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African Writing Archives


Waiting for the Hatching of a Cockerel

Book Review

Waiting for the Hatching of a Cockerel, by Tanure Ojaide

Africa World Press (Trenton: 2008)
Published: May 2008
Price: $19.95
ISBN 1-59221-607 2


 Aminogbe's Song


Waiting for the Hatching of a Cockerel (2008) is Nigerian scholar--poet Tanure Ojaide’s sixteenth collection of poetry. Released in the United States in May by Africa World Press, Trenton, New Jersey, the poems share with readers the voice of a sensitive intellectual grappling with disparate strands of his own history, existence, African-centered philosophies, and a plethora of relationships that crisscross human and natural conditions. In these poems Ojaide treats his readers to serious issues, using sophisticated language and lines reminiscent of the kind of poetry his readers associate with his opus, which is chiefly responsible for his numerous awards that include the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for the Africa Region (1987), the All- Africa Okigbo Poetry Prize (1988 and 1997), and the BBC Arts & Africa Poetry Award (1988).

A neo-epic in form, the thirty-six-section poem illustrates the poet’s vision and brilliant execution of metaphors, proverbs, and imagery embellished with cultural material, orature, and a heightened awareness of form. In this book Ojaide remains loyal to his signature style of poetry. His sense of history, unobtrusive invocation of memory, and ever-present inkling that “there’s no end to the possibilities of hope” are lessons woven into each poem in this book. In the title poem, “Waiting for the Hatching of a Cockerel,” two couplets present the lament of the accomplished and concerned African intellectual as he announces: “We have earned terminal degrees in patience / now we wait for the hatching of a cockerel / that will wake the land early enough / to meet the day’s multiplying demands.” Such foresightedness and visionary address is characteristic of Ojaide’s poetic voice, which unrestrainedly comments on issues such as nation-building, the laxity of Africa’s ruling class, and the human aspects of failed leadership.

In this collection Ojaide embraces wholeheartedly his African culture, acknowledging the wisdom of its peoples, and describing the significant role of Aminogbe, a traditional minstrel whom he presents as a protagonist fighting on the side of good against evil in “the new wars which are no longer only physical but multi-faceted in nature” (vii). Aminogbe, the self of the poet, journeys in the vignettes in the company of Aridon, memory god among the Urhobo, the poet’s ethnic group. At the crux of the concerns of Ojaide’s minstrel are issues such as women’s rights, minority rights, the struggles for a clean environment, multinational sensitivity to local people in their business dealings, and the rights of people to be treated as humans. The themes of forewarning and caution are strongly woven in Aminogbe’s chants. In the poem “Fatalities,” we sense these motifs as Ojaide’s minstrel brazenly warns about today’s scourge, possibly AIDS:

Planted in the soil, these heads
Won’t grow—unlike pieces of yam.
Don’t blame the overbearing sun
Or faint stars, nor the voracious earth;
The cemetery devours adjoining streets
And the living have only a short time
To wait for their inevitable turn (98).

In other poems in the collection, we sense Ojaide’s insistence on educating his reader on what strengthens the poet’s relationship with the muse and how that relationship is calibrated in terms of production. Again, Ojaide achieves his message by invoking Aminogbe, who addresses his audience,

My voice is not a honeycomb.
I pick materials free
From the street’s deluge of resources
Into a mobile workshop, where
I am a hundred professorial aesthetes
Revising tongue-tied words
Into a monodic chord (124).

Meticulously built around memory and high-level craft, Waiting for the Hatching of a Cockerel is also stylistically more ambitious than Ojaide’s earlier works. Gone are the over-dependence on numbered sections and the abundant use of traditional verse. Now freer in his experimentation with form, Ojaide’s images are sharper here, and several of the poems address dead heroes, rituals of living, hope for the future, and love.

In “Dirge I,” the poet remembers dead heroes in Nigeria’s political landscape whose demise continues to germinate questions for intellectual discourse, and the victims of nationwide turmoil/deaths that could have been avoided, wondering what might have become of them if they had taken a safer route to avoid their fates as he chants in the couplets,

Comes Aper Aku---
If the Niger and the Benue had not met

Comes Dele Giwa—
If he had dined with the devil with a longer spoon

Comes Claude Ake---
If planes were powered by genius and not fuel

Comes casualties of communal clashes---
If nobody worried about land in Warri

Comes casualties of religious clashes---
If there was not only one God

To expand the scope of his topicality, Ojaide shares his hope for the living and encourages the possibilities in risking generosity to make new friends or find one’s way out of the hardships of life in the poem “New Life,” where he stresses:

Take in the stranger at the doorstep---
Don’t for fear of robbers let him die;

Give him a bowl to drink from,
Share what the family can afford;

He could be the god you have
Been praying to for safe travel;
He could be the one out there
Sent to help you out of a trap.

“Nobody knows his helper,”
Aminogbe tells his listeners; (145)

In the poem “Love Song,” Ojaide draws the reader into an intimate relationship he shares with his past, using language that is colorful, lyrical, and passionate to examine the many dynamics of love’s interconnectedness. When he admits, “Though hard to bear / the iroko is rooted in this chest,” we sense the strong appeal the home front still has on the traveler. And when he confesses, “Let no one doubt this bond in communion / Obinomba, Sokoto, and Warri provided me / with all I needed to grow strong to survive / armies of devilries---love cannot be deeper,” we sense the role cities and places played in nurturing the poet’s growth and development into an adult wiser and grateful to the resourcefulness of his Nigerian home.

In all its simple tenor and niceties as a book of poetry, Waiting for the Hatching of a Cockerel (2008), dedicated to the poet’s grandmother, Amreghe, and Ken Saro-Wiwa, sheds light on the poet’s identity and alerts his reader of the myriad of events, human conditions, and historical ruminations that shape his personal landscape and political vision. The landscape of the natural world—of water and rivers and sea and earth and mountains—are quite rich in these poems. Without a doubt, I will recommend this book for those familiar with Tanure Ojaide’s prolific writings and those encountering the brilliance of his poetry for the first time.

Dike Okoro

Dike Okoro,
poet, short story writer, essayist, sculptor, and photographer, is author of the poetry collection, Dance of the Heart (ABC/MSU Press, 2007) and the editor of the poetry anthologies, Songs for Wonodi (ABC/MSU Press, 2007) and Echoes from the Mountain: New & Selected Poems by Mazisi Kunene (Malthouse/MSU Press 2007). He is a Sam Walton Fellow with SIFE’s USA chapter and a doctoral degree in literature/creative writing candidate at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, USA

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