JUSTICE JOSEPH PRAH; HAIKU ESSAYIST AND CRITIC FROM GHANA
Justice Joseph Prah, is the name I am known by friends and all. I was born on September 2, 1985 and hail from the South-western part of Ghana, Volta Region, specifically Hohoe. I am an educator, who has since 2005 been teaching African and Western Literature in high school. In 2015, I joined African Haiku Network and become a haiku essayist and critic. I have the penchant for researching about other poets in general and lurching into the void to find their disclosed and undisclosed motivations as well as other reflective reasons.
To me, writing literary or any scholarly material is much like time-travelling into the future to successfully connect with our up and waiting generation while adding your creative mileage to the present achievements chalked by writers. The subject matters we explore subtly today are just not in themselves mere fictionalization of 21st century problems, but throve of information waiting to be accessed by tomorrow’s writers. Look at the tedious duty of the archaeologists and Egyptologists today; what do they do in their quest to reconstruct thousands of indigenous history lost to time and age? They invest billions of dollars year in year out to dig, scratch and surf through tough rocks and drought-ridden territories. They have got one self-tasked assignment; that is, the search for yesterday’s lost literary materials and information! Just like the hieroglyphics, some of us are also quite pleasured to leave traces of our existence here and forever. I equally write to concretely define my environment, its re-occurring problems and beautiful stories worth appreciating especially in academic circles or discourse.
Why were you inclined to submit for the Babishai 2020 haiku award?
I should say in a matter-of-fact tone that I personally did see entering this year’s haiku contest as an inclination to keep exploring my artistic skills in practicing the haiku art. This has been the moving strength behind all contests I participated in even outside Africa. This year’s contest is yet another evidence in itself haiku is no longer a bona fide “poetriculture” of Japanese alone. The evidence is further clear! Look at how haiku poets have in recent year doubled-up all over African continent.
What was your process in writing this particular haiku below?
in the moon’s spotlight
a frog leads chorus
Well, let us say I am inwardly a conservatist-poet still in tuned with the past-but-not-almost-gone good old days that got wrecked in the daunting task of bringing the swift urbanization into our humble continent by the West. A system neo-cultural theorist brought to Africa and put into force to pillage away the green hills, lakes, rivers and our pleasantly idyllic settings. My search for those out-of-sight nature’s influences over our ordinary life is a sacred duty I still hold very nobly. Every year, when the long-in-coming rains start refilling emptied out ponds, wetlands and guttered rivers, I take a pleasure-stroll around just to record in time exciting sceneries into my journal; great experiences that could possibly inspire most of my haiku including this simple one above. One graceful evening (a.i 21st June 2019), after two successive rounds of downpour, the expected ‘froggy’ choral croak came this thick and awful from a neighbor’s garden ; such a deafening sound! I came out, braved up and tiptoed so close. Truth be told, I have had countless encounters of this moment before, but this was out-rightly fascinating. Just at where the darkness colored the pond, I spotted a meaty but lone frog in the fallen shadow of the moon’s circle, croaking along with others. Bingo! A haiku moment materialized out of something mercurial. But it is the fine- tuning of the recorded experience into the three-minted lines that brings the awe. . Let me pull off the hook loosely and say the poetic arrangement of the clustered moment into the 15 syllabic fragment and phrase-based sentence did come with a slight toughness as I overly kept revising every line to get the haiku come alive for the contest. Currently, the rains are still pattering and tapping and I am still collecting moments for my next ku.
In your opinion, what is the future of African haiku?
This is the most appropriate question of all. Honestly. ‘Afriku” started not too long ago. In fact, many practitioners of the Basho-art would recall gladly the watershed moment is still a new-comer to some African poets including the old. It has not truthfully gone up the waistline measurement literally. We are still making surprising inroads into the art. Presently, only a fraction of us write and capture the moments right and genuinely believe it is contently different from other forms of poems like ballad, sonnet, limerick, satire, ode etc. Let me add, without guilt that writing a wonderful haiku is not that easy like a leisure walk in a park; it is not an imaginative outcome. It is an experiential write-down of a glamorous moment that turns imaginative in John Keats’ ode. The future for African haiku looks bleak unless we adopt ‘poetricultural’ attitude of repeatedly organizing contests like this to wake ourselves up to keep the art alive. I am so disappointed at a University professor (In one of our leading African Universities) who willingly talked an undergraduate out from writing a whole content of his researched paper on the practice of haiku in Africa some years ago. You are utterly surprised right? Well, that’s the kind of fear I have. But I must take off my cap for Professor Wole Soyinka who undoubtedly praised the new haiku practitioners in Africa a year ago.
How are we able to share this haiku experience, with Ghana and the world?
The practice of haiku is highly ubiquitous. When one captures that frozen moment into a three-lined stanza then the whole outcome is no longer a poem but a golden meaning for literary appreciation. Every haiku is expertly written to wake some moments up in us and all the 10 ku selected are not an exception. Rainfall pattern, though slightly variant at all belts of Africa swells up rivers, lakes, puddles as it ushers in frogs that almost look extinct during the dry season. This is a scene everyone from Timbuktu to Zululand is in sync with. Haven’t we all at a point in our growing-up moments enjoyed the discordant “opera’ show of this nocturnal creatures? In one African folktale, the story sits in that the frogs were once rain-makers in the animal kingdom. They croak on unend to charm the rain god. In this haiku how ever, I share with all the power in unification. The dressed up rhythmic sound comes in unison and it expresses a unique theater of people recognizing their togetherness and what it can do for them. As the frogs croak on relentlessly, they consciously inspire humans to take pride in reaching for their collective aspirations, even as different continents, in a pluralistic way. The concepts of individualism, racism and ‘mono-familism’ are unhealthy for the progress of humanity. Again, these amazing creatures exemplify the lingering truth that one cannot easily define what an actual music is. Perhaps, it may be the reason Keats says “heard melodies are sweet, but unheard melodies are the sweetest”