Table of Contents
Socio-Cultural and Political Deployment in Tadi’s Voices from the Slum
Socio-Cultural and Political Deployment in Osundare’s Poetry
Negotiating Boundaries: Tadi’s Voices from the Slum versus Osundare’s Poetry
Summary and Conclusion
The figure-poet of Alter-Native poetry tradition in Nigeria, Niyi Osundare − whose ideas and thought-patterns have succeeded in popularizing a tradition of cultural essentialism − has made quite a number of contributions to the development of Nigerian poetry by domesticating the poetic form of obscured and fragmented ideas of Nigeria’s first generation poets into a poetic tongue that bears the language of both the colonizer and the colonized. His poetry volumes reject the impressionistic works of Nigeria’s first generation poets and provide sufficient resources in looking at the affairs of the nauseating socio-cultural and political system using nature-centered tropes as adaptation of cultural and natural propensities. In light of this, Tadi’s poetic ingenuity bears the influential stamp of poetry that Osundare exerts on him. As he also embraces the lingua-cultural vista of his people, Tadi’s poetic form owes this paper a duty to have a deeper insight into the socio-political activities of Nigerian society, thereby negotiating the intertextual connectivity between Tadi’s Voices from the Slum and Niyi Osundare’s poetry. This study examines the manner in which Tadi’s Voices from the Slum is a poetic offspring of Osundare’s poetry. Also seek to purport in this paper is the discursive matrix that the medium of gathering data for any literary construction is from literature itself but not the society. This study concludes that the indeterminacy of textual, discursive formation between Nigeria’s second generation and contemporary generation poets − as shown in the poetic semblance between Niyi Osundare’s poetry and Tadi’s Voices from the Slum − stands on the ideological benchmark which glorifies the assertion that poetry is considered as an interdependence or reworking of other poetic arts.
Keywords: Intertextual Connectivity, Nigerian Poetry, Interdependence, Reworking
Niyi Osundare needs no ceremonial introduction in the corpus of Nigerian poetry as he has successfully launched his poetic tenors from the “oral aesthetics to create a form of poetry which is revolutionary in terms of content, form and medium of communication” (Bodunde 285). His early poetry collections namely; Songs of the Marketplace (1983), Eye of the Earth (1984), Village Voices (1984) , A Nib in the Pond (1986), Horses of Memory (1998), Waiting Laughters (1990), Songs of the Season (1991) and Midlife (1993) announce themselves as fresh ideas in the atmosphere of Nigerian poetry; they overtly draw attention due to their rejection of greeco-roman thinking of Nigeria’s first generation poets. Osundare in the margin of Alter-Native poetry has carved a niche for himself as a socio-cultural and political gadfly by bailing poetry from the esotericism of Soyinka’s generation – a generation which derives their poetic inspirations from the modernist poets. This equally explains that the influence of modernist poets on first generation of Nigerian poets gives room for intertextual reading between the works of Wole Soyinka, his peers inclusive, and the Euro-modernist poets. This study however concerns itself with the influence in which Niyi Osundare exerts on his younger generation.
On the other hand, being a fresh voice in Nigerian poetry, Tadi’s tenor, arguably, is blended with his predecessor’s as Ibrahim succinctly puts it: “Tadi’s poetic style echoes an instance of intertextual dialogic form with his second generation predecessors as Niyi Osundare and Odia Ofeimun” (409). His poetic deportment, just like Osundare and the likes, grafts the western art form with traditional oral arts to appropriate that Nigerian literary repertoire is, in any means, aimed at changing the socio-cultural and political status quo of the country. This paper aims to see how the poetic pace of Osundare has set forth the ground to follow by his immediate generation: the pace – both in the aspects of content and form– is exactly what constitutes the intertextual dialogic affinity between Osundare’s poetry and Tadi’s Voices from the Slum.The influence of Osundare on Tadi’s work is thus the centre of analytical interest in this paper.
Socio-Cultural and Political Deployment in Tadi’s Voices from the Slum
It is no longer open to debate that there is an inextricable nexus between socio-cultural cum political deployment and the poetry genre as the former serves as a source of raw materials – as argued by social-based critics – for the latter. Culture, in the contribution of Awa, has given impetus to most African new generation writers – in which Tadi is one of them – to “lace up their narratives with African local words, phrases, and expressions, oral songs, proverbs, oral narrative style and so on” (23). In this vein, therefore, politics as argued by some critics, also affords writers the opportunity to look into the society in order to textually deliver their messages. The historical context that has partially helped to produce the writing of Nereus Yerima Tadi gives this paper a glimmer into some of the socio-cultural and political explorations in Voices from the Slum.
Nereus Yerima Tadi has published many poems in magazine, journals, anthologies, and the host of others but Voices from the Slum is a welcome voice which seeks to add to the emerging poetic voices in Nigeria. Though Tadi is new in the leverage of Nigerian poetry, the cultural and political issues in the text have created a standard of deserving critical attention. The poems in Voices from the Slum are delicate intertwining of cultural and political thoughts that evoke the political structures of Nigeria. The poem “Broken Images” for instance, is endowed with cultural and traditional settings such as “broken pots” and “huts” to reveal the images of a society falling appalling apart as a result of cultural and socio-political decay.
“To Our Poets” is a lengthy poem that calls upon Nigerian writers from across various generations to articulate the predicament of the populace amid the misrule. The poet-persona addresses Okara, Clark, Abraham, Sembene, Awoonor, Auden, and many others to use their literary prowess to unveil the socio-cultural and political tensions. It is in view of this that the persona agitates for freedom in the last few lines of the poem:
All lips that move in joy
Give songs of creation
Destruction thrives on hatred
Give songs of love
Let’s clap our hands in peace
Give songs to liberty
To justice give songs
To the milling ants give songs
Give songs to the earth
Gives songs to Man
Give songs!(Voices from the Slum, 92)
In a language so eloquent to describe the oppressing nature of the people from the slum, “A Song for Nigeria” revisits the historical bewilderment that serves as “the chain that manacles our aching legs.” To the poet-persona, the history of Nigeria requires a call for purification after being relegated by the colonial lords. Thus: “We shall purify your blood/Your blood that is darkened/By the years of toil/By the water of toil/By the water of deceit/And by the wine of unwisdom” (9).
In the preceding lines, the poet-persona shows how the masses can collectively change the venal historical and political status quo of the country:
We shall move
We shall rejoice
We shall make our anchor
By the moist bank of the Atlantic
We shall drink by the Waters of Freedom
And bathe in the pool of Equality
We shall live where justice blooms (Voices from the Slum, 9)
“In this Dark Hours…” is a breathtaking piece that uses a wide range of animal images such as; “scorpion,” “bedbug,” and “cockroach to unfold how the terrorist sects attack the innocent citizens in Nigeria. Borrowing from the tenor of lamentation, the poet-persona uses the temporal setting of night to decry the act of blood-shedding in contemporary Nigeria, thus:
In this dark hours
Cockroaches have their fill
In this dark minutes
Bedbugs feast on us
In this dark corners
Scorpions raise their tails
In this dark seconds
This dark moment
` Terror assaults
Innocent. (Voices from the Slum, 52)
In Voices from the Slum, the poem “Ogun Be Praised” is culturally inclined. However, the reflection of Soyinka’s cultural ideology is reflected in this poem as there is an intertextual link with this and other Soyinka’s works – this is perhaps the reason he dedicates this poem to the first generation iconic poet, Wole Soyinka. The persona negotiates for peace by calling upon Ogun to safeguard the affair of the postmodern world: “We crave for the oneness of Ogun/Who alone sings of peace and war/Who alone like one possessed/Rises in fury to trim all crippling plants” (66). The poem further supplicates the guidance of the earth by performing all form of spiritual sacrifices in order for peace to reign, thus: “Unite us in this hour of sorrow/Let us drink from your palm wine gourd/Let us bathe in your pool of blood/Let your flute resound in our hearts/For we have seen seasons of anomy” (66).
“Our Women Sing” is another poem in the collection. It digs into the military system of the 90s in Nigeria and, yet; finds a way of commemorating the women that come out en masse to demonstrate the government’s appalling indifference when the armed bandits wrecked Tangle farms and villages between December 1998 and January 1999. Due to the horrible incidence, the women put the burden upon themselves to fight against the military government. “We mourn” is repeated in the first two stanzas to lay emphasis on the grief-stricken atmosphere of the country. The persona does not only mourn the dead ones alone, there are also some aspects of rape mourning: “We mourn/We mourn the dead/We mourn our dead husbands/Our dead children/We mourn our flowers/Moved down at dawn//We mourn/We mourn the raped/We mourn our raped womanhood/Our raped children/We mourn our flowers/Despoiled at sunrise” (95).
In the concluding part of the poem, the speaker calls on the ancestors to bail out the earth from this issue:
We make a loud call to the people:
Wipe your tears and rise up
Rise up with the spirit of Dimbol
With the spirit of Katau
With the spirit of Dangwaran
Emulate the warriors of Kalmai
Rise up our people
Let new seeds swell and burst the earth
Burst the earth
In a frenzy of renewal! (Voices from the Slum, 98)
Socio-Cultural and Political Deployment in Osundare’s Poetry
The strength of this radical poetic category is found solidly in its manifest sense of urgency (immediacy) and intimacy, involvement and ‘immersion’ with the rhythm and tenor of the ordinary people—the peasantry, the rustic agrarian populace whose aspirations, perceptions and wordview it poeticizes… Osundare’s concern is indeed for the masses, it is a deep commitment to the yearnings and aspirations of the populace, the hewer of wood, the makers of mounds, and the hawker at the market place (Obafemi, 15).
From the above words of Obafemi resonating in this paper, it is quintessential to assert that Osundare’s self-imposed duty is to be a mouthpiece, societal towncrier to indict and pillory the socio-cultural and political decay in the post-independent Nigeria. Osundare aims to build “an egalitarian republic,” as Aiyejina (1988) has once said, where all the citizens are equitably treated. With this in mind, Osundare accords himself the essence of deploying cultural and political nuances in his collections of poetry.
In “Poetry Is,” the opening poem of his Song of the Marketplace, Osundare enunciates the guiding principle of his pattern of versification as poetry is “not a learned quiz/entombed in Grecoroman lore/not the esoteric whisper/of an excluding tongue/not a claptrap/for a wondering audience” (3). To him, poetry should be associated with the cultural nuances of the people using the “eloquence of the gong/ the lyric of the marketplace” (3).This poem is more than a manifesto poem; it is also a meta-poem that censures the works of Christopher Okigbo, J. P. Clark and Wole Soyinka. In the last stanza of this poem – “poetry is man/meaning to man” – Osundare’s primary purpose is revealed as he lays more emphasis on meaning rather than form.
Unveiling the deeds of the politicians, the poem “Siren” in Song of the marketplace using onomatopoeic title suggests the sound of politician’s cars and their convoys that announce their arrivals with fanfare, thus: “Siren siren siren…/the road must be cleared at once/for which worthy ruler/ever shares the right of way” (p. 21). The quoted lines show lack of patience by the political well-to-do and how they refuse to share roads with the common man. Despite this, the poet-persona satirically mocks the masses as they welcome these men of power with “…buntings and banners/and brazen bombasts.” The poet-persona also bewails the arrogant nature of the political leaders through a vivid description of the starving citizen: “kwashiorkor children waving tattered flags, land/in the baking sun” (p.21).
In Song of the Marketplace “Sule Chase” is a narrative poem that recounts the decaying system of Nigerian police and the practice of jungle-justice which are prevalent in the post-independent Nigeria. In this hot-tempered poem, the poet-persona unravels the themes of ethical derailment, ignorance, immorality, and a host of others. It begins with the chase of Sule, a character in the poem, from a stall who shoplifts a three kobo loaf of bread. This offence attracts the interests of every individual in different parameters of life, namely; tailors, permanent secretaries, barristers, doctors and a host of others who dumped their primary duties to chase Sule. Ironically, the poetic denouement demonstrates that Sule’s crime happens as a result of poverty as he only steals three-kobo loaf of bread. Another irony that surfaces in this poem shows the ineffectiveness of Nigerian police when Sule’s corpse is finally arrested by the Nigerian police, thus: