Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Nominations galore

So, some of you will know that I am an editor as well as a writer - and I'm pleased to let the world know that I have been longlisted for the UK Young Publishing Entrepreneur award run by the British Council. It's a recognition of all my sleepless nights as an editor so I'm very very proud and to add to that the company, flipped eye publishing, is trying to rack up nominations for the Mashable Open Web Awards in the niche category for our online translation wiki, lexicon [ www.flippedeye.net/lexicon ] please add your nomination below - thanks!

In other news, I have a reading [mainly poetry] in London on November 13 at Lauderdale House, Highgate Hill, Waterlow Park from 8pm. Please come and support.
Event details are also on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events.php?ref=sb#/event.php?eid=27331766247

I think that's it for now - a real blog to come soon. So much has happened in the world!!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Southbank blogging...

So, I'm guest blogging for the Southbank during the Poetry International series but I find that they are holding the blogs for moderation (completely defeating the object of blogging) so I'm putting my first two blogs up here so they can be of use for people who need today's information today, not in two days time!

24/10/08: Prelude
I start with a confession. After close to 8 years of constantly going to literature events - both as a writer and editor - I tend to have a cynical outlook; you could say I'm a bit jaded. That said, the Poetry International programme this year looks very interesting and since I'm masquerading as a member of The Arvon Foundation's Council of Management I'm going to try to look at things a bit differently - a sort of board's eye view, if you will. I'm particularly looking forward to Mourid Barghouti on Saturday (because I LOVE translated poetry) and the TS Eliot Prize lecture, but I will also be at Speechless on Thursday 30 October, because I know a couple of the poets by e-mail and would like to meet them, and also because I edit two of the writers in the line-up. I hope to see you at one of the events.

25/10/08: Opening Salvo: is there life before death?
I feel like I’m wandering in the dark here, dropping little crumbs of thought that I might be able to follow out again. Why? Because the first blog I submitted - Prelude - isn’t even up yet. Why ask people to blog if you’re going to censor what they write? My view is that it is an act of filtering to choose who blogs for you anyway, so, having gone to all that trouble, please, my dear Southbank techie friends, let us express ourselves.

Now to my first event: As I often find, the person whose photo graced the event was the one whose poems moved me the least, but I qualify that by saying that Jorie Graham is a great speaker - I would love for her to be my lecturer - and perhaps on the page I will connect to her poems better, yet on stage it wasn’t quite for me. A little too ponderous, in spite of a few finely wrought lines, and I found myself counting how many ‘ands’ she uses per poem (I won’t do her the dishonour of listing the number) and marvelling at how Americans from the United States love the word ‘humanity’. I found Mark Doty’s narrative style much more engaging; it brought to mind the likes of Leontia Flynn, Niall O’Sullivan with its sudden dips into the philosophical and existential, and perhaps elements of Paul Muldoon’s meanderings and playfulness with language. On the whole though - and this was true for most people I spoke to after the readings - the really striking poetry came in the first half; from Valzynha Mort who in the simplest of language (I’m not certain she has the best translators I must say) amongst many heart-rending passages from the book The Factory of Tears, spoke of lighting the candles of TV sets, thus illuminating a peculiar truth of the modern world - most people can find a TV easier than they can find a candle these days. Valzynha was followed by Mourid Barghouti (the reason I went to the reading in the first place) and he did not disappoint. Am I swayed by the fact that for thses two poets we were reading their ‘texts’ off a sky-high grey screen? I think not - there is something about cadence and truth that transcends language and medium. So, back to Mourid. Absolutely fantastic irony, uncanny eye for everyday happenings that reveal the world. In his words, there are trees whose only fruit is greenness - so true - but only un vrai po├Ęte notes that their details belie their sameness and their radiance confirms it [see the complete poem here] and speaks it with ease, humour and compassion from a podium that hides nothing. So too with this event: we saw four poets and there is no doubt that all of them have work that comes to life on the page, but is there life away from the page?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Stolen from Hip Hop

OK, so I'd been going into schools and, in trying to get my students, to apply critical minds to poetry, I'd taken in song lyrics, hip hop lyrics - you name it. But they kept making distinctions. So what I came up with, eventually, was a series of poems (one of which I have pasted below) which borrowed heavily from lyrics. I then asked them what they thought of these 'constructions' and they said, 'yeah, nice poems, but more intricate than lyrics.' Then I said, 'well most of the lines here are taken from or inspired by song lyrics so your homework is - guess who wrote what'. Now I'm sharing with you guys... The game here is - if you're a hip hop fan - to guess the origins of the lines in the poem and add them as a comment. To make it easier the lines are numbered - enjoy!

Miss H in the City
by Nii Ayikwei Parkes with props to the original lyricists who inspired the collage


  1. I arrive in the city at dawn, just before sunrise, step
  2. onto shore with hope bright in my eyes. This is
  3. a new start; new dreams away from the hearts I broke;
  4. excitement’s got my heart racing like a hummingbird
  5. pacing. I try to be cool and patient, but it’s harder than
  6. the calculus of quantum leaping. See I’m a small city
  7. boy with big city dreams, I’ve dreamt of this existence
  8. amidst the harbour lights; ships coming and going
  9. like ghosts, dropping – like flies – new dreamers
  10. who prayed for wings. Now I take it all in; its five
  11. dimensions, its six senses. I feel the seven firmaments’
  12. force and hold myself back from screaming. I sit
  13. outside myself, observe from a bird’s eye view, a boy
  14. descending into this fantastic beautiful mess. I wrestle
  15. with words and heartbeats seeking the phrase to express
  16. the moment, but the usual is no longer suitable. So
  17. I rest my eyes on a purple bud bursting into a high-five
  18. flower, its reflection shimmering on tranquil waters
  19. like something greater than depth, something eternal.


  1. And soon there is a girl; filled with magic
  2. and strife and scaled just right. A smile
  3. like a spear, on point and timed to perfection.
  4. I lose myself in it, hear a distant bass ride
  5. out like an ancient mating call. The duration’s
  6. infinite – enough time for me to ponder sugar,
  7. spice, and other things she might be made of.
  8. I feel my flesh burn, my cell walls disintegrate
  9. to allow me to absorb her essence. Her head is
  10. wrapped but her aura peeks out at the back.
  11. The big city’s first riddle and I have no answers.
  12. It’s too loud to think; maybe my dreams are
  13. larger than my hands can grasp. I realise now
  14. the streets are too shrill to ever hear freedom
  15. sing, too crammed for love to grow wings.
  16. A new moon rides high in the metro’s fading
  17. crown; across the way the ancient is manifest
  18. in knife fights. I take a deep city breath, watch
  19. my broken dreams fly to where waters fall
  20. as she walks away – a devil in a blue dress,
  21. a beast in a blue Chrysler, karma coming back
  22. hard. My chest heaves against the evening’s
  23. flesh. I sigh, watch the city lights throb
  24. against a purple flower’s reflection, hope
  25. that from this night a sweet dawn will come.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


It's been a while since I blogged and I don't think I will properly for a few weeks yet - way, way too busy! But I recently had a poem Re:configuration published in the PEN International Magazine (the issue is on shelves now and most of it can be seen online at: http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/go/pen-international-magazine), which I'd like to share part of as a post. I'm particularly happy the poem got published for two reasons
  1. It's one of my favourites,
  2. It's one of my more experimental ones.
So, I'm sharing what I call it's second movement, but don't just read - please, let me know what you think...


The story is simple; my father went

with a cancerous light, chasing Swedru

in the shadow of his fat/her for answers

to questions he divined I would ask

forgetting that project/ions dance, shift

like rhythms. In a hot panic he left

before night could come to hurry him

along with songs. My mother bears the scars

but only a fraction of the answers; for

how was she to know she would be the one

I clawed at for maps of my existence – one

in a role meant for absent sound/and/light?

So I am left with darkness; the high

window through which imagination creeps,

the room I at/tempt to enter to evoke

more than fading echoes of footsteps that

haunt me. I am a slave to the hard hold

unable to yield chance to the light/less

of grip that all moments employ for

the velo/city of sand’s passing. Maybe I am

slowly learning that with each green breath

I blow my life away. Rushed, all I want

is for my father to explain what I mean

to my name, how I be/came configured

as Parkes when I don’t harbour its phantom

rhythm beneath my tongue.

I have lost

my way again: did I not hear the tri/angle

and the gankogui tinkling responses into

the vacuum of the drum’s silence? My

father is rest/less again. Please tell him

to open his window for my tear/full chants

have left me hoarse – and my siblings

the thieves too; who took his skin, spirit

and mind, leaving me captive in his body.

We confess our parents never truly told us

their names, we over/heard others calling

them Auntie and Uncle, Mr and Mrs so and so

so we did the same. Did we err? Did I

trap my pa/rents by calling their red shadows

names meant for colours? All I know

is that I am at/tuned to brown like no other

shade, yet cold breath haloes frame me black.

Friday, May 09, 2008

...waiting for the copy edits...

So, I'm learning that publishers run on that other time too. The date for my copy edits for Tail of The Blue Bird, has been pushed back twice, and it's very frustrating because I set time aside to go through the edits and get them back so that work can begin on the advance copies of the book. Now, some of you might be wondering what advance copies are or do exactly in publishing. In short they are the first blast of real excitement a writer gets after the book deal - essentially a finished version of your book, complete with a cover design and the final layout is printed almost a year in advance and sent out to the media, famous writers etc. etc. so that radios, newspapers and magazines can start scheduling you for interviews (if they think you/your work are interesting), writers can give you endorsements, and bookstores can make orders - all the things that trigger those quotes that appear on books that make everyone wonder - 'how come the book's only been out two days and they already have that printed on it?' In my case, the struggle to find a publisher because of the unusual (not my word) nature of the book means that luckily (or unluckily) I already have quotes from authors who endorsed the work so that potential publishers would realise that the book was considered good by my peers - I am proudest of my endorsements from Helon Habila, whose work I've been a long-time admirer of, and Courttia Newland, who was one of my early mentors in prose...

Anyway, back to the delay on my copy edits, very frustrating etc etc, but I have been making good use of the time; last week I recorded an excerpt for a fairly new BBC World Service programme called The Forum, and took part in a panel discussion of some of the ideas in the book, and stuff like whether or not Islamic Law is ethical and whether Plato had the right ideas about erotic love in his 'Symposium'. It was supremely interesting (I'll let you know when THEY let me know when it will be broadcast), but the publicity department at my publishers said - oh, couldn't it have been next year? everyone would have forgotten by the time the book comes out! Ah, YE publishers of little faith; haven't you heard about gossip, the bush fire media, alata wire tap, abusua radio, or, for the wine drinkers, the grapevine...? [BTW I welcome comments from my West African readers for any more phrases that exist to describe gossip - it's funny how the mind goes blank sometimes...]

Bottom line is, I'm not completely bored. I even had occasion to celebrate the fact that one of the books I edited last year - 29 Ways to Drown by Niki Aguirre - made it to the longlist of the Frank O'Connor Short Story Prize and was reviewed in today's SUN newspaper (the UK crew will understand the significance of this - it has a circulation of 3 million and pictures of half naked women on Page 3 i.e. West-European-naked, just breasts, which is fully clothed at some of the markets I went to in Cape Coast - over here people get excited when a woman breast feeds in public - as my Naija crew would say, ah ah!)

On that half-clothed note, I bid you adieu, or rather au revoir...

what i'm reading/listening to

Smokey Robinson & D'Angelo - I have entire folders of their work on my laptop and I have them on loop - I'm in a chilled summer mood...

Rose by Li Young Lee (something to relax) and Land of our Birth by Ainsley Burrows (something I'm editing)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Poetry Review Comment/Poem

Those of you who know me will know I'm one of those poetechs/wiredwriters who is intermittently plugging in to technology - blame it on my two engineer brothers and (of course) my own background in physics/biochemistry/microbiology and the rarely-confessed four hours programming on my friend Ebow's ZX Spectrum when I got so fascinated by the things I could get the computer to do and record on tape - yes, tape! - that I got home late and got my arse acquainted with a lost branch from some random water-starved tree in Accra. Anyway, that's a long roundabout way of saying I put my name in a google alert and got this little nugget from a blog about my poem in the Poetry Review:

"However, there is surprising news for today - I've just finished reading the latest "Poetry Review" magazine and it's the first time I've closed the final pages and haven't wondered what on earth all the fuss was about. Not a bad edition really - an undercurrent of pretention here and there of course, but at that level you probably have to expect it. There were some poems I even enjoyed (Good God, Carruthers, pass me the smellings salts: the words "enjoy" and "Poetry Review" have never been in the same paragraph before). I will even go so far as to say I noted some poets and their collections down on my buying list. Particular favourites were Siriol Troup for being charmingly Japanese about WH Auden (ah, the story is in the spaces, m'dear ...), Hugo Williams for being charmingly Victorian, Nii Ayikwei Parkes for putting the people back into politics, and Jane Draycott for a wonderful scene of miscommunication. Also nice to see my old favourite, Neil Rollinson, in there. Though they were rather snippety about his latest collection, Demolition. Hey, I didn't think it was that bad. Not vintage Rollinson for sure, but not terrible!" - the blog is Anne Brooke's Writing Journal

Putting 'the people back into politics' - I thought, yeah, that's probably an accurate description of what I try to do, but whether or not I'm successful is always up to the reader - it's just good to know that occasionally people feel what I'm trying to say - on that note, here's an excerpt from the poem for those of you who haven't had the chance to pick up the review (On Pleasure):

Lebanon was in a shade of peace – stilled
from war – and regardless of what anyone said
about you, I had never heard a name so

beautiful; Sajeeda. Late afternoon, we held

hands by the gutter as we walked to our
secret haunt. Above the graveyard of cars,
our seven year old bodies twisted into

the rust and glass cage of a Nissan Sunny –
forsaken. Nested, we didn’t consider the odds
of dropping like dislodged eggs. In that

strange skyscraper of scrap – a monument
to your mechanic father’s failures, the precise
shape of the green tree in his flag – we

solemnly undressed, as one. We embraced

More information on the issue here

and that's it for today :)

Little Pleasures

I haven't blogged in a while, I haven't listened to NEW music in a while, I haven't invented a new recipe in a while - it's been that kind of year. I spent most of January and February in my editorial role for flipped eye publishing editing work for three of my favourite poets - Ainsley Burrows, Agnes Meadows, Charlotte Ansell - and ended the month of February with a celebration event called reaching the 10000, marking a slaes landmark for flipped eye.

But before the end of Feb I went to see Junot Diaz at the Royal Festival Hall and got my copy of the brilliant The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao signed. The book has now joined others on my shelf and it just hit me that about 20-30% of the books I've bought/received in the last year have been signed. Is this the real pleasure of being a writer - that you know/meet so many writers that you get a good chunk of your books signed - and free, even? I don't think so - what I get from those books, really, is inspriration, because I only get books signed by authors I admire - every one of those books is a reminder, a klaxon, a broken record stuck on the word write, write, write, write....

[Oh, started a new notepad for my teaching stuff...]

Thursday, January 31, 2008

crossing paths

so, in the last three months i've been meeting writers and telling them how great my agent is - only to find they have the same agent... weird! but i also feel it's a good sign... OK, i will blog properly later - got big dreams and dwarf tine!!!