Saturday, February 20, 2010

Prize & Praise

Two things.

ONE - 'Tail of the Blue Bird' made the shortlist for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book, YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Djama all night :)
TWO - I found a new, short but lovely, review of 'Tail of the Blue Bird' in the current issue of World Literature Today that 'got' some of the politics behind my aesthetic choices. Good times!

Review from World Literature Today, January-February 2010

Nii Ayikwei Parkes. Tail of the Blue Bird. London. Jonathan Cape. 2009. 176 pages. £12.99. isbn 978-0-224-08574-8

One of the most curious attractions of Tail of the Blue Bird is its privi­leging of Ghanaian languages over English. Nii Ayikwei Parkes tells a wonderful narrative where all the "English" words are italicized and the Ghanaian words of Twi and Ga are not: "It was black and shiny, but when the tall red policeman stepped closer it was wansima, about apem apem thousands." This in itself sets the book apart, and yet it is a revolu­tionary publication on other levels, too. Parkes has insisted on the use of phonetic script to capture the sounds of Ghanaian English—kєtє, sєbi, Asєm bєn ni!—and interestingly offers no key or glossary for the non-Ghanaian reader. In terms of con­tent, the book marks a moment in time when the postcolonial novel is leaving the stage; there is no "apolo­gy" in this narrative, nor is there any great sense of problematic opposites. Things in this book are very much "as they are."

Set in the hinterland of Ghana, the protagonist, Kayo, is "persuad­ed" by the Ghanaian police force to leave his comfortable forensic labo­ratory job in Accra to investigate a "whodunnit" in a village of twelve families somewhere in the Ghanaian jungle. The investigation, however, becomes increasingly complex, and Kayo's discussions with Opanyin Poku and Oduro, residents of the village, are told through a web of story and palm wine.

The story within the story explores the mysterious, employing Ghanaian proverbs and ancestral wisdom. In the narrative of Opanyin Poku, we read: "Ei, wonders will never cease. They say nothing is other than what you see, but it is also true that nothing is other than what you don't see."

It would be easy to state that the demonstrative differences of rural versus metropolis, East versus West, and rational versus ethereal are the basic tenets of this book, but that would be doing this publication an injustice. Tail of the Blue Bird reminds us that, although events may be rationalized, explained as "fate," or accepted as the unknown doings of ethereal forces, the universal fact remains that as humans, we all pass through them, live and endure them; whatever our cultural or philosophi­cal stance, we survive life's events to greater or lesser degrees.

Emma Dawson

Keele University

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Workshop Freewrites [1]

It just occurred to me that I run dozens of workshops every year and I - as a rule - participate in the exercises that I use but rarely go back to them. Well, I've decided to share them: short summaries of the exercises, followed by my output - mostly terrible, but, I guess, they show what writing evolves from.

Exercise: The alphabet stop - I ask someone to say the alphabet in their head and another to stop them, whatever letter is the 'STOP' letter becomes the first letter of words contributed by everyone in the workshop. In this case, the letter was 'T' and the task was to use all the words that came up in two and a half minutes, which, I can assure you is both too little and too much. I don't think I need to mark out the 'T' words, but the aim of the exercise is to force the writer to manoeuvre around an odd selection of words and still deliver something close to a coherent narrative. The result is often odd, but often contains an exquisite seed of quirky brilliance that can form the basis of a more crafted piece of work. I first used this in 2003, partly inspired by an exercise used by fellow poet, Ainsley Burrows.

The temptation the tell the truth fades any time his vanity reigns triumphant; he wants to express his love, but it's torture for him to lose control and let her know. Tonight, like every other, ten out of ten thoughts are about her and his timidity, his tenacity to his independence, is stretching their togetherness taut as a trampoline; with every new trial she tolerates him less and with time he fears she'll see him as a thing that just came to steal her love today to boast about it tomorrow. He wants her to know it's not that way, but every time he tries to talk he tastes his fear and his treacherous pride traces the contours of his face into a tranquil expression that transfers none of his true thoughts to the tunnels of her tympanum.

Tonight, especially, he feels his foolishness tug at him, a tempestuous thing that trifles with him, transports his words away like a tsunami sweeper until he's standing in front of her - thirty years old, in trendy threads, fiddling with his dreads, trying to tell her he loves her, but sounding like a character from Toonami, like Taz, knowing she'll probably touch and go...