Tanure Ojaide as a poet for all sorts and kinds: A reading of Songs of Myself: Quartet – Part 2


ALL the poems in the third quartet qualify as dazzling poems of militancy and of the environment.

The poet may not intend his readers to see and appreciate them as lyric autobiographies, but his first-person voice permeates the poems.

The first-person voice presents the dire physical condition of the Niger Delta with one unwavering vision of change and positive rebellion that would benefit the “residents of the divine gardens of plenitude” (114) who have been suffering from the “perils of dollar lords at Abuja and abroad” (114).

Poems such as, for example, “Can I still call from the River Nun? (114-115), “In the Omoja River” (117) and “Much of the year wet” (119) overwhelmingly communicate the precarious condition of the land. Let us read the following lines from “In the Omoja River:”

The sun wriggled between leaves whose shadows danced on water; a spectacle of correspondence.

But they brought affliction to the cheerful river;
they brought flames of fear to the marvelous forest:

they pissed and pissed barrels of arsenic into the current until it is no longer the ageless river sung but a cesspool;

they stripped and stripped the forest naked of its ever-
green suit until it is no more a forest but a sand-field. (117)

These lines (and those of the other cited poems immediately above) clearly mark Ojaide as an equally gifted and committed public poet of the people.

In the third quartet of the volume the poet is devoting, or, better, has devoted himself and his lyrics, to his environment.

The poems in this section are a gift to environmentalists, militants of the Niger Delta and human rights champions:

You can imagine what we wish despoilers of the land – what we wish the world’s criminals and transgressors!

The poet is the spokes-person of the exploited people whose environmental poems are in sympathy with. He is also the spokes-person of environmental groups of activists.

This explains the poet’s preoccupation with clarity, simplicity, and exactness in the poems.

The poems in this quartet resemble Pablo Neruda’s, the great Chilean homeland and landscape poet, whose birth-name was Neftali Ricardo Reyes (1904-1973), winner Nobel prize for literature in 1971.

Clearly, Ojaide’s sagely faith in the imagination to give meaning to the life of the people has been justified in the poems. He fuses his subjective and objective self into a meaningful whole.

The fourth and final quartet tends to be a summation/summarization of subjects, in varying degrees, of the earlier quartets.

But what the poet calls his “internal wanderings and thoughts about life” (6) should be of interest to his readers.

This quartet reinforces the point that Ojaide is a highly emotional poet whose lyrics unify a vision of life and of his poetics as that of “nationhood, homeland and exile.”

The lyrics here contain aspects of birth and death, doubts, fear, grief, nostalgia, joy, art and beauty, and love of and for the land, his homeland.

A particularly moving poem of the fourth quartet is “Let them die for Arsenal,” a nationalistic, patriotic poem in which he recreates his feeling for others and communicates his great reverence and love of life and of his homeland. Let me quote excerpts from the poem:

Let them die for Arsenal
those who raise not arms against brutish police and soldiers
those who choose to accept kola rather than simple truth
those who “hammer” rather than live on honest hard work
those who stop not after a perilous pothole to plant a red flag
those who refuse to be eyes of the blind and feet of the crippled
those who sell body parts to build mansions they won’t live in
those defecating daily on their parents’ forgotten graves
those who abandon fellow travelers involved in ghastly accidents […..]

die for Arsenal and you are gone as a person
you have only one life
throw it away for Arsenal and desecrate your homeland
die for Arsenal.

Die for Arsenal, my king of fools
die for Arsenal, my retarded brother
die for Arsenal, my homeless relative
die for Arsenal whose body will be carcass for vultures. (165-166)

This is a poem Ojaide cherishes highly. He always likes to read it to his audiences of diverse persons of diverse professions and occupations.

In fact, at the international conference of the African Literature Association (ALA) which held at Yale University, New Haven, USA, June 14-17, 2017, he read it to great applause.

At the recent third international conference held in his honour at the University of Port Harcourt, he again read the poem to an audience, a positive audience, of all sorts and kinds. He received praises of laudatory superlatives after the reading.

One reason for this pertains to the fact that the poem is not one that the poet presents, at least as seen in the quoted lines, with magniloquence that exceeds its subject and the poet’s ideas therein.

The clear-sighted “description” and illustration of “Let them die for Arsenal” is appealing to readers and audiences regardless of anywhere they come from.

The careful structure of this poem, its relaxed and flowing rhythm; its song-like quality, its overall movement, everything in it, that depicts the Nigerian condition, tragically, satirically, humourously and comically, is clear.

What this essay boils down to, from my presentation above, is this: Tanure Ojaide is a poet for all kinds and kinds, a poet whose “poetics of nationhood, homeland and exile,” as demonstrated in Songs of Myself: Quartet, enables him to speak of himself, and for all men, all persons – within and outside his homeland:

the river waits for the fisherman
the forest waits for the hunter [ …. ]

there’s always one waiting for the other
and eventually an end to every journey. (177)

Indeed, the poet’s craft of lyrical art enables him to channel his special autobiographical impulse and poetics of feelings in ways that aid him to speak to all sorts and kinds of men – metaphorically, philosophically and plainly.

Afejuku, a distinguished scholar-poet, and a fellow of the Literary Society of Nigeria, is Professor of English and Literature and Creative Writing, University of Benin, Benin City.

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