Archive for June, 2011

POET’S PROFILE

Peters

Peters

Lenrie Peters was born (1st September 1932) Lenrie Leopold Wilfred Peters in Gambia to a Sierra Leonean Creole of West Indian or black American origin and a Gambian Creole mother of Sierra Leonean Creole origins. He schooled in Sierra Leone where he gained his Higher School certificates and then went on to a BSc. from Trinity College, Cambridge. He was awarded a Medical and Surgery diploma from Cambridge in 1959 and then he worked for the BBC on their Africa programmes from 1955 to 1968.

At Cambridge, Peters baptised himself in Pan-Africanist politics and became the president of the African Students’ Union. He also started work on his only novel, The Second Round, which he later published in 1965. Among other medical and professional associations including the Commonwealth Writers Prize Selection Committee 1996 and the Africa Region of the Commonwealth Prize for fiction, judge 1995, he served as the head of the West African Examinations Council from 1985 to 1991.

Peters is considered one of the most original voices of modern African poetry. He is a member of the African founding generation writing in English and has shown extensive pan-Africanism in his three volumes of poetry although his single novel received critique as being more British, accusing of African cultural decline and less African overall. His poetry was mixed with medical terms sometimes and his later works were angrier at the state of Africa than his first volume of poetry.
Peters passed away in 2009.

We Have Come Home
We have come home
From the bloodless wars
With sunken hearts
Our booths full of pride-
From the true massacre of the soul
When we have asked
‘What does it cost
To be loved and left alone’

We have come home
Bringing the pledge
Which is written in rainbow colours
Across the sky-for burial
But is not the time
To lay wreaths
For yesterday’s crimes,
Night threatens
Time dissolves
And there is no acquaintance
With tomorrow

The gurgling drums
Echo the stars
The forest howls
And between the trees
The dark sun appears.

We have come home
When the dawn falters
Singing songs of other lands
The death march
Violating our ears
Knowing all our loves and tears
Determined by the spinning coin

We have come home
To the green foothills
To drink from the cup
Of warm and mellow birdsong
‘To the hot beaches
Where the boats go out to sea
Threshing the ocean’s harvest
And the hovering, plunging
Gliding gulls shower kisses on the waves

We have come home
Where through the lightening flash
And the thundering rain
The famine the drought,
The sudden spirit
Lingers on the road
Supporting the tortured remnants
of the flesh
That spirit which asks no favour
of the world
But to have dignity.

REVIEW

This poem holds so much imagery and so is loaded with so much meaning that if I intend to say everything there is about it, I’ll probably be writing a novel here. The poem is an excellent piece.

The first stanza is an announcement by Peters that some people he refers to as “We”, have come home and have come with questions from a war. I will attempt it this way: they came from a bloodless war (line 2) and this could have been the “war” of colonialism where slaves were exchanged for goods in places with no actual guns fired. This will give line 5 more meaning when he says they have returned from “the true massacre of the soul”, for what will be more demeaning to a man than the cheapening of his soul and the sale of that into slavery. If this is it, then Peters is talking about a return of some black people to their homeland. If this is true too, then it is morose for him to ask in the end of the stanza ‘What does it cost/ To be loved and left alone’. We may make further deductions from this question. The slaves cost gunpowder, wine and sugar. Lives were traded for this base offering and Peters will question this. How deep is the love that gave them away? Their return is with sunken hearts and only their booths (line 4) – inner enclosures of their beings- can reserve any pride. The pride is what they feel when Africans return home. But this time, the feelings are mixed, since pride and massacre cannot dwell in one soul and bode well. We read on.

Peters says that they bring with them ‘the pledge / Which is written in rainbow colours’ (line 10-11) for burial. Let’s go south to understand this: in comparison, South Africa is called a rainbow nation since it is a country that is bona fide home to all the different colours of people as the world can offer. Their dwelling together as co-owners makes them a rainbow people, representing oneness and diversity as with the colours of the rainbow. The rainbow is a symbol of equality. So why is Peters bringing home the pledge in rainbow colours for burial? Strange! That pledge may yet stand for the acceptance of black equality with white; which disparity held for centuries. If so, then Peters speaks grave matters and only a continued reading will bring us more understanding.

Suddenly he gives up!! ‘it is not the time /To lay wreaths /For yesterday’s crimes’ and Peters seems ready to forget the misbehaviours of his people who may have sold their kith out. His reasons are clear, that tomorrow doesn’t promise anything positive or otherwise, time is an alien and even night will not permit the slackening upon the midnight dreaming. Dreaming upon the wasted years. Drums may have welcomed them home but he calls their coherent African rhythm a gurgle (line 20), a bubbling sound, empty, confused, maybe hypocrite. But they echo the stars and may be a claim for hope. He brings in his Britishness unconsciously in lines 22-24 as he claims that the forest howls as the dark sun appears through the trees. A wolf arising with the full moon. But why a dark sun? Gloom!

He wanders on in lines 25-31. The dawn falters, morning brings no hope for them against a dark sun, their songs are alien, their march is of death; death of their real selves and Africanness and their loves and tears are as random as the spin of a coin. There is a pity here. Hopeless is the situation they have come to meet at home. The colonialists may be gone but the sun has not risen well on the morning of our independence as Africans. Mind that Peters has once claimed likeness to Alex Haley, the writer of the all-popular movie Roots: The Saga of an American Family, in which Haley mixes fact and fiction to trace his lineage to a West African village. This poem gains more significance now.
Their homecoming is to the natural Africa they left behind – mellow birdsong, hot beaches, boats going to sea for to thresh it of its fish, and the gulls. And though they see little that pleases them outside the natural scenery, they have come home. They have come home where the lightning flash and the thundering rain, the famine, the drought do not bring down the spirit of the man whose flesh is tortured beyond support but of his spirit. And the reason his spirit lives on is the hope of that eternal cry which Africans still cry today; the cry that rings louder above all else even to the unheeding ears of their own people who have made them suffer ill; to have dignity!!

Even his coming home is a reason for thought. The mastery of Peters! After all this, I don’t think I have exhausted the depth of meaning this poem has. I’m certain a couple tens more meanings may still attend it.

POET’S PROFILE

Osundare

Osundare

Today, I review my favourite Nigerian poet, Niyi Osundare, whose works strike the same cords with me as Kwesi Brew of Ghana.

He was born in 1947 in Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria. He is a prolific poet, dramatist and literary critic with degrees from the University of Ibadan (BA), the University of Leeds (MA) and York University, Canada (PhD, 1979). Previously professor (from 1989) and Head of English (1993–1997) at the University of Ibadan, he became professor of English at the University of New Orleans in 1997. He has a lovely wife Kimi and 3 children, two girls, one deaf, and a son who still lives in Nigeria. His deaf daughter is the real reason Osundare is settled in the United States. She could not go to school in Nigeria so they found a school in the U.S. for her and so Osundare could be closer to her they moved with her.

Osundare believes that there is no choice for the African poet but to be political. He has accused and protested against generations of corrupt Nigerian leaders and this poem following is a testament to his bluntness. He doesn’t hide his statement behind humour or wit. He conjures the intended feeling with the straightest words. Not My Business was written in accusation of the murderous dictatorship of Gen. Sanni Abacha from 1993 to 1998.

NOT MY BUSINESS

They picked Akanni up one morning
Beat him soft like clay
And stuffed him down the belly
Of a waiting jeep.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

They came one night
Booted the whole house awake
And dragged Danladi out,
Then off to a lengthy absence.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

Chinwe went to work one day
Only to find her job was gone:
No query, no warning, no probe –
Just one neat sack for a stainless record.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

And then one evening
As I sat down to eat my yam
A knock on the door froze my hungry hand.

The jeep was waiting on my bewildered lawn
Waiting, waiting in its usual silence.

REVIEW
This poem ends poignantly. From the beginning, Osundare is a commentator. A passive viewer who cares little or in fact, has little power to change what he sees. And what he sees is not pleasant.
A man is taken early morning, beaten and then driven away in a jeep.

Osundare is not bothered, supposedly. Once his yam still reaches his mouth, there is no need.

The next time, it happens at night! A man’s house is terrorised awake and he is dragged away, not to be heard from anymore for a long time. Osundare sings his chorus once again: what business of his is it if nobody has asked him.

Slowly, line by line, we see the decadence that characterised the brutal Abacha regime. Rather than tell us global and general stories of how people suffered during the period, Osundare marches with his pen into homes and draws out stories of individuals he names as Akanni and Danladi. By this deed, he puts a human, everyday face on the people so that we can identify with the terrors of people who bear our names and do our everyday tasks. Every time it happens around him and he reports it, Osundare is telling us that it is marching towards him and it won’t be long before we don’t hear from him again; not long before his poem will cease!

So imagine that Chinwe has also lost her job with no explanation. This is representative enough and tells of what could have been happening all across God’s own Nigeria! It is so common and widespread that it happens to your neighbours. Some serious mischief was afoot in Nigeria and in a time that writing poetry was censored, it was guts that made Osundare an icon. He said later that no dictator could be his friend!

In the last two stanzas, see someone come knocking on his door as he sits to eat his yam! His time has come and the jeep waits for him on “my bewildered lawn”, to a future uncertain. Why is the lawn bewildered though? Osundare should have expected this long ago. Maybe, that’s why he wrote us this piece. Beautiful poem by all standards.