Dunes Review Interview Series: Edzordzi Agbozo
Edzordzi Agbozo hails from Ghana, West Africa. His poems have appeared in Drift, Prairie Schooner, Kalahari Review, U.P. Reader, and are anthologized in According to Sources: An Anthology of Poetry and Intercontinental Anthology of Poetry on Universal Peace, among numerous elsewheres. He is a PhD student at the Michigan Technological University.
Edzordzi's poems "Ghana" and "If We Have to Leave You Again" appear in the 2018 spring/summer issue of Dunes Review.
When did you first begin writing? What first inspired you to write?
I started probably around age 12. My first work was a poem in my mother tongue, the Ewe language of West Africa. I was to represent my school (Comboni Catholic Basic School, Mafi-Kumase) in a poetry recital competition as part of our district cultural festival. This is a competitive cultural celebration among basic and high schools. The poet whose poem I had to memorize and perform did not submit his work in time so I decided to write my own poem. That poem basically was inspired by one of my grandmother’s songs.
Do you need to be inspired to write, or is it a job, a routine?
Daily observations inspire me to write. I try to write everyday although I am not always successful at that. My daily writing time is divided among many writing assignments so my creative writing is not a routine.
Do you usually write for long stretches, or in bits and pieces here and there?
Some works come almost fully formed so I write them in long stretches, but most of my work come in pieces. Usually, the first draft is just a stanza of the poem, or a paragraph of a story.
Do you think of yourself as a writer?
Until recently I didn’t. I tended to compare myself to the writers that I read and those oral storytellers and poets that come from my tradition. I saw them as the standard that I must attain before I could call myself a writer. At the University of Ghana, where I had my undergraduate education, I was fortunate to receive creative writing instruction from Mawuli Adzei, one of Ghana’s contemporary writers, and he called us ‘writers’. In my young mind, I saw that as a kind of confirmation, so I started calling myself one.
What's the first thing you do when starting a new piece of writing?
I do nothing in particular. I just write. I delete the first few lines later because they usually don’t make much sense. They, however, are transitions into a certain cognitive state.
Do you listen to music or must you have silence while you write?
I love music. I listen to music almost always and particularly when I write. My ‘writing music’ is usually low-toned or meditative. I usually turn towards Ewe music more often. I also use classical music (favorites: Bach, Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, Hayden) and reggae.
What's your least favorite thing about writing?
Sometimes I feel some kind of pain to ‘cut’ sections of my work. But I am coming to reckon with the inevitability of editing. And when I do it well, I like the new shapes that the works take.
Do you let other people read your works in progress?
A few people read my works. These are people I trust and who give me very useful feedback. Recently, my former professors of creative writing, Mawuli Adzei and M. Bartley Seigel, do that for me a lot. When I was in Ghana, Professor Lade Wosornu, a surgeon and poet, was one of such people. There are others too, mostly friends in the ‘business’. I am always grateful that I have such a strong ‘wall’ to lean on.
How do you feel about sharing your writing with readers?
I usually don’t want people to read my works until I think I like those particular works. When I share, however, I get useful feedback. Perhaps, I should allow myself to be more vulnerable.
Can you tell us about a piece you are particularly proud of?
I am definitely proud of my first poem. It was titled ‘Mia Denyigba’ (Our Motherland). First, because it is in my language and everyone in my family can directly access it. Secondly, because it made me feel that I could write, and I have not stopped writing since then. Unfortunately, I have not been writing much in the Ewe language, but I read the wonderful works that others are doing in the language.
Whose writing inspires you?
Oral Ewe poets and storytellers have been my foremost inspiration. Later I saw reflections of this tradition in the works of Kofi Awoonor and Kofi Anyidoho. Their works, in English, continues for me the literary tradition I grew up in. My grandmother, Mama Wosekpo Nyikplorkpo is one of the composers from my place. From her I learned some aspects of turning daily occurrences into figurative language. In my short journey, however, I have encountered many other good writers from who I have learned. A few are Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Christopher Okigbo, Stacey D’Erasmo, Pablo Neruda, M. Bartley Seigel, Stephanie Carpenter, Mawuli Adzei, Donald Revell, Lade Wosornu and Ama Ata Aidoo.
Who are you currently reading?
I am currently reading Stephanie Carpenter’s Missing Persons. I am in a department where she is a faculty member, and she recently did a reading in a literature class I teach. I just finished reading Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow. My next read is Claudio Magris’ Blameless. I copy I have was translated from Italian by Anne Milano Appel. I am also reading tons of academic works.
If someone were to write a book about your life (either fiction or nonfiction), who would you want that author to be and why?
I have encountered many good writers, and I feel that I am yet to read many more. I will leave this determination for the future. But definitely, I would like to read both fiction and nonfiction written about me.
Which writers would you most like to meet, and why?
I would like to meet Salman Rushdie and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Rushdie has an unpredictability to his stories that makes me wonder how his imagination works. He has unusual plotting too. Ngũgĩ takes on daring issues. His sense of description is incredible. Fortunately for me I have met many of the writers and poets that I admire: Ama Ata Aidoo, M. Bartley Seigel, Stephanie Carpenter, Mawuli Adzei, and Lade Wosornu.
What is your favorite thing to do when you're not writing?
Walking and listening to good music. I particularly like walking along water bodies. There’s something special about those places. I like to cook too; mostly dishes from my part of the world.