Thoughts on African Poetry (1)


Also Read Part 2 of Thoughts on African Poetry!


WHAT are your thoughts on Poetry? Many writers are finding and sharing the subjects of their deepest motivation, their purpose in the art of poetry writing and poetry appreciation. The insights and illumination of their thoughts might gladden the hearts of readers.


Light as a shallow river flowing over its sandy bed. -Basho

Someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times. -Randall Jarrell

The product of either careerism, or keeping one’s hand in: a choice between vulgarity and banality. -Robert Graves

Fettered fetters the human race.-William Blake

Why certain things are certain ways by Joy Etiowo posted 13/5/2007 by admin


THROUGH high and grad schools, I never liked poetry. Although I was a good student of literature (even as a young girl, I had always wanted to study literature), I never liked the poetry part. I avoided poetry questions in examinations except they were compulsory.

However, during my doctoral research, a course in poetry was compulsory and wide reading was involved. In the process, I started liking poetry; every reservation I had about the genre disappeared. I was excited at the discovery of how poetry can carry a creative burden. My poem Poetry is a summary of what I am talking about. I realized that so much could be said in few words through the medium, that a novel I had written half-way could be summarized in a single poem. I did not only start writing poetry, I also changed my research focus from novel to poetry.

My poetry is an effort to tell people why certain things are certain ways; that a widely held opinion could have more dimensions to it than people would ordinary think. The Wounded Heart, Stolen Inheritance, The Hypocrite, and Happiness, among others, are some cases in point. Again, Mma aims at appreciating institutions and individuals who touched not only my life but that of humanity. And in sharing my appreciation of them, I was hoping that a sense of responsibility, the seed for a better humanity, may emerge.

The idea of literary entertainment is also there in such poems as Zoomed and Joy.

My society could be compared to a child learning to walk today and tomorrow morning decides to crawl, only to attempt running in the afternoon. Policies are not stable; they keep changing depending on the prerogative or interest of policy makers. It is an environment where values are constantly redefined, positively or negatively. The immediacy of the poetic medium is most suitable for me as a poet/scholar in this kind of environment. I can easily move with the train. Poetry could be written in the market place, in the church, in the bus, anywhere. In fact, I have written poetry while receiving visitors or while doing some chores in the kitchen. A whole experience could be summarised in one line or even in a word and this means so much to a poet like me in this kind of society.


The only thing that matters. -e. e. cummings

Seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together. -T.S.Eliot

Anybody who wouldn’t call himself a poet. -Bob Dylan

Most important of all to reach the heart of the reader. -Robert Frost

As if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry -Emily Dickinson

Hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows’ -Percy Bysshe Shelley

Like dropping a rose-petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo. -Don Marquis

Simply the most beautiful, impressive, and widely effective mode of saying things -Matthew Arnold

‘Poetry, my love; my joy, inspiration and motivation’ by Otobotekere posted 13/5/2010 by admin


I STARTED poetry with a primary school drama presentation in which my portion was to recite a simple little poem, pointing at the moon showing in the evening sky:

Look at the moon/ See how it shines so high…

Thus my love with poetry and Nature was sealed. Compare my little poem decades later on

Hide-and-seek moon:

O childhood love/ changing unchanging love,/ softest by day/ fairest by night

You still make me leap/ like a child/ whenever you turn into view/ Your full face round.

You ‘re mine ever/ heavenly sheen,/ showing time and again/ Here and everywhere.

Going to farm with grandmothers where singing birds and gaily dressed butterflies were playmates was another factor. At the secondary and tertiary school levels, English and Latin texts took me over with regard to what I style “poetic thinking”. My pamphlet, “Poetry World” published 2005 refers to this phase. Still more, the stories of Aeneas doing battle “in the ringing plains of windy troy”, the strategies of King Tumus, his formidable opponent, the fantasies and wiles of the Trojan horse, as well the fair face of Helen that launched a thousand ships in the siege of Troy as presented by Vergil in Latin verse, stretched my imagination; not to mention the ornate rhetoric of Cicero with courtiers in the Roman Senate. Furthermore, the literary expertise of the great Shakespeare, of John Milton (the most lion hearted of English poets}, the young Keats and Wordsworth, the environmental idol playing with idyllic notes, all came my way. The exciting old English narratives of Geoffrey Chaucer and the liquid flow of Spencer also attracted me before I tumbled on a distinguished American poet/philosopher, John Hall Wheelock, imperial with clear poetic music whose poetry book (By daylight and in dream) I rarely put back in its bookshelf. I was definitely fascinated.

Doubtless, such heights of poesy (versification, poetry or otherwise) are bound to make an impact on my literary psyche. This is admitted. They must have rubbed off on me. However, I believe I have been saved from becoming a total victim to any of the above icons by a simple guideline I designed for myself, viz:

Whatever the garment/ Whatever the sound/ Look at it with my eye,/ Listen with my inner ear/ Before I wear or play it.

The rule is expressly canvassed in my poem Coarse melodies and exemplified in my poems Jerusalem report; Papa looks on, Sekiyo-Sekiyo and They all speak to me. On the opposite table, however, I even have sonnets, namely, A glance and parts of Beach fair where departed ones take the scene. Whatever it is, my eye and inner ear remain the ultimate guide which at times tempts me to make birds and monkeys think and speak in their own dialect. Be that as it may, my love for the poetry of great authors apparently inspired my poem Poetry in heaven (1987), in which I averred:

It must be Heaven itself/ Is garlanded with poetry;/ The dancing music on pictorial lines/ of superlative art./ The same that keep/ Angels and aides/ And all that be/ Swaying in melody,/ In that happy land.

By the way, a cynic once observed by way of a courteous query: Your poetry has a taste for waves, winds, sky, river flow and splashes. My spontaneous reply: ‘That’s natural for anyone who has lived most of his life in the surroundings of these elements. Though spontaneous, the above statement is true mathematically because, except for brief trips to the Netherlands and Israel, and 4 years in the city of Buea on the Cameroon mountains and 3 years in Fourah Bay, Freetown — like Buea, beautifully overlooking the sea, the rest of my time, so far, has been spent in the Niger Delta where these elements rule.

The beauty of silence welling up in a number of my poems is another good example of environmental factor. Here goes an excerpt from Upon the river-SILENCE, painting river silence at cool evening:

Incredible love/ The silence here deep forever/ Which primal Nature casis around/All land and river/ Is too profound for me to sound.

Here is silence that explodes/ His glory – Creator Great/ And the love that beclouded/ Silenced Calvary!

Influences on any contemplative writer are many. Socio-cultural and political influences are difficult to avoid. Even religious mindsets and vicissitudes of individual life experience are potential factors. They are embedded and are likely to surface here or there. At times they form the main theme as in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. My books on main themes of rulership (Live 2 Lives), religion (Across the bridge-diadems forever) and on games (What of those games and dances?) also illustrate. Just listen to the armed robber fastened to a stake facing a firing squad in my Quit it all in Live 2 Lives: sharp/bitter/penitent words to his own mother, sponsor uncle, girl-friend and apprentices! You can also sympathise with the regrets of a young politician after a disastrous climb to Abuja high- without age/ without ballot/ without ticket in my Naked Power!

My love for poetry grew imperceptibly, but before long, I was writing here and there, on this or on that issue, until I myself had to complain in one of my poems (Wetlands verses). I began to perceive poetry as one of my pastimes. 1 often read my own poems and enjoyed them. My leisure hours got richer.

The above is the background on the growth of my interest in poetry writing, but the starting point came with an informal advice a friend gave me as narrated in my Acknowledgements in the book Live 2 Lives published 2009. In brief, he advised me not to throw away my casual poetry writings as I was doing then. Soon, the first book came, entitled Playful notes and keys (1987). It was indeed playful. My set course of publications followed, on the way to the final book, still ahead, to be entitled Background Report.

Parallel with this development, my inborn desire to share what I have and what I know with my children and with posterity was growing. I began to reflect the idea in some of my poems, and went on to include a few of my children’s own poems m my poetry collections, to nurse their interest.

The desire to share also motivated me to compile a whole book, entitled. What of those games and dances^ focusing games and dances that flourished “in our days”, but now “lost and forgotten” or at best, “endangered specie” giving way to imported games. Other poems in (he series reflect and lament the environmental/ ecological loss 1 have noticed in the past seven decades.

In several ways I have called on writers, sociologists, politicians and rulers to team up and engender redress. Come with me to listen and to hear I have demanded. Also see my poems Drum Calls (1 to vi). Closing Fast (1 to iii) and, specifically, my books Live 2 lives, My River and Next to Reality.

Yet, what a feeble voice!/ Almost in tears, I cry:

May this land ever remain/ Grass-green and flourish/ With meadows and weighty boughs/ Ever courted by the topic sun,/ Romanced by song-birds

And sought by scented breeze/ No less than foreigners/ Seeking new health.

A global response is needed!


Not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion;…not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. -T.S.Eliot

A genius that could cut a Colossus from a rock; but could not carve heads upon cherry-stones. -Samuel Johnson

The journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. -Carl Sandburg

The one who carries the light bulb. -Bob Dylan

A certain type of wisdom… a way of reading the world, and writing in it a better world. -Mia Couto

To break the pentameter, that was the first heave.’ -Ezra Pound

Like identifying with the storm: those heart-rending moments that unbar the portals of inspiration. -NN Dzenchuo

“Virtual dialogues” by Chin Ce posted 15/12/2006 by admin


AN INCIDENT in early college days may have given rise to The Cow Chase and its presentation in the ELSA Press; a childhood recall of church sermon as the preacher grips the audience with pious quotations from a pulpit may have inspired The Preacher later at college. Quite a few gallant lines were scribbled for our ladies of seeming virtues then. One never did take these things seriously but some of our mentors like departmental chair, Ernest Emenyonu, thought they were promising efforts and encouraged us. I think, by later editing The Quill and a few other news pages in the years of military dictatorship, one had begun the commitment toward engaging truth and personal conviction against the foils which martial brigandage and pious deceptions amounted to in our time.

My collections are efforts to engage the one who happens to listen to them in virtual dialogues where opinions, convictions, and a lot many active speculations can be tested and applied to specific or general situations in any unique manner of presentation. At a time in the Eclipse the conditions of military and civilian buffoonery with the economic and political destruction of African countries necessitated direct and provocative pronouncements. Other times in Full Moon brought the chance to share with the reader subtler human sympathies and some truly romantic experience. Millennial was a product of several years of experience in which past and present dialogues were resumed with hindsight. Awareness was wrought by those disappointments and joyful surprises that only time could furnish us. All these go into the continuing dialogue in time and, maybe, one individual is touched in a way that alters one’s -and thereby the whole of the human collective- consciousness for the greater good. People who say writing changes nothing only underestimate the power of thought from which spring those gripping realities that induce the acquiescence of later human beings.

There is the immediate family and community awareness which is where most attention resides, hardly rising beyond attitudes guided by closely discernible gains to self and like minds. But there is a global awareness, of a new age, in the understanding of galactic citizens who mean well for humanity. Now they begin to rouse our attention to issues of space, of Earth as a living being, and other planetary lives, and their capacity to repel the havoc we are wittingly inflicting upon life, on ourselves, and future generations. I seem to subscribe to the view that beyond these lies the reminder that we belong to a vast multidimensional universe in which one and many are authentic representations of the whole. While our fragmentation has been the work of religious, political and ideological oppositions, poetry is capable -in fact, poets have been the most capable- of the unified, interactive engagements in a way that can bring greater understanding and fulfilment to human purpose.


The beauty of silence welling up -Otobotekere

A train of thought one brief recollection of both lived and imagined experience in a universe of diverse dreams. – Chin Ce

Makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own. -Dylan Thomas




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