Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Lest we think that terrorism does not affect the world poetry community, remember Kofi Awoonor who was killed in the September attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kofi Awoonor was a renowned Ghanaian poet, diplomat and statesman, actor and academic.  He was in Nairobi to attend and read at the Storymoja Hay Festival, an annual writing and storytelling festival.

He was born George Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor-Williams in 1935 but for the last 40 years has been Kofi Awoonor.

After graduating from the university in Ghana, he was a researcher at the Institute of African Studies before being appointed to run the Ghana Film Corporation.  He was a founder of the Ghana Playhouse.  He wrote, produced and acted in plays.

In 1975, after finishing more university studies abroad, he returned to Ghana. He became embroiled in one of the “subversion trials” of the military regime and spent almost a year on death row in prison.  The House by the Sea chronicles his time in jail.

Kofi Awoonor served as Ghana’s ambassador to Brazil, to Cuba, and to a number of South American countries.  He was also Ghana’s ambassador to United Nations and served as chairman of the UN’s anti-apartheid committee during South Africa’s transition from 1990 to 1994.  He served as chairman of the Council of State, the main advisory body to Ghana’s president, from 2009 until January of this year.

His first novel, This Earth, My Brother, is an experimental work he described as a prose poem.  The story is told on two levels.  The first level is a standard narrative representing reality.  The second is a mystical journey full of literary and biblical allusions and this text deals with the new nation of Ghana.

He is most known for his poetry.

To hear Kofi Awoonor read one of his poems, click here.

To read one of his last poems, click here.

Another poem by Kofi Awooner:


The bowling cry through door posts
carrying boiling pots
ready for the feasters.

Kutsiami the benevolent boatman;
When I come to the river shore
please ferry me across
I do not have my cloth-end
the price of your stewardship.

[Kutsiami, in Ewe mythology, is the ferryman on the river which divides the living and the dead.]

It is terrible when any human is killed by terrorist acts.  When terrorism destroys a creative spirit, a creative voice, the light of the world dims and our loss is vast.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


To be in love is a joy.  To be charmed by the changing stages of a lifelong love is a gift.  And to write honestly, engagingly and with grace, about the cycles of love, is, for most writers, a Herculean task — but not for Jamie Brown.

I first encountered Jamie Brown as the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Broadkill Review.  He also has served as Fiction Editor of The Washington Review of Arts, Contributing Editor for The Sulphur River Literary Review, Poetry Reviewer at The Washington Times, and was a member of the Poetry Committee of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

But James C.L. Brown (writing as Jamie Brown) is a writer too.  He’s the author of a chapbook of poetry, Freeholder and Other Poems, a full-length collection of poetry, Conventional Heresies, and a chapbook of essays on writing short stories, Constructing Fiction.  He holds the MFA in Creative Writing from American University.

In Jamie Brown’s new book, Sakura: A Cycle of Haiku, he writes about the progression of love, using cherry blossoms (the “sakura” of the title) as prime descriptive image of the sequence (from bud to blossom to ensuing afterglow).  Each haiku captures a moment, a feeling, and the placement of one haiku per page allows the reader to linger with each poem, letting the nuances flower.

What I especially like about Sakura is how Jamie often employs a kaleidoscopic approach to his sequence of haikus.  In some poems, he’ll repeat an image or phrase from the previous poem, showing the moments as connected, but, not staying fixed to only one point in time, shifts slightly in the new poem, letting the cycle advance.

Here is an example of this kaleidoscopic approach:

   They were, one moment,
petals singed by the wildfire.
   Passion’s charred remnants.

   The passionate heart
does not wait idly for love,
   each night burns for it.

      You can see firelight
   at night above the lovers,
sparked by their hearts’ flame.

   You can see firelight
and the petals in her hair
      the morning after.   

The words “petals,” “wildfire” and “passion” (or “passionate”) tumble like shiny pieces in a kaleidoscope, creating a new pattern in each haiku.

And another example of this linking, and reforming, (from later in the book):

      Like the promise of
delayed affection, her kiss
   kept him waiting years.

      Years pass like water
tumbling down a hill in spring,
      heedless of its fate. 

      Fate, age, the cherry
blossom is mindless of these,
      beauty its purpose.

        Its purpose beauty,
the blossom does not worry,
        content just to be.

Sakura: A Cycle of Haiku is a meditation on love.  Genuinely tender, often quietly philosophical, the book has much to say about passion, affection and how the years can shape the lovers and love itself.  In the end, there’s an acknowledgement that:

   Too much of love is
inexpressible in words.
  Silence has meaning.

Click here to go to The Broadkill Press to order book.