introductory paragraph of which is given below;
“As a child growing up with my siblings, cousins and other relatives of our very large extended family, my maternal grandmother often cautioned us against two things; Buying cooked food from outside when one could easily cook a better meal at home, and eating in other people’s homes without advance invitation. The former had more to do with health and economics, while the latter was purely cultural. The old lady believed that commercial cuisine was never the best........”

I got a bit annoyed as I read this for the significant variation in style, obviously influenced by editorial leanings, from the articles of his I read on Ghanaweb. So he can write simply for the benefit of us all if he chooses to. His persistence with his style then suddenly began to smack of intellectual snobbery, of arrogance and of gross contempt for the Ghanaian.

Come to think of it, Okoampa happens to be a professor of English and Creative Writing who seems to be shamelessly exploiting that esteemed position and academic jargon as weapons for mercilessly bullying his political opponents. Obviously, Ghanaians are not fooled by this as is evident from the comments to his numerous articles. And it makes me angry, in much the same way as I would be angered by a medical doctor or a lawyer who, faced with a difficult patient or customer opts to use jargon to bully their way out of trouble. They would be irresponsibly using their position for an unfair advantage.

Some poets often mistake their gift with words as a manifestation of their wisdom. But in a way, I am saddened that such a great poet should reduce himself to such public ridicule and humiliation. And since Okoampa happens to be a “mouthpiece” for the NPP, judging from his often polarized and parochial views on issues, one begins to wonder whether this is the yardstick with which to judge our potential leaders of similar political persuasion. If that were the case, then I weep for Ghana

“I have no codpiece to store the liquid contents of my life; and so the survival of my scion rests in mocking sway of my foes----

I am besieged by assagaied men armed with poison-tipped arrows,, and I must seek refuge at gun-point by giving up the sacred innards of my cowry shells----
.............................................I have deigned sadly, to become a spaniel’s friend, and now, I must risk my lips being licked by a canine’s tongue................I have no codpiece for the liquid contents of my shadow’s life, all because Kwame Atoapoma, I am a mouse among cats.” (From Besieged by Okoampa Ahoofe)
I think this time, Kwame, it’s of your own making.

Papa Appiah

Lexeve1@yahoo.co.uk