Liyou Mesfin Libeskal is the winner of the Brunnel University African Poetry Prize. She discusses Kwesi Brew, one of Ghana’s greatest poets, in this review. Find more of her work here and on Facebook.
Ghanaian poet and diplomat Kwesi Brew, is one of the most celebrated figures in his country’s literary history. Brew’s poetry, centered around struggle and poverty, people and country, always has a distinctly natural quality and flow, no matter how intricate the lines are. One of the first poems I read by the late poet was The Executioner’s Dream, and the lines, “I dreamt I saw an eye, a pretty eye/ In your hands/ Glittering, wet and sickening; Like a dull onyx set in a crown of thorns” entranced me and prompted me to seek out more of Brew’s work.
What is so captivating about his poems is not only the ease with which he creates intensity, but also the fact that throughout his body of work, there is an air of melancholy which never fails to move me. Brew’s poems have an effortless way of immersing the reader into whatever he is depicting, subtly pulling at heartstrings, making us feel what he decides. Brew in a sense, forces us to see with him without being forceful, he just gives us his words and lets us follow. In The Slums of Nima Brew connects the slums to Ghana or even Africa in general by depicting “violent” thieves who step aside to make room for an old man to pass before them. In doing so, he shows us the culture that remains, even in a place which may be different from what we know. By using the universal idea of respect for elders, he connects us with thieves in the slums, and suddenly, we are not so different.
In another one of my favorites, Ghana’s Philosophy of Survival, Brew starts off “we are the punching bag of fate/ on whom the hands of destiny wearies/ and the show of blows gradually lose/ their viciousness on our patience/ until they become the caresses of admiration/ and time heals all wounds/ comes with a balm and without tears,/ soothes the bruises on our spirits.” Here, we see the absolute power of Brew’s words as he encapsulates so eloquently, in one stanza, the reaction to years of strife of a people long oppressed. With this, he not only addresses Ghana’s history of colonization, but also a very real aspect of human nature, allowing the reader to connect to a part of historic reality he/she may not relate to.
In my view, this is the essence of what Brew does with words, he grabs hold of you and brings you in, regardless of whether or not you are Ghanaian or African, whether or not you’ve seen the places or been the people or even felt the emotions his words convey. What his poetry does, is connect.
This, to me, is not simply down to powerful imagery or potent lines, or the weight of sheer sadness and beauty Brew communicates; it is because Brew leads with an undeniable essence of truth and vulnerability. I think this is perhaps why his work captivates us with remarkable ease. Brew is not only a literary treasure for Ghanaians and Africans, but for the world. I would recommend his work to anyone interested in literature who has yet to discover his stunning poetry.
Liyou Mesfin Libsekal is an Ethiopian poet born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She spent the majority of her childhood in different parts of East Africa. She earned a BA in Anthropology from the George Washington University in 2012; she now lives in her home country. She’s the winner of the 2014 Brunel University African Poetry Prize. Her poems include “Riding Chinese Machines” and can be found here.