Oppong Clifford Benjamin is an award-winning creative writer and youth leader from Ghana. Also a Construction Project Manager, he, in 2013, was honoured by WRR Poetry as Ghana’s Poet of the Year. He is the author of a poetry volume, Collecting Stars From A Night’s Sky (2019), a book that earned him the third place in the prestigious Professor Atukwei Okai Poetry Prize in 2019 by the Ghana Association of Writ- ers (GAW). Clifford is also the author of a collection of short stories, The Virgin Mother and Other Short Stories (2017) .
His poems have appeared in many literary journals and magazines, including the Liberia’s KWEE; Portor Portor, Ghana Writes literary journal; Brittle Paper, Kalahari Review, WRR, Myjoyonline in Ghana, Blog Nostics, Thirty West Publishing House and Vagabondcity Lit in the USA, the UK on-line poetry library, Poetrybit in India, among other literary journals and magazines. He has read his pieces at literary events in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Liberia, Rwanda, Germany, Norway and Russia. Henry Akubuiro interviewed him on his literary journey.
The Virgin Mother and Other Stories was your first published book. How did your literary journey take shape until that stage? What were your major preoccupations in that collection?
Thank you, Henry. I’ve been following the good works you’ve been doing in the literary circles of Africa, and I give it to you in strong terms of recommendation ever to continue as such.
Well, Honestly, I don’t even know how it all started, but I will try hard to put a when to it all. I should think in junior secondary school; we had an amazing English Language teacher called A. G. Osei (may his gentle soul rest in perfect peace) who insist- ed we wrote a lot of essays and poems each week. He extolled the best essayist or poet in the strongest of praising words at the time. And it was always pleasing and honouring for me whenever I came first. This practice yielded creative writers in our class.
The Virgin Mother is a story about a dance crew in my high school. I was a part of it. Popular rumours had it that we were a cult group and that we used magic in our dance dramas. So I wanted to clear the way about our crafty dance performances. Most of the stories in that collection are about an incident or event in my high school.
I am fascinated by the title of your first poetry book, Collecting Stars From A Night’s Sky. Can we have a peek into it?
I wrote a single-themed chapbook about infidelity in marriages, Poems From A Womaniser’s Wife. I pitched a US publisher. The publisher told me that if I could write more poems, he would love to publish it as a full poetry book instead of a chapbook. So
I added other poems I had written about pain, loss, etcetera. So I realised all the poems in the manuscript were about gain becoming a pain, joy becoming sorrow, love becoming hatred, etcetera. So a beautiful night’s sky losing its stars to becoming darkness.
You were honoured in 2013 as Ghana’s Poet of the Year. Did you see it coming? What led to that honour?
I never gave writing a serious look until much later in 2012 when I met Sir Kukogho Iruesiri Samson, the founder of WRR and multiple award-winning poet. He mentored, taught and coached me in poetry writing. At the time, WRR was the largest and most interactive poetry sharing platform online for African poetry. Many young poets and some established ones contributed poems to the WRR page. I never saw myself as the best from Ghana. I left the page when a Kenyan poet reported to the WRR that I stole his poem which was partly true. Kukogho rebuked me in the strongest of words. I buried myself in the shadow of my shame for three months. And like a man, I bounced back with a poem I titled after a line in Jay-Z’s rap “Never Would Have Made It Without Sin.” That poem got me the recognition and admiration of all the contributors. That poem brought me the honour.
Your poems have appeared in many journals worldwide more than they have appeared in your personal poetry volume (s). Do you prefer talking to the world rather than a local audience?
It is a matter of speaking where you are heard. My works have appeared on some local web- sites and published in some local books. But I feel I am more appreciated outside my country, Ghana. At a point, I had more Nigerian friends in the literary circles than in any other country.
As a writer, what issues define your artistic vision?
I am artistic when I express depression and broken feelings in words. After the ruin, some-one must be there to tell the story of how beautiful it was, how it broke and the reconstruction for those who were not here.
You work as a civil engineer by daytime and poet in private, how do you create a rhythm for both worlds?
You are about the hundredth person to ask me this question, and each time, I only smile and walk away. So forgive my manners, bye. Kill me!
Interestingly, you have written many academic papers on civil engineering. Don’t you think you are best suited for academia?
Oh yes! I would love to end up in academia. What I’m rather aiming at is to be a lecturer of a civil engineering course in a technical university in the near future. My ultimate goal in life is to become a professor at a university who lives in the countryside and in a wooden structure overlooking a calm and tiny stream in a forest somewhere quiet in the world.
You are also interested in youth activism across the continent, how can African youths impact the continent at this age?
The average African youth is not interest in this continent’s growth. It wouldn’t be shocking to know that most of us want to travel to the West to make money only to come back and buy more liabilities that will only improve our esteem in society, build and buy cars so that we will be seen as successful. No one is really thinking about his community, his country let alone the continent.
So to impact, we must first renew our mindsets. We must redefine who is successful. We must recognise the few people who are serving in communities, who are going out of their comfort zones to make others also comfortable. They are the ones to be celebrated as successful and given attention. We should stop hailing materialistic achievements as success. It only breeds greed and evil acts in our society.