On May 23, 2014, Adjei Agyei-Baah, Kumasi, Ghana, submitted his haiku for the English section of the 3rd Japan-Russia Haiku Contest.
lifting a cup of nest
to the sky
Adjei’s haiku was judged and selected for Akita Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Award by Fay Aoyagi.
Fay Aoyagi: A naturalized US citizen living in San Francisco. She is President of HAIKU SOCIETY OF AMERICA (http://www.hsa-haiku.org), Webmaster at Haiku Poets of Northern California (http://www.hpnc.org) and a dojin of two Japanese haiku groups: Ten’I (Providence) led by Dr. Akito Arima and Aki (Autumn) led by Mr. Masami Sanuka.
Her two haiku collections, “Chrysanthemum Love” (2003) and “In Borrowed Shoes” (2006) were published from Blue Willow Press.
On October 25, an award ceremony was held with the results announced at the Akita International University, part of the international haiku conference in celebration of the 29th National Cultural Festival in Akita 2014.
Adjei Agyei-Baah delightedly spoke to attendees via Skype from Ghana when he received his award from the president of the Akita Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
He shared his great delight and honor with academics, such as Dr. Akito Arima, the president of the Haiku International Association, David McMurray, professor at The International University of Kagoshima, Alexander Dolin, professor at Akita International University, and haiku poets and students from Russia, UK, USA, Canada, Taiwan, and Japan.
Saying, “Congratulations!”, we, attendees, wished if Adjei would invite his haiku friends to submit haiku for the contest the following year, with haiku spread further throughout Africa.
Adjei Agyei-Baah also presented his photo haiku to the Akita International Haiku Network.
On October 26, Adjei sent his e-mail to the Akita International Haiku Network as follows.
I am most grateful for the honor done me on the event. I hope all went well. I will still continue to read and delve deep into the haiku aesthetics and get back to you someday with good news to share.
I look forward to receiving the certificate and the cultural artifact.
Once again, thanks to members of the organizational team for making this grand event happen.
On November 18, Adjei sent his e-mail to the Akita International Haiku Network as follows.
Dear Mr. Hiruta san,
I have finally received the parcel and once again, i am grateful to you and all the organizers of the event.
This laurel has come to boost my moral in the haiku art and also to spread it in my country Ghana.
I am yet to frame the certificate for my wall. Though I could not read the content, it’s still of a treasure to me.
I hope to come up one day with a haiku collection to share my African settings with the world:
getting my pen worth
Thank you Akita
Part of Interview with Ghanaian Poet, Adjei Agyei -Baah.
On December 5, Geosi Gyasi, a young Ghanaian book lover and also a poet, interviewed with Adjei as the brain behind Geosi Reads, a web space where he features reviews of books, literary news and author interviews.
Photo: Adjei Agyei -Baah
Adjei Agyei-Baah is a founding partner of Poetry Foundation Ghana, a language examiner and a part-time lecturer for West African Examination Council and Institute of Continuing and Distance Education, University of Ghana, respectively. He is also the co-editor of Poetry Ink Journal, a yearly poetry anthology in Ghana. As part of his duties, he also serves as a supporting administrator for http://www.poetryfoundationghana.org. He is a widely anthologized both home and abroad and among his outstanding works includes the praise songs:“Ashanti” written and presented to the King of Ashanti, Otumfuo Osei Tutut II and “Ghost on Guard’ , for Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of the Republic of Ghana. At the international front, his poem, “For the Mountains”, was selected by the BBC to represent Ghana in a Poetry Postcard Project for the just ended Commonwealth Games 2014, held in Glasgow, Scotland.
He is a devotee of the Japanese poetry form haiku and has written and published in e-zines and international journals such as Frogpong, World Haiku Review, The Heron’s Nest, Shamrock and is one of the winners of 3rdJapan – Russia Haiku Contest 2014, organised by Akita International University, Japan, making him the recipient of the Akita Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Award. Adjei is currently working on ‘’KROHINKO’’-an anthology of poems from Ghana Poetry Prize contest, 2013 and looks forward in coming out with his two poetry collections. Some of his poetry artefacts can be found in Manhyia Museum and Centre of National Culture, Kumasi.
Geosi Gyasi: First, congratulations. You are the 2014 winner of Akita Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Award for the 3rd Japan-Russia Haiku Contest. How excited are you to have won this award?
Adjei Agyei -Baah: It’s a great feeling and I have every reason to be happy for this promising news of our time. I thank God for these streak feats this particular year. This is global laurel and it puts my country (Ghana) and Africa as a whole on the world haiku map. Though some of my haikus had earlier on been given merit and honourable mentions in international haiku journals, this one comes in to crown the effort made so far. At least assuring me that my commitment to this Japanese art form has finally paid.
Geosi Gyasi: When did your love for haiku begin?
Adjei Agyei -Baah: It started about three years ago when I chanced upon the works of my fellow writers like Emmanuel-Abdalmasih Samson (Nigeria), Nana Fredua-Agyemang (Ghana), online and Prince K. Mensah (Ghana) who had come out with an experimental collection (Haiku For Awuku) on this poetry form. I must say I was moved by the brevity of this genre. To make it short, to say more in few words is something that really fascinated me to try it. But not ending there, I moved further on to learn from the originators of art: I mean the Japanese masters like Basho, Buscon, Shikki, Issa etc. who have been of great influence in my haiku career.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell us about the inspiration behind your winning haiku?
Adjei Agyei -Baah:
lifting a cup of nest
to the sky
The above haiku is a scene captured in one of the harmattan season in Ghana as I was traveling in a bus from Kumasi to Accra. In the middle of our journey, our bus got stuck along the road, and upon getting down, saw this naked tree from afar with an outstretched branch with a nest as if requesting for help from above. Immediately an imagery came into mind of a desperate fellow (a waif perhaps) looking up to God to fill his cup with some kind of manna, just as He did provided the Israelites on the desert, on their way to the Promised Land.
Geosi Gyasi: How easy is it to write a haiku?
Adjei Agyei -Baah: It is not easy to write a haiku. First one has to learn the aesthetics of the art before he or she can write a ‘good’ haiku. It may look simple in appearance and yet difficult to write. Haiku has to capture the ‘aha’ moment (moment of delight) which come with keen observation. Besides, it packaged in lines of three or two or sometimes in one stretch of line in approximately 17 syllables with seasonal and cutting words. These are but few rules which one has to observe in writing an ‘acceptable’ haiku. This is all what I can say for now, as I am still humbly learning at the feet of the contemporary haiku enthusiasts like Hidenori Hiruta, Robert D. Wilson, John Tiong Chunghoo, Aubrie Cox, Anatoly Kudryavitsky and others.
Geosi Gyasi: Your poem was selected out of some 1,130 haikus from 46 nations. Now, could you imagine emerging as the ultimate winner?
Adjei Agyei -Baah: No! I had some doubts for sure, for we Africans are not noted for this art form. The Westerners have the upper hand since they started exploring this poetry genre decades of years ago. Aside this, haiku opens itself to a myriad of interpretations, and when your imagery is not familiar to the reader’s environment, its likely to be misunderstood or misrepresented. Ogiwara Seisensui puts it succinctly: “haiku is a circle, half of which is created by the poet and the other half completed by the reader”. So it takes the composer and the reader to dig out a winning haiku. Approximately, the judging team was able to see what I saw, felt what I felt upon this encounter and selected my haiku as one of the best. In fact no one can ever admit that his/her haiku will surely win upon submission, for the eyes that look are many but the ones that see are few.
In January, 2015, Adjei sent a few e-mails to me, telling of his intention to publish a haiku collection and his wish that I would write a foreword to accompany his book.
Thank you very much for accepting to write the foreword to my haiku collection. This is really great news and a dream comes true.
I will forward the manuscript made up of my 60 best haikus to enable you to start right away.
Besides, your suggested time frame (February 2015) for completion will be okay for me. Please kindly look forward to the book by the close to tomorrow.
I am once again grateful for your time and assistance.
Foreword by Hidenori Hiruta
Adjei Agyei-Baah is the winner of the Akita Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Award in the English section of the 3rd Japan-Russia Haiku Contest. The award-giving ceremony was held as part of the international haiku conference at the Akita International University in Japan, October 25, 2014. Adjei delightedly spoke with attendees via Skype to share a word or two with the audience and other participants when he received his award from the president of the Akita Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Akito Arima, the president of the Haiku International Association in Tokyo, Japan, was very delighted to hear that Adjei would spread haiku further because of its brevity and its coexistence with nature, and that he would continue to read and to delve deep into haiku aesthetics and get back to us someday with good news to share.
A few months after the president heard these good intentions, to my great delight, I excitedly received the news from Adjei that he was going to publish a haiku collection, strongly believing haiku is a beautiful genre which can be used to tell their African story and wonderful settings. He intuitively and creatively describes his natural surroundings in haiku, the shortest form of poetry. For example, he takes up in his haiku “harmattan, egret, kapok, mango, Afadjato, cocoa, eagle, and cocoyam ” as the objects in nature that are particularly interesting and influential to him in his surroundings.
He wrote this haiku about harmattan (A dry dusty wind that blows along the northwest coast of Africa) in his haiku collection “Afriku ” ：
not only does trees’ bark crack
the heels too!
He also describes what he sees in his daily life in his own way of writing haiku or senryu from his own viewpoint:
on his lips
the footprints of harmattan
Here is an excerpt from ASAHI HAIKUIST SPECIAL by David McMurray, professor at The International University of Kagoshima in Japan, November 17, 2014.
Akito Arima, an avid haikuist and former education minister, addressed academics at the Akita International University in an effort to convince them that haiku should be added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. He reassured students in the audience that haiku can be composed by everyone, from the man in the street to the likes of Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer, the Nobel laureate of literature in 2011 who penned at age 23: disappearing deep in his inner greenness/ artful and hopeful. Later in his career he penned in Swedish:
My happiness swelled
and the frogs sang in the bogs
By stressing that haiku can deepen mutual understanding and enjoyment of different cultures between those people who read or compose the poem, Arima garnered support for his idea that “haiku can help make the world peaceful.”
Adjei Agyei-Baah has great interest of pioneering this art, haiku, in his country and further takes it up as his Phd thesis (Haiku in Africa). Haiku tells their African stories and wonderful settings in nature, and also connects people in the most wonderful way we can think of. Adei’s haiku is in truth beneficial for us, mankind:
perhaps heaven weeps
AFRIKU FINALLY PUBLISHED
On October 12, Adjei sent his e-mail to me as follows.
Dear Hidernori Hiruta san.
It’s been a while Sir but the good news is that Jim Kacian’s Red Moon Press is done with the publication of my maiden haiku collection “Afriku” and I would like to send you a signed personal copy.
So please kindly provide me with you postal address that I can forward to you anytime I have the opportunity to do so.
Once again, i am grateful to you and Dr. Akito Arima for your support and inspiration. I really appreciate every role that you have played in my haiku career.
Here is part of AFRIKU.
Adjei’s comment on the AFRIKU cover page concept.
Here it is. To the curious mind who wants to unravel the AFRIKU cover page code (concept). It’s simply made up of an inverted greening baobab tree with egrets flying on top. The upturned root of the tree symbolizes Europe/Asia from where haiku is spreading down to Africa. The beautiful orange background also brings to mind the serene sunset setting on the savannah plains where wild animals graze and roam freely.
“Here is a review of AFRIKU by a fellow haijin from home, Nana Fredua-Agyeman. Please enjoy his analysis and share comments with us”, says Adjei in his facebook page on February 16, 2017.
Art is dynamic. Art is adaptive. And regardless of where it originates, and with what rules, it is bound to transform and adapt to different cultures. The debate has always been to stick within the rules, be novel with the rules, or to break the rules entirely. But it is these debates, and how they are treated by active-passive artists and the critics alike, that makes art simply ART. It is what has kept it valuable and relevant in an age where the computer is determined to take over our lives and transform everything into a virtual non-reality.
Haiku is just one poetry form. It is perhaps the shortest poetry form, albeit with the longest set of rules. One Haijin (a Haiku poet), Jane Reichhold wrote in her book that one must learn all the rules, practice them, and break them. This is such a difficult thing to do, breaking them. Nevertheless, it is what one must do to remain relevant or to adapt the art form to a given culture. And Haiku is one poetry form that requires a lot of adaptation.
And this is exactly what Adjei Agyei-Baah did in his book Afriku – Haiku & Senryu from Ghana (2016). As its name suggests, it is a collection of haiku and senryu poems, but with a ‘difference’. Adjei has translated each poem into his native Twi language. The Twi language has short syllables and so these translations did not take much away from the original. The question here is: Are the Twi versions the originals or the translations? This is a question Adjei will answer some day.
The collection opens with an adaptation of one of the most popular Haikus of all time, Basho’s Frog by Matsuo Basho. There has been numerous adaptations of this Haiku, yet Adjei found a way to bring it home. He writes
old pond –
the living splash
of Basho’s frog
And even for this, he managed to write a Twi version. At this stage, I am assuming the Twi versions to be translations.
sutae dadaa –
nkaedum a Basho
However, the importance of the collection does not lie in just one simple adaptation of a great work. There are several others that do exactly what Haiku should do: to live someone’s captured moment. For instance who does not feel the hot breath, the tiredness, the sweat droplets, and the pain of this farmer?
the farmer digs
into his breath
Or the sole egret playing catch-up with the swarm in
season of migration
the lightning dash
of a late egret
Haikus are meant to show and not tell. They are like art pieces. The reader-viewer must make his own explanations, must live the artist’s moment in his own personal way, must bring to the art his own interpretation. However, Haiku – the classical Haiku – do more. For instance, they must indicate the date or period within which the event occurred using seasonal markers (Kigo). In the ‘drought’ piece above, one can easily feel the harmattan and can geopin it to the northern part of Ghana where the harmattan is severe and the drudgery of farmers become palpable in their breaths. In fact, if one has a broader and deeper knowledge of the landscape of the country, one can easily say that this farmer is in the Bongo District of the Upper East where the land is rocky and the soil is laterite and extremely difficult to cultivate.
However, for Haiku writers in the tropics, the use of kigo has become the dry season of our arts. It makes writing difficult since the changes in the season is not dramatic. Adjei faced some of these problems and manoeuvered around it. For instance,
gust of wind…
the crow takes off
in a zigzag line
shows that we are in the rainy season but not in July, when it only drizzles. This could be the period just after the dry season, early March to April, where the rainfall is preceded by heavy winds and squalls.
But Adjei did not tie himself with the entire range of Haiku rules. There are times that he preferred the moment to the classic rules.
the absurdity of politics
served fresh on the airwaves
school memories –
all the farts concealed
by shifting chairs
could be argued to be non-Haiku. In fact, I am tempted to believe that these ones are the Senryu the title is referencing. But can one not relate to the issue in the piece? Adjei attempted to make his Haiku tell a story, the story of Africa. He managed to introduce old narratives into new formats. Take this piece
mother fakes supper
to put the kids to sleep
Anyone who knows the story told behind this will easily relate to this piece. Recently, I was explaining how we used to light up cooking fire to a late nineties colleague and it was as if I was an ancient being, but Adjei captures and packages it in a way that makes my story verbose
the wood shavings that light up
There are some really beautiful gems in this collection including the one-liner
a dragonfly pausing the wind
a dragonfly dips
I like the fact that Adjei broke the rules, sometimes. There are many who consider Haiku to be just 5-7-5 syllable poem or Short-Long-Short. If Haiku were just these then it is not an art form. It is this and more. Just as you cannot write a 15-line poem and call it a sonnet but can write a sonnet of straight 14 lines or of a sestet and octet, so too can you play within the rules, break them entirely, and still keep the Haiku identity. In several of the pieces, Adjei did this. In the ones he did not, where he sought to carry a story through, or lighten up things, the Senryu in the title is there for cover.
Adjei’s collection is important for several reasons. One, it brings home an art form that is very difficult to tame. It encourages several individuals to consider alternative forms of poetry. The bold attempt at translating into Twi is important for reasons beyond just Haiku. Like many other things, the African is comfortable writing in English or French than his native language. Yet, he thinks first in his native language even when speaking these languages. Writing in the native language then has the capability to free the writer. And the more writers we have doing this, the better it will be for our writing.
For those interested in writing and reading Haiku, please do include this in your material.
On January 8, 2017, Ayaka Kitashima, a reporter at The Akita Sakigake Shimpo in Akita, Japan, asked questions about The Japan-Russia Haiku Contests and “Afriku”, reporting her article in Akita Sakigake newspaper on June 10.
You can see the article in a copy below.
Kitashima referred to “Afriku” and Adjei’s haiku below.
Adjei’s comment on this haiku
Dear Hiruta san,
Matsuo Basho is the one you speak of and one of the originators of the haiku art along other masters like Issa, Shiki, Buson just to name few.
My haiku was inspired by Basho most popular haiku “old pond” and decided to dedicate my version to him for being one of the fathers who worked hard and grounded the art for we young bards of today to continue from where he and the others left.
Find his original translated version here:
The old pond;
A frog jumps in —
The sound of the water
In short, Basho has been a great inspiration and I find it most appropriate for him to get a dedication in my book. So the haiku in my book is dedicated to him as he is “perceived” to be the father of the art (I stand to be corrected). Maybe it was my way of putting smile on his lips while rest peacefully in his grave.
Adjei’s facebook page says as follows on January 31.
Last week, KGCL, a school in Accra after getting a copy of my book, AFRIKU invited me to their Visiting Writers Series to come and teach haiku to their students and as well share some of the inspiration behind poems. Huh, today happens to be the event day as I leave for Accra this morning to honor this lovely opportunity, and hope to share some of the works that students will pen right here with you on my return. And would also take this opportunity to thank Mr. Geosi Gyasi for this wonderful connection with his students.
Lastly, we sincerely hope that Adjei Agyei-Baah will have more opportunities to teach haiku to students at school.
And we also hope that children, students, and teachers will get interested in haiku because of its brevity and its coexistence with nature.