There was poetry in all his gestures. In the way he teased and toyed with his audience; played and poked fun at the gathering of emerging and established poets and writers, students, academics and book lovers from across the board who turned up at Uganda’s National Cultural Centre on Thursday, 10th May for the literary evening organised by African Writers Trust in partnership with DOEN Foundation and British Council.
Born in the UK in 1974 and raised in Ghana, Nii Ayikwei Parkes is an experienced performance poet of his work and has appeared at readings all over the world. He lives in London and Accra and was in Uganda to participate as Writer-in Residence at the invitation of African Writers Trust, which facilitates interactions between African writers in the Diaspora and writers on the continent to promote sharing of skills and resources between the two groups. For ten days, Nii Ayikwei mentored and offered professional writing skills to emerging Ugandan poets and university students, facilitated poetry workshops and shared his personal writing and publishing experiences with the writing fraternity.
“Poems move the world,” Nii Ayikwei told his students during the three-day poetry workshop he facilitated in Kampala, adding that its ambiguity that moves a poem, that makes a poem stronger, and not big words. “If you know what you’re writing about from the beginning then there’s no complexity – no emotion.”
Asked about his role as a cultural activist when appearing as Author of the Month at the Monday Readers and Writers club hosted by FEMRITE, Nii Ayikwei replied:
“When you write from a marginalised literary culture you feel compelled to do things such as hosting the African Writers Evening in London which I do every two months; because there are hardly any platforms for African writers in the UK to express themselves. I also started a Writers Fund in Ghana to help develop the writers there.”
Regarding performance poetry, Nii Ayikwei revealed that it’s something that cannot really be taught; that a performance poet has to learn register by listening to the poem – it’s all about giving life to a poem.
And this is exactly what happened when Nii Ayikwei took to the stage that Thursday evening to give life to his poetry. Reading from his debut novel first, Tail of the Blue Birdpublished in 2007 in the UK and now translated into German and Dutch, Nii Ayikwei gave the audience a flavour of the West African Pidgin and idioms which spice his book.
For poetry, he performed some of his older poems from his 2010 collection The Makings of You and the more recent ones like The West African Mosquito. Nii Ayikwei displayed sheer mastery of his trade: words, as he weaved metaphors, idioms, slang, vernacular, English, Pidgin, and Jamaican Patois in a beautiful fusion and blend of sounds that became a melody in the ears of his listeners.
It was a befitting closure of the first series of African Writers Trust literary feast. The next event is planned for end of May, when Ellah Allfrey, deputy editor at Granta Publishers in the UK will be in Uganda to facilitator a workshop for book editors and publishers, and to chair a public dialogue on the theme: Where is Africa’s Great Novel on Thursday, 31stMay.