AFAM AKEH TALKS TO AMATORITSERO EDE
Amatoritsero Ede (AE): You took a period of absence from the craft as a practicing poet. What was responsible for this unusual self-positioning?
Afam Akeh (AA): In the years 1992 to 1998, I was either Assistant Pastor or Pastor of churches in London and Oxford, some of which I either established or helped to establish. Welsh poetry is indebted to R.S. Thomas, who was a vicar, for his poems and other contributions but being a minister of God is obviously not the easiest position from which to pursue life as a secular poet. Was it an unusual positioning? Depends on interpretation. Both literature and ministry are demanding commitments and though you do need a gift of words and heightened sensitivity to experience or to fulfil either demand; the concerns can be markedly different. But poetry and faith have actually been serving each other for a long time. The eloquence of poetry is present in the hymns, sermons and preaching of Martin Luther, the Wesley brothers, Martin Luther King Jnr, Paul the Apostle and other great lives in the history of Christianity. Much of the Bible, in its writing and the propagation of its message, has depended on poetry and poets, as has devotional music of whatever culture or religion.
Obviously, as a busy Pastor, with so many life and death issues to deal with in the daily experiences of other people, it was not so easy to be as involved with my other life in writing and the literary friends I had. But I never stopped reading and writing poetry, and continued to follow discourse from the distance. If you want a direct answer to why I became a pastor, I’d say because I am highly sensitive to the pain of the world and will answer any call that will use the gifts I have to affect my world positively. Beyond that, I am a great traveller of roads. Once I had made my intellectual peace with God, I was ready to journey towards Him and with Him in whatever useful way available to me.
AE: Usually it is the other way around, poets, like Eliot or Dylan Thomas, seeking to have more time to devote to poetry. Eliot had to be ‘saved’ from the Bank.
AA: Well, the fact that I have returned to poetry and writing against great pressure to remain in Christian ministry must be some indication as to the power of the poetry pull. But the comparisons between quotidian experiences and needs and the hunger for faith may be misleading. One merely involves economic and social decisions, the other , faith, is embedded deeper in the subconscious. Eliot the great poet was also Eliot the great believer, even with all his imperfections as an exemplar of faith. Malcolm Muggeridge, C. S. Lewis and other outstanding writers and intellects who were also Christians took their faith along with them in their writing though it was not all they wrote about. So did India’s great poet and Hindu mystic, Tagore, who was an important help to Gandhi and actually gave him the religiously significant name of ‘Mahatma’. I don’t see that I have to choose between God and poetry. As I said earlier both have complemented each other in the lives and writings of many writers before me.
SENTINEL POETRY (ONLINE) #30, MAY 2005. ISSN 1479-425X