Religion Magazine

Words from #Westgate

By Richardl @richardlittleda

Posthumous poetic impact

Writing some 40 years ago in his book Ways of seeing, Peter Berger demonstrated how words can transform our perception of images. He highlights the picture below by way of example. On the left is Van Gogh’s painting ‘Wheat-field with crows’. On the right is the same painting with an additional annotation. Click on the picture to see it in a bigger size and you will see how different the two pictures look on account of the words which accompany them.

Image: wikipedia

Image: wikipedia

This morning I read some words by the Ghanaian poet and activist Professor Kofi Awoonor.  I have to confess that I had never heard of him until today, nor read any of his poetry. Had I done so, I think I would have liked it. However, when I read it now after his murder by terrorists in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi it has a whole new resonance:

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

Poetic language is always powerful. Poeiw, the Greek verb from which the word comes, means ‘to make’. A poet is one who takes the found materials to hand and fashions them into something new which catches the sun’s dancing light and make us blink at the brilliance of things which were there all along.

As dark cloud settles over those who mourn in Kenya and elsewhere, perhaps Awoonor’s poetry may bring some light.


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