Modernist PoetsPost Comment Modernist Poets Nigeria
From about the late 1950s, a group of young poets, mostly professionally trained in the literary arts (English/Classics, etc.) started producing a new type of poetry which was more technically sophisticated and more artistically substantial than that of their mobilisational predecessors. The most important names in this group are Gabriel Okara, John Pepper Clark, Christopher Okigbo and Wole Soyinka. With them, Nigerian poetry in English has matured and taken a big leap forward.
An important theme in Okara's poetry is culture contact/culture conflict. It is expressed metaphorically in "The Snows Flakes" in the imagery of "uprooters" whose spades are dented in the process of trying to uproot traditional African culture. In "Piano and Drums", the poet expresses his perplexity and confusion at being caught between conflicting Western and traditional African cultures.
Thus, although Okara expresses ideas and senti ments which are similar to those of the mobilisa tional poets, he does so in a totally different man ner, cultivating a private tone and using fresh imagery of water, fishes, birds, uprooters and dig gers, piano and drums instead of the cliches of his predecessors.
Clark is also a poet of warfare and its dire con sequences on society. The poems in the volume entitled Casualties were inspired by the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-70. In them, Clark writes of par ticular events during the war, of friends lost in the war, of remote and immediate causes of the war, of trickery and broken promises, and of the moral and ethnical collapse of the citizenry who are the real casualties of the war.
Wole Soyinka's poetry is characterised by two related phenomena. First, early in his career, Soyinka adopted Ogun, the Yoruba god of metallur gy, as his personal muse and the inspiration for his poetry. The presence of the god has given focus and coherence to a great deal of his poetry.
Soyinka's poetry is, thus, broadly of two kinds, namely, poems of various life experiences and Ogunnian poems. The poems of the first category include 'Telephone Conversation", (an early light hearted response to racial discrimination), some of the poems in Idanre and Other Poems (1967), and most of the ones in A Shuttle in the Crypt (1972), (his prison notes when he was detained during the Nigerian Civil War). The poems are a good index to Soyinka's humanity. They are about births and deaths (the most important being his "Abiku" poem) in which he dwells on the inscrutable nature of the spirit of death, about strange coincidences as in "A First Death Day", when a child dies exactly on her first birthday anniversary, about grey seasons as metaphors for rust, ripeness and decay, and about lone figures and the messianic plight of some of them. Many of the poems in A Shuttle in the Crypt are even more private in tone because of their gen esis. They are the meditations of a man in confine ment whose active mind wandered far and wide, about people in similar plight in history, about nature, and about the fragility and transience of life.
The Ogunnian poems include poems about death on the road and bout the massacre in north ern Nigerian in 1966. They also include the epic poems Idanre and Ogun Abibiman (1977). All these poems are celebrations in a contemporary context: of the mysteries of Ogun, the god of contraries, who is both destructive and creative and, therefore, whose unlimited resources can be used for good or for ill. The road and massacre poems showed Ogun in his most negative aspects, that is, metaphors for man or man's weapons of destruc tion eating up fellow men.
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