Being the Introduction to New Voices: A Collection of Recent Poetry from Nigeria edited by GMT Emezue
The Art of the Younger Poets: Introductory Criticism of New Nigerian Poetry
by Chin Ce
Full Scholarly Essay available from ABC Books
THE EMERGENCE of a younger school of poetry with distinguishing temperaments from the new Nigerian counterparts was a welcome development for Nigerian writing. In spite of the dogged inventiveness of these bards within the new tradition, critics had set off the usual comparisons between old and emerging tendencies. But if there was any artistic distinction in the newcomers from their contemporaries, the better promise was laid in the expressive power which lifts their presumptuous craft into what, a few decades now, might prove a more credible testimonial of the times.
Assertions: The Changing Paradigm
The younger poets speak from very deep convictions, not tongue-in-cheek, but boldly, clearly and with less ambiguity. This paradigm of poetic anchorage I have called the Assertions. As divergent as they come with their opinions on every aspect of life, they sound much like ideologues with whom the faithful may find a mutual and convivial association.
Yet their purpose, as may be stated, is not so much again to highlight distractive and discordant tunes of ideological war songs and fervent politicking as to unify the diverse manners of expression or individual ways of assertion, the expression of the I in extension. Here, poetry is the focal point. Attitudes toward circumstances of the times mark interesting points of individuality; their faith is committed only to that imagination with which they fashion worlds on hills beyond the rising sun.
The younger poets are able to achieve this psychic poise, where nothing can throw them off their course, or where doctrines are not worth the sacrifice of a busy schedule, all because of an inner calm. The poet must develop a personality sufficiently stable in the stress and strain he must inevitably meet. Of course, he is free to sing or be all that he has chosen.
He may be the extremist whose whispers whip werewolves like wasps, or she may become the revolutionary demanding justice amidst squandered hopes, yet with a will that cannot be broken as easily as the beating inflicted on him for the sake of his unyielding quests. Yes. He (or She) may, as well, become the chronicler of yester-pillage by modern political brigands, or the recorder of the pitiful howling of fallen roofs.
All these assertions are germane to his conscious experience, because he has been, and still is, part of that society where pugilist overlords deal merciless blows on the people forcing the poet to cry out: What is the meaning of this aimless business? He has witnessed the madness of this society where everyone fervently pleads to be saved from one and the other self.
So how does he feel?
Sometimes his voice roars from the bellies of dark jungles and the shackles of iron cabins to the four posts of existence, screaming blood, freedom and vengeance. His actions are dramatised successively in leaps and bounds devoid of hidden eloquence.
Yet eloquent are his words; they represent some shining exemplar of virtue despite the virulent scourge of vice. He is the artiste making his own musical notes out of the word as surely as the critic must weave his own foray from out the same word. His own notes are vibrant, pulsating words; they are songs of freedom and innocence when all barriers are broken and experience is the single teacher of lifes lessons in love and laughter.
This song of innocence is thus an assertion of the purity of the soul unbound, not obliterated in the yawning void where danger lurks ready to close its jaws on the wary trespasser.
With maturity, innocence grows into knowledge, and with knowledge an increase in poetic sensitivity. He had assumed an identity to champion the cause of change against the stagnation of his times. He had imbibed the spirit of coordinated action, becoming the fury of his placid age, the courage of his gutless era, the rage of his storm-less sea.
This motivating challenge to his generation is imbued with the ferocity that dissolves mountains. The secret of success lies in seeking avenues and ways through limitations not really imposed by nature but, more significantly, arranged to stir the current of awareness that would jolt us into self-becoming, self-confidence and self-assertion, as they concur.
Thus the impertinence of the younger generation of Nigerian poets is not ended at all. If anything it has widened in dimensions of contempt or sheer distrust for the prevailing status quo. For Marxist thought, it was a dialectical and historical materialist struggle. For the poet of the new generation, the struggle more significantly, more psychically, must reflect in the subordination of the base, for the higher, self.
Within this divide is contained the greed and materialism of both worlds. Often our anger is made to becloud these to give them a bent of dignity. So the business of greed that informs that scoundrel system that our national flag hides is equally comparable in scope of criminality and deserving of interdiction to, say, those energetic hands of our public servants who go to grab, cheaply, pay packets for work they never did. Both symptoms fuel the growing decadence of the age.
Thus when these criminals come with pretended messages and promises of a better life in the name of politics, the poet can see through all the hype. He helps us to wear our suit of armour against such onslaughts upon our intelligence when he adopts a mien full of contempt and scorn for the perpetrators of this crime.
In the warped thinking of these failed leaders, success is measured against the heights of their sky scrapers and the impregnability of their fortresses and security zones. Beef them up with grenades, the poet mocks; hide the truth with scrapers that touch the clouds.
The military and civilian surrogates of the rapacious West are natural targets for poetic scorn.
Younger creative talent is like the tree whose fruits are ripening bountifully with sublime joy. Sometimes it can be a haunting feeling captured in a quest, a light like a blazing fire, and the trail is lost when the mind balks at the immense possibilities that stand before it.
It leaves that nostalgic feeling of something lost, exteriorised in our mutual parting of ways, as in a discovery, or a simple good night bidding to a loved one. The poet walks the narrow lonely road of the world and only he knows the dew of sorrow that haunts his inner being reflected in his exterior world of inter-personal relationships to which poetry aligns the vision.
For one point, after all the regurgitations of mere intellectual knowledge of past masters at our own illuminated expense, we shall come to the point where we can rekindle the beam of true enlightenment.
Will the redeeming hope expressed here supplant the boundless cruelty of despots in the truest sense? When the lagging rope is burnt after the executioner’s gun blast, what will be left of cruel laws, of gaols and human rights nailed on the cross of judicial travesties?
Or, as some have asked, what comes out of goal gobbled when clouds overtake the sun to steal the beautiful reflections in the mirror of our world?
There may be visions of war, thousands of cries echoed, freedom lost; of toxic deaths, and of the frustrations of climbers of the social mountain moaning and fawning in that manner that is the bane of their kind. Self-pampered, he had followed the allure of his nimble-footed white friends made in the modern wake of history. Deceived, he is abandoned to his own wits, and alone, is unsure of himself.
The image of mountain climbers as a parable of an African dilemma re-echoes the indictment against blind leaderships and the popular herd syndrome of their followers. One who has come to envision this becomes like soul at the peak of consciousness moulding dreams far above the crowded streets below.
Upon such heights the vision is sharp, acute and reaches even beyond the times. It is then the prayer of the poet that no limitations should fetter the imagination. In such contemplation, silence is the thread upon which the thoughts run to stir in him the current of awareness and understanding.
Here we seem to be treading towards the mystical and profound, which lies not merely in the words that form the tool of verbal communion but in the flowering rhythm of inner meaning.
The poet is in communication with his own eternity, so to speak, because the image is more ethereal, more permanent; it belongs in the realms where space and time collapse and the dreamer is ecstatic about the discovery of that he had sought.
Dreams are thus the living image in the centre of the eye. We long for that eye of eternity in which lies the power that lifts the veil over all secrets and lays bare the shoddy crimes in the chambers of mind. The song bird is let free, let to roam over the whole world of consciousness. The tongue of the bard is loosened likewise, free with the power of expression, because he is communicating an essence that touches the very core of being, reaching beyond words, mere symbols, beyond the body which belongs to the world of matter.
The mysteries appear to fade, for no longer is he a child of the world staring with rose-coloured eyes and crawling behind time; rather he rises beyond space and time, and true knowledge is revealed, mysteries understood.
The morrow is no longer bound with a thick fog for this is the product of the mind of space, matter and time. But listening into the shadows and taking the lonely route of realization, he discovers himself. Friends are gone, and what is left to do is to play the game of silence which hides the wisdom of his being.
Shadows don’t hurt. Instead there is the discovery of what is in the word, the word that had sung the fame of great men and women and bubbled in minds tortured by social limitations. The word turns him restless and often drives him to strange deeds, such as committing suicide on a rope, shooting self in a hotel room, or making a pact with alcohol. It is clear then that he does not have any diplomatic (or artistic) immunity against the heat and cold, the comforts and wants of existence in the world.
With such a envisioning comes knowingness, like the seed buried in the womb of the earth to bloom into life. As the poet I know this by going within that silence where nothing is lost but the fears and frustrations that tie the mind to the impermanent world, and I declare: the tunnel of death ends at the gate of life.
Full Scholarly Essay available from ABC Books