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  Femi Osofisan
  Tanure Ojaide
  Brian Chikwava
  Hugh Hodge
  Helon Habila
  Muhammad Jalal A. Hashim
  Ogaga Ifowodo
  Edwin Gaarder
  Harry Garuba
  Toyin Adewale-Gabriel
  Zukiswa Wanner
  Ike Okonta
  Maxim Uzoatu
  George Ngwane
  Ike Anya
  E. E. Sule
  Beverley Nambozo
  Obi Nwakanma
  Matthew Dodwell
  Ikhide Ikheloa
  Afam Akeh
  Femi Oyebode
  Chika Unigwe
  Linda Chase
  Mohamed Bushara
  Wale Okediran
  Niran Ok
  Remi Raji
  Ahmed Maiwada

  Laura King

  Chuma Nwokolo


Remi Raji    

Oriki to the Poet

(a tribute to Niyi Osundare at 60)

Remi Raji, award-winning poet, cultural activist and scholar, is the author of
A Harvest of Laughter.


Even in the season of cholera, at a moment like this when chicaneries have gripped the heart of my country, where there’s only a little space to think or speak heartily about the puzzling geography, I celebrate a great writer, teacher and compatriot. For here is a most consistent poet, both in the deployment of an exceptional craft and in the clarity of an unyielding dogma, to which the average reader of contemporary African poetry could associate the quality of distinction. He has also been one of the most prolific Nigerian authors of his age, his works only comparable to the dramaturgic output of Femi Osofisan and the poetic as well as academic writings of Tanure Ojaide and Biodun Jeyifo, among his compatriots. He was the most important trailblazer of the sub-tradition of tabloid poetry in Nigerian literary culture, having started the “Song of the Season” column in “The Nigerian Tribune” newspaper in 1985, sustaining the weekly publication of verses for well over a decade, with few intermissions.

I shall call him the democratic smith in the forge, the one who praises and scourges by the same nib of the pen. Once, he delivered an honest and provocative criticism of the crop of authors who belong to the so-called Third generation of Nigerian writing; and although he was understandably disturbed by the seeming illiteracy and mis-education of some new generation writers and journalists, this singer of the marketplace acknowledges the cross-fertilization of ideas and creative imagination which invariably occurs between and among writers across generations working within related, similar and same cultural environments. I think it is natural for accomplished writers to expect nothing but greater craft from other younger authors writing on or stepping on their heels. Surely, a predecessor’s challenge is a sign that something is sluggish or not happening in the literary loom. But in his self-assuredness, you will not catch the author of Village Voices unguarded, claiming that a “generation” is a copycat of the other.

In his poetry, he brought the exciting tonality of the Yoruba tongue into the rough segmentality of the Anglo-Saxon phrase and grammar; he dragged the fixed, antiseptic prosody of Petrarch into the tropical trough; he waived the windy schema of Wyatt, challenged the turgid impossibility of Elliot, and the weighty rhythms of Ezra Pound; he loved Shelley’s dictum about poetry and the conscience of being; then he dipped his hands into the fertile pouch of our traditional lore, and out of the grove emerged as the master-masquerade of words, the voice of fire, a tongue of thunder. Like other poet-polemicists of his generation, he took the sail off the opaque and the arcane, and he particularly blended the songs of the book with the songs in the streets; magical stylistician, he puts a clear message in the kernel of his art and creates a translucent form which radiates meaning even to the sworn hater of the verse. And thus he said, “Poetry is…man meaning to man”.

He conjures the metaphors of Esimuda to replace that of Janus. He commands the presence of Olosunta to displace the Olympian images which filled the bones of earlier poetry; yet, he writes gingerly about our common issues, our common dreams and nightmares, in a new poetic idiom that is uncommonly inspiring and mellifluous. Even when he writes about the rocks, rivers, the moon, the sun and other elements, it is the human condition that is at the core of the poet’s consciousness. So, I will say that his significance is not in the number of collections or volumes of poetry that he has produced, or in the others yet to be written. His importance for Nigerian and African writing resides in his sustenance of a linguistic idiom, stylized after the poetics of alter-native tradition which was fashionable in the 1980s but which lacked enough practitioners. Wherever in the world he plies the song, there’s always the true energy of the inspired, the rooted, the one who is blessed with a million metaphors.

Chinua Achebe teaches us a masterful and disarming narrative style filled with both lessons and puzzles; Soyinka bequeaths to us a large canvass of artistic genius and political daring; and Okigbo, the combination of the puzzle and the daring that the real author is all about, provides us with the limitless possibilities of the Muse, the true excitement of imagination. In his poetry and essays, Osundare, the scion of Osun captures the vagaries of the African dilemma, with the deep emotive insight of a revolutionary artist. Always, he queries the “jangling discord” of the Nigerian nation in a harmonious language made for intimacy and intelligibility; he draws consistently on the heritage of Yoruba verbal elegance which he transforms onto the graphic and permanent intelligence of the written word; for him the page is only a tangible site for the performance of the poetic text, and the voice, with the atmosphere of delivery, is the thing. To read a poem sitting, or standing like Sigidi, he insists, is to commit an abominable act, a disservice to the pageant of the enchanted word!
Indeed, Niyi Osundare is the poet of the alter-native tradition par excellence.

I am not one to deny the power or delicacy of the word and its connective energies on the life-force of utterer and hearer alike. Literally speaking, Osundare is a committed acolyte of Earth, the one who plucked international attention with The Eye of the Earth. He is one who has twice been blessed by the spiritual agency of Earth, to survive one assassination attempt and a “Katrina,” and still lives to tell his stories. (The spirits of raging rivers save their own!). Farmer-born, peasant-bred, he has a rare poetic imagination not unconnected to the fertility of the soil, and the waters. Olosunta, this is to life, and to more writing. I celebrate the faith, the commitment of your art, the persistence of your vision. I celebrate you, stubborn melon in the eye of the storm! More garlands yet in creation days.
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