WISE EYES: The Anomabo Poems by Kwadwo Opoku-Agyemang.
120 pages, softbound
Published by the DOCUMENTING VENTURE SMITH PROJECT, Torrington, CT, 2018
The fort of Anomabo, from where Venture embarked on the Middle Passage, is just 20 miles from Opoku-Agyemang’s home, and is a historic site he has worked to preserve. It was inevitable, perhaps, that thispoet would take Venture as a subject. When he met the Connecticut poet Marilyn Nelson and read her book The Freedom Business, which tells Venture’s story in New England, Kwadwo was inspired to chronicle Venture’s life in Africa, his passage through the Gold Coast (today’s Ghana), and the slave fort at Anomabo. His writing is also influenced by his great love for and deep study of American jazz, and a profound connection to the traditions of both African and English literature.
Kwadwo’s poetry recounts the experiences of individuals enmeshed in the slave route and the Middle Passage, and traces how those dark historic episodes of those days continue to shape and shadow people’s lives in the present. He presents us with images of longing and of loss, universalizing the incidents of the slave trade and challenging readers to interpret them in the light of their own experience. Through these poems, we come to know the heroes and villains, gods and ghosts of West Africa: presences that take root in our consciousness and make us somehow part of their unfathomable pain, passion, and persistence.
Kwadwo’s incantatory language, infused with the rhythms of jazz, reggae, highlife, and rap, razes the walls between past and present, Africa and America, illuminating the age of the slave trade and reanimating its silent symbols, such as the fort at Anomabo. There is a hard-won wisdom in these verses—weaving together the history of the Africa that Venture lost with the Diaspora culture he did not live to see. We encounter echoes of Langston Hughes and of Hamlet, of Coltrane and Marley; we confront the trauma of the trade, but also witness the wonder of a people who have endured every imaginable affront and have offered ineffable gifts to the world. Kwadwo’s poems make an inconceivable past familiar, and render strange a truth we thought we understood. They will repay countless readings and deep investigation, with each new encounter deepening our knowledge of the wounded world we made together, as children of the Diaspora, West Africans, Europeans, and especially Amerians.
Peter Tillou and the Documenting VENTURE SMITH Project selected WISE EYES for the 2018 Peter Tillou-VENTURE SMITH Book Prize for the great quality of the poetry and the compelling interest of its subject matter.
Dr. Kwadwo Opoku-Agyeman
He was born in 1952, in the Eastern Region of Ghana, where his father was a Chief. He went to secondary school and first degree in Cape Coast, Central Region of Ghana. He received his Bachelor of Arts (with Honors) in African and English Literature from the University of Cape Coast in 1975, and his MA in 1979 and his doctorate in 1986 from York University, Toronto, both degrees in African and English Literature.
He currently is a Faculty Member of the English Department at the University of Cape Coast, and for ten years was Director of International Education there. He has received two Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence Fellowships to teach and lecture in the United States.
His work is highly influenced by modern American and African literature, jazz music, and the history and impact of the slave trade on Ghana. He has served on numerous boards and projects to document and preserve the history and sites of the slave trade and the Middle Passage. He has recently focused on the life of Venture Smith, who passed through Ghana in 1739 and left Africa by the port of Anomabo on the Gold Coast.
Opoku-Agyemang lives on the coast near Elmina Castle. While teaching, he continues to write poetry and is currently working on his first novel.