Images of water run through Henneh Kyereh Kwaku’s stunning and incisive series of prose poems, an extract from his forthcoming chapbook, Revolution of the Scavengers. These images oscillate between water as the source of the speaker’s despair—its scarcity in Hohoe, its overabundance in Accra—and water as the source of life itself: “As a child, I loved to jump & run in the rain—we had nothing to boast of but joy,” Kwaku writes, in the kinetic rhythms that often enliven his work. To have nothing to boast of but joy speaks of the resilience evident in these poems, the sense that the creation of art offers a sanctuary, a place for questions, hopes, and dreams—a tokonoma, a hollow, in the words of Cuban poet José Lezama Lima. Through the reimagining of the world that art enacts, the reimagining of circumstances, even if the creativity entailed is as simple as the resourcefulness that the speaker remembers from his childhood—“Sometimes we used buckets to fetch the water dripping through our ceiling”—Kwaku’s speaker in Revolution of the Scavengerswithstands drowning in the contradictions of Ghana, contradictions that these prose poems elucidate and call to account.
Water, cupped into prose poems in Kwaku’s hands, becomes the poetic means by which to interrogate the impact of political corruption and global warming, twin issues that lead to water shortages, flood damage, and loss of life. If, as Ezra Pound said, literature is news that stays news, then Kwaku’s work brings us enduring questions—questions refracted through the interiority of the speaker—about the state of contemporary Ghana, the emblematic postcolonial country, home of Black Star Square, and the first nation on the African continent to win freedom from the British Empire. His poems from Revolution of the Scavengers remind us that poetry is often the art form that best asks these questions.
In the series Kwaku takes great care to ground his sonic deftness and strong imagery in the daily concerns and material conditions of everyday Ghanaians, which then offers a choral and democratic echo to the insights of his speaker. Implicit, communal questions like “Why? How could this happen? Who is responsible?” underwrite the matter-of-fact sentences that anchor the poems, such as: “The ground in Hohoe leaks water, the PVC pipes behind the Police HQ leak water—in Hohoe, water is scarce.” These are not praise poems. The democratic care evident in the work of Henneh Kyereh Kwaku offers hope within reach of his readers—readers who, wherever they live or are trying to live, may also be facing the daily consequences of corruption and disavowal of the environment.