We owe a duty to our country, people

The body of Professor Kofi Awoonor, who died in the Westgate Mail shooting in Niarobi, Kenya, last Saturday – is expected in Accra on Wednesday September 25. We publish below the introduction to the yet-to-be published book, “The Promise of Hope: New and selected poems”. It is written by Prof. Kofi Anyidoho

Rediscovery, Kofi Awoonor’s first collection of poems, was published in 1964 by Mbari Press, Ibadan. By a significant coincidence, The Promise of Hope, New and Selected Poems, is being released in 2014 by University of Nebraska Press.

In many ways, the new collection offers a unique opportunity for critical retrospection, a backwards glance over half a century of Awoonor’s distinguished career as a Guardian of the Sacred Word.

The collection opens with poems that point us in two directions, to a reconciled past and a future of new challenges and new possibilities. First, to a past where we meet poet and country, young as the new moon and filed with hope and the promise of hope.

We see in that past many memorials of struggle, inviting a stroll across a landscape of birds and flowers strewn with graveyards. But we walk arm in arm with the poet, with little fear of mortality. We hold our breath as the poet looks across a new dawn and introduces us to Death holding out his own ‘inimitable calling card’ only to be ushered into

a homestead

resurrected with laughter

and the festival of the meat

of the young iamb and the red porridge

of the new corn.

Here is a constant return to old familiar themes and subjects and the need to postpone dying ‘until the morning after freedom’. So we find in To Feed our People a gentle plea with the pall bearers and mourners to hold back, just a little bit, while the poet persona attends to a few outstanding concerns: “I still have to meet the morning dew a poem to write a field to hoe a lover to touch and some consoling to do …I have to go (to India) and meet the sunset”.

Above all, we must join the poet in “herding the lost lambs home”. Only then can we pass on to a deserved ancestorhood. The final lines of this particular poem sum up probably the most important concern at the core of Awoonor’s poetry, from the earliest to the latest in a long distinguished career: the duty we owe to our country, our people:

When the final night falls on us

as it fell upon our parents,

we shall retire to

our modest home

earth-sure, secure

that we have done our duty

by our people;

we met the challenge of history

and were not afraid.

The book is to be published in March by University of Xebraaska Press. His invitation to the festival in Kenya was part of the advance publicity for the book.