“Concerning Craft” is a new feature of the Little Patuxent Review. On a regular basis, we will introduce you to a contributor, showcase a piece of that person’s work we have published and then draw back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.
Prince Mensah graciously agreed to be our first participant. He has been active in the arts since the age of seven, when he submitted a story to the BBC. He now has 25 stage plays to his credit as well as 17 poetry collections. His work has appeared in publications as diverse as the UNESCO’s Other Voices Poetry Project, One Ghana, One Voice, the Munyori Literary Journal and The Muse. But, as he recently confided with a broad smile, he has yet to receive “the BBC Seal of Approval.”
Here he is reading a poem published in the Water issue of the Little Patuxent Review. Ever aware of the vagaries of the submission process, he also includes one that wasn’t.
And this is what he has to say about about the craft of writing:
I was born in Ghana during the era of coup d’états. My first 23 years were spent under military dictatorships. Those experiences nurtured an enduring distaste for any form of oppression. Writing, for me, involves being a voice for the voiceless. They also made me conscious of the clash between the ideal and the real. Writers, I believe, are forced to choose sides, no matter how hard they try to stay neutral.
I write poetry now because of its brevity. My initial genres of preference were the short story and the play. I am still a raconteur at heart but intend to hone the poetic edge so that I can go back to my first loves with a bang.
I agree with Toni Morrison that a writer must write the work only a person of his or her disposition can write. I am a cross between an absolutist and a relativist. There are things that are absolutely definite, like life and death. There are also things that are relative, like emotions.
I try not to be dogmatic. It does not give me the fluidity I desire as a writer. I cannot be risqué or blasé in my treatment of issues. It is the sacred duty of writers to present our art and craft to the temple of human discourse. This has to be done without misrepresenting who we are and what we are talking about.
Love, death, hope, faith and nature inspire me. I have no favorite words, only favorite images. I love the summer sky, winter fields, fall woods and spring meadows. I love life. My faith is my bearing when it comes to content. Sometimes my poems come through phrases. Other times I witness a unique scene and that swells up the right words in my mind. Then I have the times when I write whether I am inspired or not.
Writing is only one of my occupations. It overlaps with what I presently do, which is working as a translator and an interpreter. There is always the need for content, clarity and context. Hence, my work’s resonance with the reader is important but not to the point where I have to lose my own voice. I remain cognizant of external factors as I write and intently minimize those influences that muddy my message.
Structure is quintessential. Personally, the ending of a literary piece is more important than the beginning. The beginning is normally a marketing device to pull in readers. The ending serves to validate why they took the trouble to continue. The middle, however, is where it all matters.
I would use the word “eclectic” to describe my body of work. It is important for me to experiment with whatever technique I am exposed to. As to style, I am nomadic. I am afraid of becoming stale. Content and clarity always come first for me. I struggle with essence. I do not want to complete a piece of writing without finding any relevance in it. If I do not, then that piece has to be destroyed.
Hopefully, Mensah’s comments concerning craft start a dialogue on the subject at this site and it will continue as we present two other poets, Gregory Luce and Naomi Thiers, before moving on to prose. We encourage you to participate in this and other discussions of craft in the region, such as that already occuring at “The Writer’s Toolbox,” a feature of The Writer’s Center’s blog, First Person Plural.