Academic journal article Transnational Literature

The Essentials of Niyi Osundare's Poetry

Academic journal article Transnational Literature

The Essentials of Niyi Osundare's Poetry

Article excerpt

Literary historians in Nigeria are wont to credit Niyi Osundare with being the leading light or champion of a new kind of poetry, a poetry fundamentally different both in thematic concerns and style from that of the preceding generation of the so-called Ibadan-Nsukka school of Nigerian poetry. However, as some critics have argued, every age has a way of producing its own human medium through which it expresses its peculiar socio-cultural spiritus mundi. Accordingly, Osundare arrived on the literary scene at a time which shaped and prepared him for the task of freeing up poetry from the prison-house of obscurity in which the Soyinka generation was said to have put it. The socio-cultural and historical background or context of Osundare's emergence - family, schooling, village setting, prevailing ideology, et cetera - went a long way in moulding and shaping him for the kind of poetry for which he has come to be known, namely: the poetry of performance. But before we go into details of his unique kind of poetry, it is proper for us to, first and foremost, pause to reflect on the shaping/gestative impact of these features of his development both as a man and, more to our purpose, a poet.

Niyi Osundare was born to Ariyoosu Osundare, poet, singer, drummer, and farmer, and Fasimia, 'Indigo Fingers/Weaver of fabrics and fables'.1 Clearly, Osundare has inherited his parents' artistic predilections and creative nous as it is very easy to make the connection between his own prodigious oeuvre and his parentage. Also, he was born and bred in an Ikere-Ekiti, famed for collectivism or a communitarian ethos,2 a primal communalism which fertilised his mind to receive the Afrocentric teaching he received at school, notably at the University of Ibadan under the late Professor Oyin Ogunba, who during the heyday of colonial (mis)education swam against the eddies of popular opinion by introducing his charges to the beauties and literary qualities of African oral literature.3 Thus, as part of the momentous wave of the decolonisation project, Osundare, alongside his fellow post-Civil War poets, embraced the Leninist-Marxist ideology which was sweeping large swathes of the so-called Third World and the rest of the developing world.4 His ideological affiliation was only deepened by his sojourn in Leeds, UK and York, Toronto (Canada) where he had travelled for further studies. This ideological intercourse between Africa and the West naturally bred in Osundare a good sense of nativism and cosmopolitanism, or, if you please, you may call it internationalism and neo-traditionalism. These aforementioned elements of the poet's formative years seemed to have predisposed him to reject and revolt against certain aspects of 'tradition' as he decided to create his own unique brand of Afro-centric, orally-informed poetry.

What do we mean by 'Tradition' in this regard? Simply put, 'Tradition' here implies the sum of the pre-existing body of both written and non-written forms of poetry to which the living poet stands as heir or inheritor.5 Therefore, 'Tradition' approximates to both oral and written Yoruba poetry, African poetry in English expression and non-African poetry in English. As part of his own development, Osundare, willy-nilly, must have read and studied these works in order to cut his own teeth, as he has on several occasions confessed.6 The scenario that is unfolding before us here is an interesting re-dramatisation of T.S. Eliot's seminal essay 'Tradition and the Individual Talent'. The poet stands on the shoulders of his predecessors the better to fashion out his own work, and what comes through as his claim to originality is a dexterous and deft personalisation of Tradition, i.e., 'the masterpieces of the past'.7 It is fairly common that, in order for an emergent poet to acquire distinctiveness or originality, he or she must undergo a sublimated ritual of artistic parricide, an operation analogous to a kind of Oedipal Complex in which the ephebe or latecomer-poet seeks to 'decapitate' or squash the precursor-poet's testicles. …

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