A Child’s Poetry for Peace: The Conception of a Potential Best Seller
By Fareed Agyakwah
Please welcome Fareed Agyakwah to the Writers Journey Blog this week with his amazing story about relevance in poetry between ethnicity, geographical location and culture. I found it fascinating and enjoyed the prose like lyrical cadence of his story.
A Child’s Poetry for Peace:
The Conception of a Potential Best Seller
By Fareed Agyakwah
Good beads don’t rattle, so goes the Akan axiom. So, when Madam Elaine Marie Padgett-Carnegie asked me to write a piece on the journey of my just-published book A Child’s Poetry for Peace, I recollected the saying and began to wonder where it applies. Alas, I agreed that the book is, technically, the bead and I’m just the bead stringer. The thing is on any day when I’m left with the option of either speaking about my work or letting my work speak for itself, I’d choose the latter alternative. After all, it’s not a man’s office to blow his own horn. So long as I agreed that the call was beyond my poet persona, so long did I begin to conceive this piece. Notwithstanding, it took me longer to conceive A Child’s Poetry for Peace itself.
I dare timidly say that it all started with the idea of wanting to write a book someday. I remember picking up A Guide to West African Weeds, a book co-authored by I. k. Akubundu,Prof. and C.W. Agyakwah, my late grandpa, and telling myself that I shall write a book like this when I grow up. I was a teenager then. Accordingly, writing either found me or I found it, to truncate a long story.
Just when I was compiling work for a chap book for mature readers, I suddenly began to nurse the idea of writing a book of poetry for children. Aside from my love for children, I discovered a distinct gap between African children and written or elite literature; that where an attempt was made to bridge that gap, the poems in question were not written by Africans. As a child I always thought that poets were white. And of course it goes without saying that every poetry I read as a child was written by either an English or an American. They were preponderantly great poems written by the likes of Eve Merriam, Joseph Bruchac, Jack Prelutsky, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Jane Taylor and George Cooper. I can still recite Cooper’s Frogs at School. At age 12, it became the basis for qualification from Primary 6 to Junior Secondary School (JSS). In any case, my class 6 teacher threatened.
However, my three years of Senior Secondary School (SSS) education was such a great period of unlearning. To my awed admiration, I came into contact with works of momentous African writers like Aime Cesaire, Leopold Sedar-Senghor, J.P.Clark, Kofi Awoonor, Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka who make the select list of first generation writers. I must mention that in the past decade, Niyi Osundare, Femi Osofisan, and Tanure Ojaide whose writing constitute the corpus of the second generation literature also continue to be my unequaled discovery in the world of African Literature. To these literary luminaries I doff my cap for not only their linguistic ingenuity but also their limitless inspiration to me as a young writer.
Sadly, most of our writers have been stony silent on children’s poetry; impact-wise, their foreign contemporaries have given them a run for their money; and I’m not unmindful of the objectivity-subjectivity continuum. This, coupled with the fact that peace, as I stated categorically in the “Note to Readers” in A Child’s Poetry for Peace, defies the world as urine defies the cockerel- what motivated me to write “A Child’s Poetry for Peace”(First Edition, published by Mindfield Publishing). Again, where the black smith hits, there the lot’s fallen.
So, the hope is that by this book A Child’s Poetry for Peace, the importance of instilling in children the relevance of peace in a world replete with war, coup, famine, disease, hurricane, typhoon etc., would be realized as wholly mine. I wrote the book with children all over the world in mind. By this, I make reference to accessibility; each poem in the collection is accessible to all children regardless of where they hail from.
If African literature has been censured largely by critics elsewhere, such criticism has surfaced on the premise of accessibility. Many African writers get rejection letters or silence as a response to their submissions not because such pieces are not good enough or their craft is suspect, but because their contemporaries from elsewhere can’t relate to them, I believe.
The woven words of many African writers may be kissed and made up by a non-African editor if the writer, for instance, deploys metaphors like ‘as white as sugar’ or as ‘white as cotton wool’ or ‘as white as cassava pulp’ since such a writer may not have seen snow before. However, the same writer is in for a Papal rejection when an ideology or inference of thoughts, culture, custom, tradition, unique sensitivities or qualia (yes! since some poems are too personal and subject to personal or individual interpretations) come into play. There are real extenuating situations. Just one would*suffice like ice, I think:
Imagine a child falls down; a Ghanaian (African) mother walks up to the child; lifts the child up from the floor; the next thing the mother does is touch the floor with her bare palm, and gently tap the back of the child three consecutive times. But the action is not without significance. It’s an act meant to prevent the gods of the land (on which there was a fall) from welcoming the child back into the world of The Dead! My lay man’s experience with poetry tells me that a good poem does not explain but rather states, tell or asserts.
However, in a fast world giving the above analogy in poetry only leaves the non-Ghanaian or African (who’s not willing to research the import of the action) confused. A Child’s Poetry for Peace, however, avoided such intricacies within the confines of inaccessibility: that’s to say the poems lacing up the collection are well engendered in a manner that our children, irrespective of their race, can grasp or relate to, appreciate, memorize, share and remember as it draws from children’s every day life’s situations.
Prof. Celia Lisset Alvarez, formerly of St. Thomas University, USA was therefore seemly in pointing out in her foreword to the book that “A Child’s Poetry for Peace is “full of evocative, sensory, poetry easy for a child to understand”. I said it elsewhere, and I repeat here that it was an undiluted YES to me when I requested her to scrutinize my work and revert to me, accordingly, by way of a preface. To her generous soul I offer my golden tapestry of gratefulness wrapped with bay leaves of humility.
I’ve always enjoyed writing more than selecting poems for a book. I find the selection process so arduous a task. For instance, I kept adding and withdrawing poems to and from the table of contents and the body of work itself. The brilliance of Mr. Adjei Agyei-Baah, lecturer, was obliging. My honeycomb brims with acknowledgements. To him I offer for reading the poems, in the first place, and offering his treasured insight.
The editorial work of Mr. Samuel Agyenim-Boateng, lecturer, on my writings since the year 2010 can’t go unacknowledged. Mr. Sam Adjeteyfio, that “artistic wizard” did a remarkable job for illustrating the poems. I only illustrated the poem A Child’s Poetry for Peace which also happens to be the title of the book at the last minute when the publisher thought that the illustration to that particular poem had to be replaced.
Thanks to the angels, I was just done with my illustration course and therefore deemed it opportune to exhibit my illustration prowess. If you doubt my illustration skills, just get a copy of A Child’s Poetry for Peace and reply to me on that and what have you!
But who says that I would forget about my lovely children, Juliet and Sawsan who were the first to imbibe the poems. I’m also grateful to the schools, pupils and teachers like Mrs. Joycelyn Simpson, and the late Ms. Cecilia Jones who said, “the poems are good”. Maria Montessori hit the nail right on the head when she said “...establishing peace is the work of education.” I hope that A Child’s Poetry for Peace would help promote peace within classrooms. I see many teachers (and parents alike) becoming advocates of peace education with this book as a tool. Let’s catch them (children) young (for peace)!
When all was said and done, the manuscript was accepted by three publishers. Prof. Milutin Djurickovic was as instrumental in the submission process (as he was among the finest souls to set in train the work). To his slaughterhouse of openhandedness, I herd my fat cow of salute!
One of the publishers was expectant of my signature after series of engagements. (I still feel guilty, I must confess, for doing otherwise due to personal reasons- this is the reason I’d need an agent for my upcoming books, God willing). Fortunately, or unfortunately, I could say YES to only one- Mindfield Publishing.
Vanity presses abound. New writers must be careful not to fall into the hands of one. (I owe my experience with Mindfield Publishing to the writing world. I look forward to sharing it someday, sour or sweet). I must say I’m grateful to Mr. Edentu Oroso, CEO for publishing the manuscript.
As a publisher, he might have seen a Best Seller in A Child’s Poetry for Peace as much as I had. In his press release, he stated “We found in A CHILD’S POETRY FOR PEACE a clarion call for mutual tolerance and co-existence in a highly volatile world. The need to imbibe a culture of peace through the education of children at the home front that has become sacrosanct in our march forward. A CHILD’S POETRY FOR PEACE portrays that need with poetic brilliance, hence, our choice to traditionally publish this book as an advocacy campaign for peace around the world.” Other literary luminaries have expressed similar sentiments.
Round my wrist, I wear a silent bead. I pray it binds the world with the same peace yarn even as it reminds me of a magnum opus. There’s no gainsaying the fact that this title is timely, has the proclivity of attracting clicks, flips and going “viral”. What I don’t suppose is the fact that this work, always deified, so far, should bring me immediate glory. Neither will I fake fame riding on the back of a debut, either. For forced fame is just a nepotistic tyre of the van of Arts. The air is easily let out with the motion of truth. I’ve always believed in the long haul. I’m of the opinion that posterity will judge the writer as much as it shall his work. While acolytes continue to make libation for peace, may “believers” never weary in speaking in unknown tongues for the same. Still, I pray, to cull from the last poem, last stanza in A Child’s Poetry for Peace:
Morning, afternoon, evening,
May the wolf and the lamb live together,
Forever and ever. Amen.
*suffice like ice: An allusion to Robert Frost’s poem “Fire and Ice”.
Bio: Fareed Agyakwah (aka KenteAgyakwa) born in Cape Coast North, is an award- winning writer, poet, illustrator and author of A Child’s Poetry for Peace. His work has appeared in I, The Writer (Essays), Cajun Mutt Press, Setu Journal of Arts, Literature and Culture, Gender Disparities, Nationalism: (Mis)Understanding Donald Trump’sCapitalism, Racism, Global Politics, International Trade and Media Wars. Africa Vs. North America. Vol.2.,Wreaths for a Way Farer ( An Anthology in Honor of Pius Adesanmi(1972-2019), Songs of Peace: The World’s Biggest Poetry Anthology on Peace, Best “New” African Poets “BNAP” 2019,and Who’s Who of Emerging Writers 2021 and several other magazines, journals and anthologies. He lives in Ghana with his beautiful family. Send feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org