Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Why I Go Over

People in the UK still ask me why I go over to the US so much. I could give a whole list of reasons, including my love for interacting with audiences, the importance I attribute to writers from Africa (of various stripes and from a range of countries) being seen and identified as active and valuable contributors to the world's culture without disappearing under institutional labels like 'African-American' etcetera etcetera. However, the bottom line is very basic; in spite of my residence in the UK and my home in Ghana, my biggest audience (measured by the number of people who visit my websites, blogs, follow my facebook and twitter updates) is in the US. I think it's a matter of respect for authors to make themselves available to their audiences, because without them every author would be a person alone in a room doing weird things with words. That's why I go to the US so much.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Notes From a Warm Place

So, the people who invited me to read in Southern & Northern California have been sending me very lovely comments from the audience members and, I have pulled them together into a 14-line collage in celebration. My trip so far as been incredibly reaffirming - if I ever doubted that readers just love literature and want to be challenged and exposed to new worlds, my doubts have been blown away... Here's the collage/bricolage/commentage:

The poem he read to us which paralleled playing
a piano with playing basketball). I thought it was both
thoughtful and creative. Not only was he an attractive writer,
but his poetry was amazing, the perfect

antidote to an otherwise grinding week. His reading draws me in
and paints pictures; the way that he speaks of togetherness,
in terms of "we" instead of "I" says a lot about his character.
He speaks with such rhythm. I loved Nii's reading;

definitely my favorite guest speaker. The way he read
his novel was almost as if he was singing a song.
I love the way he incorporated language in his book.
He has such a wonderful spirit; I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his work.

I'm just about to order his book from Amazon.
I wish he could come back and read to us again!

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Voiceover East Africa Campaign

So, on Tuesday the 9th of August from 09:30 - 13:00 I'll be in a London studio donating my voice for a ground-breaking campaign to raise money to help alleviate the famine situation in East Africa (Maple Street Studio have kindly agreed to host the shoot, and produce the spot free of charge!). It's a social media campaign of 100 voice-over artists (and the wider voice-over community) working pro-bono voicing and producing 10 public service announcements for 10 aid-agencies assisting with crisis in East Africa where the worst drought in 60 years has seen famine declared in parts of Somalia and 11.3 million lives at risk across the 'Horn of Africa'

Why are we doing this? The UN estimates that $1.3 Billion is needed just to feed those at risk, this is minus real concerted efforts towards sustainability in the region. All the aid-agencies have a shortfall of funding and we see that mainstream News does not report the issue enough (although the situation has been building up for years), so our aim is to bring more attention to the situation whilst fund-raising through the medium of communication; 10 Public Service announcements, audio and video made available across all social media (and Radio & TV where possible).

What next? In this shoot I'll be contributing specifically to a voiceover recording for The World Food Programme (WFP) - who are working right across the 'Horn of Africa' in  Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti... This is just the first of 10 recordings we are producing and the aim is to raise money while raising awareness so please donate any amount from £1 upwards by Texting VOEA52 followed by the amount in whole pounds e.g. VOEA52 £1 to 70070 & your specified donation will be sent to The World Food Programme. There are over 70 million mobile phones in the UK alone, that's more mobiles than the entire population! Now imagine what just £1.00 can do!

'Just Giving' are using the Voice-Over East Africa Campaign as a case study and are promoting our cause, filming us for a feature as we record the voice-over for The World Programme (WFP) spot(s). The end video is being produced by Just Giving and will be broadcast on their YouTube website, the World Food Programme website and the VOEastAfrica YouTube channel

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Parade (reviews in)

I know I haven't said much about my little kids book project from last year/early this year, but it is out there and it is slowly growing a following and some lovely reviews have come in which I'm happy to share with you now:

This collection of trickster tales is lively and entertaining and will be an essential component of any teacher's story collection.
Back to School Bookseller

With their vibrant sense of fun and cunning these stories are sure to have an enduring appeal.

These delightful stories can be dipped into by relatively new independent readers, but also read well if you are sharing the stories with your child. The setting in Ghana adds exotic appeal and poet KP Kojo creates a fresh experience quite different to most children's books.

Not only very energetic and entertaining, these tales also encourage children to be well-mannered and polite.

This wonderful collection of stories expands Ananse's myth with sparkling wit and words that roll off the tongue. K.P. Kojo has clearly written this refreshing new book to be read aloud and shared.
ABC Best Books for Children

The collection of six stories both read well, and sound well when read aloud, with the lively imagery of the text supported by the black and white line drawings. Each tale has a moral to be told - although part of the fun with Ananse is that you never quite know whether you are going to be following his example, or learn from his mistakes!
School Librarian

All six short stories are simply and assuredly told and, unsurprisingly, are delightfully set and are perfectly complemented by the illustrations of Karen Lilje, all drawn in black and white except for the cover. The moral in all of them is clear and it is interesting to see how even Ananse, despite all his wisdom, can err. The spider is aware of his own shortcomings and in the sixth story he is initially hiding in the forest reflecting upon this. This is a lovely book which is worth considering as an addition to any library supporting children in KS1 and lower KS2. Class teachers looking for multicultural stories for their classes would enjoy this book and so would new independent readers.
Armadillo Magazine

The ink illustrations will capture the younger children's imaginations, and the stories are short enough to be enjoyed as individual bedtime stories. The stories are very clearly told but with wonderful descriptive writing, setting the scene for each story and giving a little background information on the characters involved. A delight to read.
Ibby Link

This book will transport you to Africa as you get caught up in the rich, descriptive text and fast moving narrative.
English 4-11

To Buy:
THE PARADE (as K.P. Kojo) in the UK:

THE PARADE (as K.P. Kojo) in the US:

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Bochum Disaster

Taken from:


The Bochum Disaster: 14th April 1993

On the night of 14 April 1993, Ghana’s senior National Team played then 1990 FIFA World Cup defending Champions Germany away at the Ruhrstadion, Bochum, Germany in an International friendly match. Parading then 3-time African Footballer of the Year Abedi Pele, back-to-back German Bundesliga Goal-king Anthony Yeboah among others, Ghana shocked the World Champions by taking the lead through Prince Polley in the 44th min., in front of 37,000 home fans. They took the 1-0 lead over Germany into half-time. Germany stormed back in the 2nd half and scored 3 quick goals in one minute - the 70th minute alone! - through Ulf Kirsten 70', Stefan Effenberg 70', Jürgen Klinsmann 70'. With the Ghanaian team in disarray, the World Champions added 3 more goals in the 82’, 86‘, and 88’, for a final score of 1-6.

This match is etched in Ghana’s football history as the worst defeat. It is believed that after the first half of this match the Ghanaian team had a disagreement over the sharing of the match bonus, and this is considered to have led to the downfall of the team in the match.

Edward Ansah,
Tony Baffoe,
Stephen Frimpong Manso (Stanley Arboah 66'),
Emmanuel Armah,
Ali Ibrahim (Yaw Preko 81'),
Isaac Asare,
Abedi 'Pelé' Ayew
Yaw Acheampong,
Charles Akonnor (Sam Adjei 52'),
Anthony Yeboah,
Prince Polley Opoku.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

New blog for short writings

I started a new blog for bulleted-thought, short writings. You're welcome to check out the first two posts:

The unspoken assumption -

African Writer: the identity question -

Until the next blog,
Nii Ayikwei

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What We Run On When We Run About Poeting

There was a time when I loved long-distance running. I would head out with no real route in mind and just jog along; staring out at the world, knowing my eventual destination would be familiar, that somehow it would be where I started, in the bosoms of something I knew. Then came a time when I hated long-distance running: I had just started boarding school and a coach, stunned that someone as tiny as I was had the stamina to complete the cross-country course, decided to focus on making me faster. He wouldn't let me daydream along; he wanted me to focus on my strides, my breathing pattern, the consistency of my pace. With all that emphasis on the technical, the joy just went out of it for me. I stopped running.

Years later, I picked it up again with a group of work colleagues – we would just chat as we did a lunchtime run, no talk of breathing patterns, just a leisurely run a run for the feeling of running, a run to experience the beauty of the fields around us. In time, I did learn about breathing/stride patterns, but it was after I had improved my times dramatically just enjoying myself and wanted to understand how that had happened.

My experience with poetry has been similar: love, hate and back to love. And the reason why I relate it to running is the notion of feeling. Writing and printing has, with time, moderated our receiving of poetry through the abstraction of text rather than directly through sound, and that has in turn led to a shift of focus from feeling-first to technique-first. I believe that the feeling should come first, and the exploration of how we feel should lead our study and teaching. Haruki Murakami, in his book about running (with a very similar title to this piece, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which he in turn adapted from Raymond Carver) said that he learned "practical, physical lessons" during the act of running, that running heightened his receptivity to landscapes and shifts in weather patterns. Poetry is similar, in that it CAN heighten our awareness of emotional shifts, the oft-missed nuances of human interaction with the world. Its joys lie in its ability to make us engage with detail, to take the small and magnify it. Poetry works in tandem with its environment and that environment includes the reader. Just as the sensation of running is strongly linked to the world around the runner, so the experience of a poem is linked to the world around the reader. It is so important to remember that.

Words are triggers and carry meanings well beyond the scope of the dictionary. A reader or listener who has lost someone close to them whose favourite word was 'blossom' will react very differently to an encounter with the word in a poem than someone who does not have that personal history. This indefinable human element is one of the key reasons why we have to let each person develop their own relationship with a poem before introducing any analysis or technical exploration. Beyond text there is sound, and the internet offers us a unique opportunity to bring poems alive by playing videos of poets reading their own work – allowing comparisons between performance and representation on the page. More importantly, it is another way to experience poetry, to engage with the feelings that poetry evokes. Gwendolyn Brooks' poem 'We Real Cool' is a short but very good example of how a poet's reading can change the feel of a poem. Looking at the text below, it's hard to tell where her emphasis will be, but when it is heard (link here), the strong emphasis on the 'we' at the end of each line, gives the lines the edge and 'attitude' of their inspiration – a pool hall.

We real cool. We

Left school. We

Lurk late. We

Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We

Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We

Die soon.

Coming back to the central idea of feeling (which is what I run on when I run about 'poeting'), I would like to touch a little on the concept of ownership in the learning process. By using inclusive learning approaches, it is possible to get students much more enthusiastic about the learning of poetry. It is also important to retain lightness in the approach since poems, after all, are little bubbles of wordplay. For example, I often muddle up poems of great technical accomplishment and then ask my students to reconstruct them according to their own experience of the text. What I get back is very different versions, but with each person able to articulate why they have structured the text as they have. However, the trick is I am able to share with them at the same time, why the original writer's structure works. The example below is an extract from 'Facing It' by American poet, Yusef Komunyakaa: first a version without broken lines and then the poet's version.

My black face fades, hiding inside the black granite. I said I wouldn't, dammit: No tears. I'm stone. I'm flesh. My clouded reflection eyes me like a bird of prey, the profile of night slanted against morning. I turn this way--the stone lets me go. I turn that way--I'm inside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial again, depending on the light to make a difference.

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite

I said I wouldn't,

dammit: No tears.

I'm stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me

like a bird of prey, the profile of night

slanted against morning. I turn

this way--the stone lets me go.

I turn that way--I'm inside

the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

again, depending on the light

to make a difference.

In the poet's version, we can tell – especially in the highlighted sections – how important the breaking of the lines in the poem is to add nuance to each segment. You also sense, by reading out loud, how the breaks affect pacing, and thus mood. A similar exercise with Tina Chang's 'Duality' (link here) shows the effect of stanza breaks, and by changing the length of lines, subtle changes in mood can be felt when reading both Yusef's poem (above) and Tina's poem (link here). Engaging in these discussions allow a great deal of poetic technique to be discussed in an inclusive manner, with everyone contributing, but also it gives us the material to use in accented notes.

I like to encourage my students to make two columns of notes – one representing accepted critical opinions on the work and another column of supplementary notes representing the opinions of themselves and their peers, which I encourage them to use to personalise any responses that they might have to offer on the poem – underlining the fact that with material as subjective as poetry, every opinion counts as long as it can be backed up with a reason. Those personalised additions become their accent on the work.

In rounding up my thoughts I am compelled to refer to childhood. Watching a child learn language is probably the best instruction of what engaging with poetry should be like; it may take ages for the meaning to become clear to us, but it should not stop us enjoying it. Children begin to use words that they like the sound of long before the meanings become clear to them, and they create beautiful juxtapositions by doing so. It also means that we can engage them with what seems like nonsense poetry and they will make their own sense of it, whereas an adult might seek to draw a specific meaning from the work. This search for meaning is what our educational systems teach us to do, so in a way I guess I am suggesting that the teaching of poetry must be, to some degree, counter-curricular i.e. while the choice of work can be curriculum-led, the teaching of it must deviate from the obsession with logic and fact. Indeed, one of our leading contemporary poets, Don Paterson remarked on this in a recent article in the Guardian discussing his re-reading of Shakespeare's sonnets. He makes a distinction between a 'primary' and 'secondary' (the analytical kind we tend to do in school) reading of poetry, saying:

"a primary reading doesn't have to articulate its findings. It engages with the poem directly, as a piece of trustworthy human discourse – which doesn't sound too revolutionary, but the truth is that many readers don't feel like that about poetry any more, and often start with: "But what does it all mean?" on the assumption that "that's how you read poetry".

Essentially, raw enthusiasm – what we should run on when we run about poeting – has been lost.

I often think that the moment we stop running in corridors is the moment we need to make a conscious effort not to be too analytical when we first encounter a poem. There is something about that abandon, the possibility of bumping into someone, the acute alertness that aids us if we have to swerve or stop suddenly, that contains all the breathless quests that poetry emerges from. The human and the environment, the traveller and the land, the lover and the terrain of sentiment, the child and the family tree – we must run through it all with no harness, no fear. Poetry is an act of faith.

© Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Publisher's Weekly Review of TAIL OF THE BLUE BIRD

Tail of the Blue Bird
At the beginning of award-winning Ghanaian writer Parkes's debut novel, life in the quiet village of Sonokrom is disrupted by a minister's girlfriend in a short skirt "whose eyes would not lie still." Arriving by car, she follows a stench--and a hunch--into the abandoned hut of a man named Kofi Atta, and the narrator of these early pages, hunter Opanyin Poku, follows. So many maggots swarm the remains; "the hut was filled with their buzzing." The case draws the attention of a power-hungry inspector who forces Kayo, a talented young forensic pathologist, into service, pairing him with the able Constable Garba. Kayo is able to gain the confidence of a local medicine man so that he can collect research samples while still respecting traditions. He's alarmed by oddities related to the case, like a blue bird feather that appears when the remains are burned. But the inspector isn't interested in oddities; he wants a "CSI-style report." A beguiling exploration of the power of storytelling--ancient stories and humble, modern and official. "On this earth," Kayo learns, "we have to choose the story we tell, because it we live." (Jan.)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Letter from Equatorial Guinea

This has come to me via a mutual friend and I am sharing. Please spread the word.

Nii Ayikwei


From Egypt to Equatorial Guinea
-Juan Manuel Davies-
(Writer, born in Equatorial Guinea)
All started in the North African country of Tunisia. In a much smaller but not insignificant scale, Yemen, Algeria and other Middle Eastern countries participated in this unquenchable yearn for democracy. Then Egypt took over.
For the past two weeks, we have all witnessed, worldwide, the hundreds of thousands of people participating in this peaceful Revolution taking place in Egypt against all forms of dictatorial governments.
Well, it seems that now, that pro-democracy fever has arrived to the tiny oil rich country of Equatorial Guinea with a sad twist.
Today, February 11, 2011, one of the country's most prominent and prolific writers, Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel, has decided to go on a hunger strike until Mister Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the current dictator of Equatorial Guinea since 1979 and his entire Cabinet relinquish power.
The simple plea of Juan Tomás is for the International Community to apply as much pressure as possible to President Obiang Nguema to immediately initiate considerable and verifiable changes which will conduct that tiny Nation to a real Democracy before it is too late.
We understand, as it has been proven by MR. Mubarak, that the response from the government of Equatorial Guinea will be that this is just a one man's quest for publicity and fame, giving his sole opinion on the present situation of the country, and they will use all kind of false propaganda to ensure the continuation of their dictatorial regime. However, we should not tolerate that this valiant and unselfish effort of Juan Tomás goes in vain and possibly end in tragedy.
I therefore urge all people of good conscience to contact your political Representatives, as well as President Obama and Secretary Clinton and ask them to intervene in the above mentioned matter to try to rescue our brother Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel.
Thanks to all.
J M Davies

Sunday, January 23, 2011

One of my favourite Toni Morrison interview responses

From the Paris Review:


Why do you think people ask, Why don't you write something that we can understand? Do you threaten them by not writing in the typical Western, linear, chronological way?


I don't think that they mean that. I think they mean, Are you ever going to write a book about white people? For them perhaps that's a kind of a compliment. They're saying, You write well enough, I would even let you write about me. They couldn't say that to anybody else. I mean, could I have gone up to André Gide and said, Yes, but when are you going to get serious and start writing about black people? I don't think he would know how to answer that question. Just as I don't. He would say, What? I will if I want to, or, Who are you? What is behind that question is, there's the center, which is white, and then there are these regional blacks or Asians, or any sort of marginal people. That question can only be asked from the center. Bill Moyers asked me that when-are-you-going-to-write-about question on television. I just said, Well, maybe one day . . . but I couldn't say to him, you know, you can only ask that question from the center. The center of the world! I mean he's a white male. He's asking a marginal person when are you going to get to the center, when are you going to write about white people. I can't say, Bill, why are you asking me that question? Or, As long as that question seems reasonable is as long as I won't, can't. The point is that he's patronizing; he's saying, You write well enough; you could come on into the center if you wanted to. You don't have to stay out there on the margins. And I'm saying, Yeah, well, I'm gonna stay out here on the margin, and let the center look for me.

Maybe it's a false claim, but not fully. I'm sure it was true for the ones we think of as giants now. Joyce is a good example. He moved here and there, but he wrote about Ireland wherever he was, didn't care where he was. I am sure people said to him, Why . . .? Maybe the French asked, When you gonna write about Paris?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Two More Reviews & a blog thumbs up

In spite of my mainstream invisibility, I am heartened by the responses to TAIL OF THE BLUE BIRD in the US and I'm happy to share a few excerpts. One of the things I'm most relieved about is (except for the Booklist review) none of them seem to be inconvenienced by the language choices - although many industry 'insiders' advised me to 'mellow' the book down for the US market. Testament to what Toni Morrison has oft spoken about - the intelligence of the reader:

From The Examiner:

"...a truly beautiful novel. Parkes' skill as a poet is quite apparent within the symmetry of his writing. It is also apparent that he has (spiritually) consorted with the Old Masters Amos Tutuola and D.O. Fagunwa." --Rosetta Codling
- link to full review,

From Booklist:

"Set in a contemporary Ghanaian village, this murder mystery blends CSI with magic realism... The novel, which was short-listed for the Commonwealth Prize, is not easy reading, especially the occasional parts told in pidgin dialect, but the story and atmosphere prove quite engaging. Working in a remote village, rooted in the scary forest, Kayo must look beyond the easy answers that come at the touch of a keyboard and search for absolute truths." --Hazel Rochman
- can be seen on,

From A Striped Armchair (blog - one of my favourites; it's almost as if the blogger can tell I was raised by strong women):

"Parkes strikes me as an author unwilling to settle for simple, black-and-white views; while we see the women in the village through the eyes of men, the different male characters have different attitudes. The stories Kayo hears include powerful women as well as victimised ones... There isn't that feeling one sometimes comes across in novels by international authors aimed at Western audiences that the culture has been exoticised and is being spoon-fed to the reader. Parkes had a story to tell, one that was intimately connected with the place and culture he grew up in, and so he told it... as my first 'five star' read of 2011, it definitely set a marvelous tone for the rest of my reading!"
- link to full review/thoughts/comment,

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Made Ali Smith's 'Books of the Year' in TLS

 (woop, woop!)

Thanks Ali - I love you even more now :)

Here's the section:


Amy Sackville's The Still Point (Portobello), a story of turn-of-the-century arctic pioneering and contemporary emotional frozen states, has an Eliotic calm that seems almost uncanny in a debut writer, and a narrative voice that's subtle and original. Ciaran Carson's originality in the novel form is often overlooked, presumably because he's primarily known as a poet; The Pen Friend (Blackstaff), with its unlikely fusion of pens, perfumes and politics, is one of his most arresting fictional cocktails. I also loved Paul Murray's Skippy Dies (Hamish Hamilton), three novels fused into one ignited tragicomic tour de force. Finally, who knew the weight of history and the foulness of the slave trade could be transformed into, of all things, a hot-air balloon ride? Like a liberating piece of jazz, and with astonishing, near-heroic buoyancy in its communal voice, Nii Ayikwei Parkes's poetry sequence, Ballast: A remix (Tall-Lighthouse), literally does the impossible. 

Here's the link to the entire Books of the Year piece: