“To A Silk Shirt In the Sun”—Interview with Ama Ata Aidoo


The legendary Ama Ata needs no introduction. She shares her poem, To A Silk Shirt In the Sun, with the Girdblog. Read the poem below and  find out about her writing process and what inspired this poem in a short interview that follows. 


To A Silk Shirt In the Sun
( at Tetteh Quashie Circle, Accra)
By Ama Ata Aidoo


It was
one of those glazed-over mornings
with a brittle hardness
and killer-sharp edges.

Everything cracked
Nothing opened.

Not even
the wonder of spatial travel

we could have traversed
the rain and the mud,
the “is-there-an-oven-nearby?”
the germs
the bugs
the viruses and worms
non-performing phones
powerless power
leaky roofs and sinking floors.

As for our life,
It’s turned into a ball of
hairy/spiky juju
the sasabonsam*that
rolled ahead of us,
no matter how fast we ran.

I drowned, or nearly.

Then I saw you,
Silk Shirt:
embroidered and elegantly tailored into
a perfect comfy fit
a reminder of
easier places and softer times.

I could not believe such boldness amidst the muck.

Then I saw her too.

As you ambled from the east and she from the west
Towards some definition-defying space
Eyes dancing, lips a-quiver with
Joy that may be dares not name its source,

I breathed, and
Pinched myself:
Happy to be alive
Because you are.

Here is a short interview with Ama Ata Aidoo about her poem, To A Silk Shirt In The Sun

Girdblog: What inspired the poem?

Aidoo: I was passing by Tetteh Quarshie Circle before it became the new interchange about seven years ago. I was coming from Spintex Road and heading to North Legon. As we were driving towards the circle, I saw this man in a silk shirt. I also saw a woman walking towards the man. Both the man and the woman were smiling warmly to each other. They could have been brother and sister, but I thought they were lovers and decided to weave a poem about them.

The shirt could have been rayon, imitation silk or some other artificial fabric but it was very nice. It became a symbol of the man’s mood as if unwittingly he was cheering us all up.

Girdblog: Is this inspiration typical?

Aidoo: No, it depends. Sometimes a word or an argument will trigger a poem. I’ve written poems about gifts. Life is inspirational; sometimes it comes from the most unlikely places.

Girdblog: How long did it take to write the poem?

Aidoo: I drafted it that same morning. It must have taken an hour, at least the initial draft. I will then go back and work over it at other times.

Girdblog: Do you find it easy to write poetry?

Aidoo: Yes. Once an interesting idea or theme occurs to me then I would want to write a poem about it. The rest, frankly, is not difficult. I always wanted to write poetry, even when I was very young.

Girdblog: What is your favorite poem?

Aidoo: That’s an unfair question! But Soyinka’s Death at Dawn, Auden’s Musée des Beaux Arts, Stevie Smith’s Not Waving but Drowning and Wislawa Szymborska’s Some People come to mind immediately. But there are plenty, plenty more that I enjoy.



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