The Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems, 1964-2013

The Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems, 1964-2013


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The Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems, 1964-2013 by Kofi Awoonor

Kofi Awoonor, one of Ghana’s most accomplished poets, had for almost half a century committed himself to teaching, political engagement, and the literary arts. The one constant that guided and shaped his many occupations and roles in life was poetry. The Promise of Hope is a beautifully edited collection of some of Awoonor’s most arresting work spanning almost fifty years.

Selected and edited by Awoonor’s friend and colleague Kofi Anyidoho, himself a prominent poet and academic in Ghana, The Promise of Hope contains much of Awoonor’s most recent unpublished poetry, along with many of his anthologized and classic poems. This engaging volume serves as a fitting contribution to the inaugural cohort of books in the African Poetry Book Series.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803249899
Publisher: UNP - Nebraska Paperback
Publication date: 03/01/2014
Series: African Poetry Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 569,743
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Kofi Awoonor (1935–2013) was a diplomat and a professor of comparative literature at numerous universities, including the University of Ghana. He is the author of several volumes of poetry, including Night of My Blood; Ride Me, Memory; The House by the Sea; and The Latin American and Caribbean Notebook. His collected poems (through 1985) were published in Until the Morning After. Kofi Anyidoho, a poet and scholar, serves on editorial boards for several journals and has been a guest editor of Matatu, a journal of African culture and society that is published in Amsterdam.

Read an Excerpt

The Promise of Hope

New and Selected Poems, 1964â?"2013

By Kofi Awoonor, Kofi Anyidoho


Copyright © 2014 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8032-5494-7


From Herding the Lost Lambs


Poems in English and Ewe

    The Light Is On

    A gray pigeon has just flown in
    across the green country
    where loafers chase a speck of white

    How I used to
    adore the summers
    the windswept landscape
    the open fields
    and the lush foreboding country

    Ah I almost forgot the water
    wide wide as the vistas
    of youth, the wish to curb a
    foreboding future full of formidable
    prospects receding now so fast

    Each gnat is part of this inexorable
    universe, this inevitable landscape
    with its own inimitable echoes.

    Our journey, supported by time and wind
    captive of a May morning
    away from the original March heat
    when the shimmers over the water
    glimmer so fiercely.

    There are times when a new sorrow rings
    when regrets, palpable as obvious fruits
    of ill-considered acts
    without hidden agenda
    loom large as fate

    Dear dear sorrow
    rings, reminding, just reminding
    of a time ahead, not for reckoning
    but only for recalling as fate.

    the time we as young as
    our country
    dreamed of obvious success,
    of achievements measured
    in concise yardage
    of promises delivered,
    of children protected from age,
    the time
    when the river from which we came
    shall sweep us along
    toward the original source
    of eminence and glory,
    when we will defy love
    and death,
    when we shall stand
    by the beloved country as the single tree
    struggling to be a nation
    and a forest

    benevolent fathers,
    when we forget the loins from which we came
    nudge us back into the river,
    send us up the same water
    by which we came

    so with the last fish
    we can cross the last ocean
    to be one with the fire that
    warmed your feet
    guided you over deserts
    by pyramids and temples
    shrines and sacred groves,
    on that island
    where once the bird
    was plentiful and the hunt
    was good, and the cheer
    was loud and the laughter joyful

    and ah! the child Kekeli
    came one October day
    large-eyed, replica of the first
    princess, and now the prince
    has come promised
    someday, by some river
    I shall teach him the
    last light and reveal
    the divine affair
    of which he is part
    of which he is an heir.

    here is water for your feet
    here is flower for your feet
    here is wine for your lips
    here is the embrace I promised.

    The New Boy on the Block

    He came one October night
    screaming blue murder
    out of a swearing mother
    whose enormous pain
    disarms, hurts

    Away from the antiseptic smells
    and the silent steps of the attendants
    waddling across a vast eternity
    of a delivery hall
    I waited for your arrival.

    A small music flows
    across time
    reminding of another birth
    at another place

    I swear that I shall stand by you
    that I shall prepare the field
    for your planting time
    provide the seed
    for your sowing dawn.

    I shall raise my tomb
    a full memorial for your
    wondrous future
    so that wherever I fall
    you shall rise up.

    At an age
    when many rock themselves
    into an easy chair
    I chose to father children
    and to hell with who disagrees
    including the lobby against birth
    run by eunuchs and fools.

    Welcome, boy, you have come
    to sweeten the falling years
    when leisure is less than planned
    and romance blooms in the eyes
    of a lovely woman.
    Hurrah for fatherhood.

    Fair souls that canter
    across a golden era
    of crowns and gravestones
    delicious hours of long lost
    love and the brevity of faith
    in the infinite certainty
    that God exists
    and loves all His children
    without exception
    assures us

    I dreamt again that dream
    of childhood,
    this time I left the homestead
    walked across a small dune
    cactus filled a row
    erect, arrogant beyond belief
    and the claim they
    are the remnants of divine action
    which fools ascribe to the first man

    The fear of the grave
    is real
    I still shudder
    passing by cemeteries
    particularly those planted
    with the curative nim
    and the forget-me-not
    winds howling by
    among stones shabbily laid
    by masons whose sense
    of size and measure
    confound the sharpest eye.
    Builder, king, queen
    Sun-god and priest
    Of my temple

    Good Lord, Whatever
    the price let me pay
    it in the full knowledge
    that your mercy rests
    secure, and You and Your host of
    deities shall be with your son
    and your people.

    Across a New Dawn

    Sometimes, we read the
    lines in the green leaf
    run our fingers over the
    smooth of the precious wood
    from our ancient trees;

    Sometimes, even the sunset
    puzzles, as we look
    for the lines that propel the clouds,
    the color scheme
    with the multiple designs
    that the first artist put together

    There is dancing in the streets again
    the laughter of children rings
    through the house
    On the seaside, the ruins recent
    from the latest storms
    remind of ancestral wealth
    pillaged purloined pawned
    by an unthinking grandfather
    who lived the life of a lord
    and drove coming generations to
    despair and ruin

    But who says our time is up
    that the box maker and the digger
    are in conference
    or that the preachers have aired their robes
    and the choir and the drummers
    are in rehearsal?

    No; where the worm eats
    a grain grows.
    the consultant deities
    have measured the time
    with long-winded
    arguments of eternity

    And death, when he comes
    to the door with his own
    inimitable calling card
    shall find a homestead
    resurrected with laughter and dance
    and the festival of the meat
    of the young lamb and the red porridge
    of the new corn

    We are the celebrants
    whose fields were
    overrun by rogues
    and other bad men who
    interrupted our dance
    with obscene songs and bad gestures

    Someone said an ailing fish
    swam up our lagoon
    seeking a place to lay its load
    in consonance with the Original Plan

    Master, if you can be the oarsman
    for our boat
    please do it, do it.
    I asked you before
    once upon a shore
    at home, where the
    seafront has narrowed
    to the brief space of childhood

    We welcome the travelers
    come home on the new boat
    fresh from the upright tree

    Songs of Abuse

    I once swore to forgo
    the abuse songs, the dirge
    and the praise poem for
    straight verbal statements
    direct comment and simple talk
    as fresh as the child's language
    before comprehension

    But I have enough provocation
    to renounce my oath
    and return to cursing the night
    the falling light
    and the inglorious criminals
    whose ancestry stretches to
    the fornicating hard-arsed baboon
    and the smelly hyena
    who laughs as he feeds
    on the corpse of his grand-aunt

    I know you all, you
    products of thieving jackals,
    stepsons of frauds
    who rechristen themselves
    donkeys believing it is
    a higher-sounding nomenclature
    I know you all, you lascivious brutes
    I know one in particular
    his mother an aging whore
    his putative father
    a lunatic criminal
    with a record of political molestation.

    And the congregation of contumacious rats
    who in concert with products
    of unions between calculating whores
    and a race of swamp goats
    now perched on a pedestal of power
    visiting on the beloved republic
    the shame of their mediocrity

    I will spew out the venom of years
    expurgate the hurts of one generation
    so that I retain my sanity.

    I love the after-harvest fields
    when the wild hen roams

    I denounce your arrogance
    your false claims to virtue
    and your monkey ways

    I challenge you to prove
    you were not fathered
    by a barnyard sheep
    and an errant baboon
    who it is established
    was raving mad.

    That you found money somewhere
    to print a newspaper
    is not a mystery
    every fool with a fool's tale
    can coax money from other fools
    for ignoble purpose

    But the fact remains
    that your mother is still a whore,
    your father, well
    some said he took a Bible
    into hell, babbling obscenities,
    the simple fact is
    he was a certified lunatic,
    part of the destructive howling winds
    that rocked the sanity of men.
    how expertly you mimick him

    To Feed Our People

    Do not dress me yet
    lift me not
    unto that mound before the mourners.
    I have still to meet the morning dew
    a poem to write
    a field to hoe
    a lover to touch
    and some consoling to do
    before you lay me out.

    Has the invitation come yet
    from India?
    I have to go
    and meet the sunset
    share time
    with the Florida pigeons on that Island,
    I have to meet again my friends in Agra
    where they owe me
    for pictures and a memory.

    Why are we not calving the cows
    or herding the lost lambs home ourselves?
    Why must we think
    others will lead our horses
    herd our sheep
    and feed our people?

    We must bring in our harvest
    father the children
    and thatch the barns.
    We must build the roads
    clear the paths to the planting fields
    and clean the holy places;
    and oh, we must meet the
    morning dew wet,
    work with the early sun till the vertex
    when it will come home with us.

    Then after the wash, then only
    shall we bring out the drums
    recall old glories
    and ancient pains
    with the dance our dance.

    When the final night falls on us
    as it fell upon our parents,
    we shall retire to our modest home
    earth-sure, secure
    that we have done our duty
    by our people;
    we met the challenge of history
    and were not afraid.

    To the Ancient Poets

    They said they found a strange
    woman at my door
    one deep night

    A messenger indeed from the gods?

    The gone befores,
    I call you again,
    I call you, Akpalu akpa, gogowoduto
    Bibia bi wofoe na woviwo

    I recall our last encounter
    by the lagoon shore on a breezy cloudy day
    when the rusty roofs of Keta
    had disappeared in the mist;
    gulls, in an early gambol
    across our lagoon
    recall the shrieks
    heard since time
    coinciding with your voice
    proclaiming "I shall go
    beyond and forget"

    your songs were the sons
    you bore; you sang;
    the rain beat you
    the sun scorched you
    the firewood of this world
    is not for all
    that is why you did not
    gather it.

    Dzenawo, nyonu gbade
    a woman of high worth
    you sang the dirge of wealth
    and death
    the eternal stalker
    who plucks the young
    and leaves the old
    refuses gold
    and insists on man,
    who harvests the fields
    he did not plant
    who locks the door
    and hides the key

    and all of you,
    those gone ahead
    into the long night of life

    My ancient friends Dunyo,
    mesea gbagba o,
    Komi Ekpe
    who said his deity
    is stuck in a brass pan.
    You stood by your gods
    and went home a holy man.

    All of you;
    take a message to our fathers
    to Nyidevu, medaa ke vu o
    to Afedomeshie
    the black beauty of the ancient

    Vuyokpo, you who left recently;
    what did I do wrong
    for you to leave in my absence?
    Why didn't you wait for me
    to bring the eye drops
    you ordered
    and deliver the iron bed
    you asked for?

    But you were only an errand woman
    sent to the old ones
    to deliver our long-spoken message
    Gbe Kuetrome, I recall you now
    how swiftly you left
    I recall our rich sessions
    when you spoke of Kofi Wodi
    and his traveling friend.

    Welcome, this is where we are
    at home with the termites
    the hour will surely come
    so let us be ready.

    Counting the Years

    As usual, as in the earlier dreams
    I come to the whistling shores
    the voice of the high domed
    crab stilled
    but a chorus remains of the water creatures
    of earlier times, of the birth time
    and the dying time, the pity,
    when we resurrect the travelers
    the anchorman on our singular boat
    that will take us home

    Once More

    I came again to the whistling shore
    the wind lashing the gray trees of the after-rains
    across my usual bay
    where I ran a race as a boy
    the thorn bush wept for the squirrels
    bereft of nuts in a season
    when the palms refused to ripen
    and the wine turned a thin sap
    unequal to the task

    how weary I am
    of the need to do good
    cheer the weepy
    and comfort the sorrower:
    what more strength can I summon
    for this miraculous effort
    at mercy?

    An ailing tree
    reminds us of a journey
    to a far-off kingdom
    of the man, unalone
    who hanged they say
    for all

    I believe still in the unity of man
    in the sun rising tomorrow
    in the rain to grow our crops
    in the gods and the ancestors
    in infinite grace and mercy
    and the ever-presence
    of the Divine force
    who gives to all HIS/HER children
    without fail
    without discrimination

    On the Gallows Once

    I crossed quite a few
    of your rivers, my gods,
    into this plain where thirst reigns
    I heard the cry of mourners
    the long cooing of the African wren at dusk
    the laughter of the children at dawn
    had long ceased

    night comes fast in our land

    where indeed are the promised vistas
    the open fields, blue skies, the singing birds
    and abiding love?

    History records acts
    of heroism, barbarism
    of some who had power
    and abused it massively
    of some whose progenitors
    planned for them
    the secure state of madness
    from which no storm can shake them;
    of some who took the last ships
    disembarked on some far-off shores and forgot
    of some who simply laid down the load
    and went home to the ancestors


    I watch the countenance
    of this man, looking for the tell-tale
    signs of truth, honor, fortitude
    and a faint whiff of gratitude
    only a wry smile
    eyes on the verge of blazing
    a terrible effort to dissemble

    alas dear gods, he gets away
    with it

    What Brought Me Here?

    What brought me here
    is more than the desire
    to share a common fate
    partake in the work and promise
    of man and country

    What brought me here
    is the determination to heal
    the thorn-wounds
    of those with eternal miseries
    and the burden of night-time cries,
    of orphans without meals
    of lepers without fingers
    of holy men without faith

    Dear God, what consolation
    have you stored for us
    after these fretful days
    in the service of ingrates and wickedness?
    How much pain shall we endure
    as our hope burns in chains
    beside the hanging tree?

    O how little
    is our faith
    in an eternal deity
    who lashes our souls
    with sin and the promise
    of redemption

    I caught history's eye
    the other day.
    I saw the anguish in his eyes,
    as I watched his life-lines ebb away
    I smelt the fear on his fetid breath
    as time wound itself
    in the final sheets of an ending.
    I remember not the hour
    of regrets, pain, and sorrow
    but the time when I
    was young as the new moon and nation
    on a clear June evening;
    wrens and the cuckoo dove,
    the one that keeps the hour
    on our savannas
    sang a jubilee
    "all that is not given is not lost"
    why must thanklessness
    cover the tail of work done,
    commitment so ably made?
    my friend the Methodist
    in answer to my query
    "God is His own interpreter
    and He will make it plain"

    What More Can I Give?

    "if they do not heed my call
    I will walk alone"
    A lifetime used in service
    at times at the behest of saints
    and heroes, at times, only at times
    at the behest of not so good men
    and women

    So much does my infant's cry mean
    so much, my friends.
    Returning once along my favorite road
    homeward, beneath a crazy bridge
    occupied by bats
    hearing a siren crying
    a fellow to the sick house
    I thought I needed a pee.

    The fact of our lives,
    full of achievements
    vilification, praise
    or contempt from those
    who surely do not measure
    eternity becomes a quotation
    posted on the billboard of a single life.
    Passions are exhausted
    love, renewed again
    and again
    to satisfy a basic longing,
    journeys made, departures recorded
    deaths foretold again
    and again

    I have the fear that I am not done
    that my gnat days will be long
    tedious and melancholy
    the premonition that not much
    will come from the vigil and the sweat
    and the tears and the long hours
    and the sacrifice

    That I come from illustrious men
    and women is an obvious fact
    but also that in this gene
    I harbor not so good
    men and women, persons
    of questionable morality and obvious flaws
    is no matter

    I did not know it will return
    this crushing urge to sing
    only sorrow songs;
    the urge to visit again
    the last recesses of pain
    pluck that lingering hair with a wince.
    how long shall my God
    linger in a brass pan
    the offertory unreceived?


Excerpted from The Promise of Hope by Kofi Awoonor, Kofi Anyidoho. Copyright © 2014 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Kwame Dawes xiii

Acknowledgments xv

In Retrospect: An Introduction Kofi Anyidoho xvii

From Herding the Lost Lambs (2013)

The Light Is On 3

The New Boy on the Block 6

Across a New Dawn 8

Songs of Abuse 11

To Feed Our People 13

To the Ancient Poets 15

Counting the Years 18

Once More 18

On the Gallows Once 19

Truth 20

What Brought Me Here? 21

What More Can I Give? 22

Those Gone Ahead 24

Up in the Garden 28

Xiansi, Pou Tou Dalla 29

I'll Raise a New Song 32

Remembrance 35

From Latin American & Caribbean Notebook (1992)

In Memoriam 41

Of Home and Sea I Already Sang 42

Of Home Once More 44

Rio de Janeiro: Fearful and Lovely City 45

Distant Home Country 49

Agra: January 21, 1989 51

Cuban Chapters 52

The Hero's Blood 53

Of Faith and Fortitude 54

The Orient Express 55

Betrayers 56

Havana, Cuba: The Free Territory of the Americas 60

A Caress 63

For Tenu and Afetsi: A Hymn 64

Of Niggerhood 69

A Death Foretold 70

The Prophecy from Iran 72

In Memoriam: Return to Kingston 73

Lover's Song 79

The Red Bright Book of History 79

At a Time Like This 81

Back with Sandino 84

Prayer 86

The Ancient Twine 88

Seatime, Another 89

Readings and Musings 91

Light Hours in Verse 92

Time Revisited 94

A Thin Echo of Time's Voice 94

"As Long As There Are Tears and Suffering, So Long Our Work Will Not Be Over," Jawaharlal Nehru" 97

The Girl that Died in Havana 97

Our Pride Alone 99

Dream-Again 101

New Rain 102

Birds on an Autumn Wire 103

Shamla Hills: Bhopal 105

Shamla Hills: Sanchi Temples 106

Childhood 108

Parting 109

From Until the Morning After (1987)

Life's Tears 113

So the World Changes 114

Life's Winds 115

Grains and Tears 116

Had Death Not Had Me in Tears 117

Act of Faith 118

I Rejoice 119

The Picture 120

For Ezeki 121

From The House by the Sea (1978)

tPart 1 Before the Journey

Poems, Fall '73 129

The Land Endures 130

Going Somehow 131

After the Exile and the Feasts 136

Some Talk of Lunar Virgins 138

Poem 139

Poetry 139

Departure and Prospect 140

When Going into Jail 143

Africa 143

Poem 144

Of Absence 144

Poem 146

Poem 147

Sequences 148

For Henoga Vinoko Akpalu 150

An American Poem 152

Another Lover's Song 155

Self-Portrait 156

Part 2 Homecoming… Poems from Prison

Homecoming 161

The Second Circle: Beginning Midnight, 5/1/76 162

On Being Told of Torture 163

The First Circle 164

Dream of Home 166

Revolution 166

To Sika on Her 11th Birthday 167

Revolution: A Chat with Ho Chi Minh's Ghost 168

Found Poem 172

Another Found Poem 174

The Place 176

Poem 176

Us 177

Love 177

Personal Note 178

Sea Time, Meaning a Pledge 179

The Will to Die 181

A Little Word 182

The Wayfarer Comes Home 184

From Ride Me, Memory (1973)

America 203

Harlem on a Winter Night 204

Long Island Sketches 204

To My Uncle Jonathan: A Song of Abuse 208

To Felicity, a Girl I Met in LA 209

Hymns of Praise, Celebration, and Prayer 210

Afro-American Beats 214

Etchings from My Mind 217

My Father's Prayer 219

My Uncle the Diviner-Chieftain 220

To Sika 221

To Those Gone Ahead 222

From Night of My Blood (1971)

I Heard a Bird Cry 227

Night of My Blood 239

Stop the Death-Cry 243

A Dirge 244

More Messages 245

At the Gates 247

The Dance 249

Do Not Handle It 250

All Men My Brothers 250

Lament of the Silent Sisters 251

Hymn To My Dumb Earth 254

They Do Not Sound for Me 268

From Rediscovery and Other Poems (1964)

My God of Songs Was Ill 271

The Sea Eats the Land at Home 272

The Cathedral 273

What Song Shall We Sing 273

We Have Found a New Land 274

The Anvil and the Hammer 274

Rediscovery 275

The Weaver Bird 276

The Purification 276

The Gone Locusts 277

Songs of Sorrow 278

From This Earth, My Brother: An Allegorical Tale of Africa (1971)

The Making of the New Nation (Chapter 2a) 283

From Comes the Voyager at Last: A Tale of Return to Africa (1992)

Festival of Oneness 289

An Epilogue by Kofi Awoonor 293

Source Acknowledgments 297

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