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The Poet Fled: And he is still far from home

 article about Poetry collection review
There is a collection of poetry with a similar title to the one above.
When it was published around 1992, it was roundly rejected and
subjected to ridicule by friends and the few lucky 'critics' who
obtained free copies from the publisher-photographer who was paid to
facilitate the printing. This collection now rests in the bosom of it's
creator and writer of the poems still bent on fighting the Lord's
battle in words. That collection, in fairness to those who shot it
down, was neither a book nor a pamphlet, it was just the raw feelings
of a thirty-two year old, who felt short changed by a nation and a
world that were heading into self destruction.



Words in cold print have not been known to change the hearts of tyrants
nor has badly written poetry warmed the hearts of peasants who toil day
and night to keep body and soul a piece. At the time the collection was
publishedm the nation's intellectuals were voting with their feet
before the new world economic disorder made the streets the home of
their intestines. They were leaving in large numbers and for some of
us, their disciples, living took new meanings. All we heard were words
to the effect: "scram before you become another scrap on the garbage
heap of history." Some of my contemporaries remained behind and like
acolytes of a new religion devised new ways of engaging the soul for
the benefit of self and society. The Lawyer, who writes stage plays
found an 'adaptor' for his thoughts and thus was born Ajofest, one of
the most ambitious privately funded festival of Arts in Nigeria. As the
stage was burning against social ills, Peter Igho and later Lola
Fani-Kayode, redefined television production before the video home
crowd came along to build the present house of spittle. It was not all
work and hope for a social revolution, the artistes found kindred
spirits in German and American diplomats who provided space and
watering holes to unwind.



The crowd awaited the monthly ritual at the 'worship center' of Lopez,
the Puerto-Rican diplomat who came from God's own country. He brought
with him a slice of the American dream and his parties cushioned the
effect of our energy sapping chores around town. We danced as if there
was no tomorrow and no sorrow was too insoluble not to dissolve in the
wines and drinks provided by Lopez. True to life, that dream was cut
short and like a whiff our main man left the country. Somehow, amidst
that creative volcano taking place in Lagos, our mentor, who trained as
a Geologist but spends a large chuck of his resources on cultural
activism, started what became the Artistes parliament.



The Arts stampede has now become a cultural reference point just as the
concept of the Coalition of Nigerian Artistes (CONA) points at a failed
dream. Looking back to the nights and days of meeting and planning one
cannot help it if tears start to roll and sadness overtakes the heart.
What could possibly be wrong with asking for coordinated welfare for
the producers of vision, exchange programs that can take them far and
wide and a systematic training program that took care of their present
and future needs?

Many moons have come between now and that
sketchy slice of our reality above. Life changing transformations in
different hues kept visiting the clan at home and abroad. These events
called for hearty celebrations and clincking of glasses. Some reporters
among us have become editors. Actors of yesterday from Benin, Ife and
Ibadan, are now big players on screen, and geologists too are in new
positions in the Oil industry. Lest I forget some journalists among us
who crossed to become Press Secretaries issuing depressing releases
from their bosses. How can the case of the two who blew the whistle on
a senior journalist who paraphrased Thomas Paine be forgotten? One went
to jail, wrote a book and now lives in his own house. The other avoided
the long arms of the tyrant and set up shop in distant lands, he too
now lives a life of kings. Such is life my dear reader.The point is
that in Nigeria you can become whatever Olodumare has written for you
("the Lord creator, where he isn't there isn't"-apologies Uncle Lari
Williams). The cycle of life never ceases, as fire dies so do ashes
arise to be its cover. But this story is not about my generation and
their constant efforts to tame

the monster that Nigeria has been
for them. It is about a bearded apprentice poet at forty-four still
looking for relevance and meaning in a nation that kills dreams and
dreamers. Have I not lost count of those dead and started to count my
days like the Psalmist advised. I still recall sitting next to Ken Saro
Wiwa at the Goethe institute (in their former office) when some writers
came calling. I can still hear his roaring laughter and see the
ever-present pipe between his lips. What of dear gentle soul Renate,
the German who gave and gave so much one feared she might become like
us. The memories of the beautiful ones will never burn.

I was
born at number thirty-seven Bola Street in a corner-piece building that
has Banke House written boldly in front of it. This abode bears too
many unwritten stories and too many unrevealed secrets. I grew up in
the same neighborhood with the Dadas, the Odusanyas, the Akapos, the
Awolanas, the Ainas, the Oyesanwos and so many other families who now
live permanently in my memory. They represented a Nigeria of hope.
Fathers had the means to be the authority figures at home. Mothers held
the family together with no complaints. The only complaints I heard
were about children who refused to eat, not children without food. The
streets were safe with Area fathers and Sisi Ekos. There was even a
Sisi London who lived near the market at Oyingbo. People had jobs and
we knew what they did to earn a living. The printer was called Lord Awo
and the tailor was a Bob Taylor who lived close to Iya Kosegbe's abode.
Who can forget Iya Niyi who sold moin-moin down the road or Iya Aja who
sold Iyan (pounded yam) on Kadara Street. I still recall a man my
father fondly called Willie. He was a photographer who worked for the
Morning Post and on the side recorded every family event. One day we
heard he was going off to the East to cover a war. What that meant at
first was that the sound of his Vesper would not be heard in the
mornings and the music from his apartment would be missed. Mr. William
Osinbajo, still today represents the organic link between the civil war
and most of what I recall of it. He came back with gory stories I could
not really follow or did not understand at that time. He never stopped
talking about a Brigadier Adekunle, who fought like a commando. How a
commando fights he left to our imagination to decipher. The black and
white pictures he brought back from the war must have been used in the
paper for which he worked, What probably was unused were the man's deep
feelings about what he saw and recorded of the carnage.What he saw
changed him forever; we noticed a change in his bounce and the way we
were treated. "Never go to war" he counseled, we his young listeners,
whose song about war was "awa soja kere.." (we small soldiers.).

Thirty
or so years later, my generation found themselves in another kind of
war and a few chose the cultural sector as the battlefront. We wanted
to be sure the mental onslaught and cultural pollution from the
industrialized countries did not take the only precious gift we had
from us. The movies, music and clothes all constituted the armory of
the enemy camp. The media of those countries shifted the battleground
to our impressionable minds. Their products were better and ours
inferior. Their names appeared sophisticated on paper while ours were
long and clumsy. Our native tongues and native wisdom were the next to
fall in the unseen war. We became alienated from our roots. However, in
little groups across the country, the campuses and newspapers became
the forums for counter-offensive. Those may go down as the golden era
of great intellect on the pages of the newspapers and in seminar rooms.




The sentiments were the same; we knew there must be ways of making
sense of the locust years and the dark times that enveloped our daily
lives. The search was for safe spaces where our experiences could be
shared and disseminated. When the second tier foreign exchange market
tore the pockets of publishers and book buyers we knew trouble by the
dozens would unfurl in the land. Wide toothy smiles of the General soon
gave way to dark goggles of insanity. Little wonder that as politics in
the land is smeared with blood and littered with broken limbs, the
literature coming into the market is marked by prison tales and long
dark nights. As I read and re-read Sola Osofisan's collection of short
stories-Darkvisions, which was a joint winner of the 1992 ANA prose
prize, and Michael Harrington' s "The other America: Poverty in the
United States" though written over forty years ago, I began to see the
world in a different light and the two sides of an ugly coin made
sense. I quickly borrowed their 'tongues' to rearticulate my inner
pains and fears.

These two books have become sources of
inspiration for me, the foot mats that cushion footfalls. You can
understand why Harrington's book would inspire me. I have lived in
America for the last five years, and I can tell you that the American
dream is for the citizens here, yet not all the Citizens can lay claim
to that corporate America. The latest figures point to about 35.8
million poor souls. I see the homeless, the shirtless who are becoming
nameless within the system. So many are without medical insurance, an
important cover for the rainy days. Rain or sun there are many like me
who do not have the three vital Cs: Car, Credit cards, and Cell phones.
These are markers here, too, just like the titles back at home.

In
a capitalist economy you should not live under the illusion that you
can work hard for your money. No, as the motivational speakers say, let
your money work hard for you. This is the bitter lesson immigrants here
are yet to learn in this knowledge-driven economy. The simple truth is
that you need capital to survive. How to accumulate it without
exploitation is the real deal. Someday I shall tell the whole story of
hardship, of pain and depression in this place. To mothers reading this
piece, call your children and tell them that the America of the movies
is not real. What is real is a dark hole that can suck their souls. You
are free to think it is my 'bad luck' (or home trouble) that makes it
impossible for me to send "Western Union encrypted numbers" home as
regularly as the average Joe down the street does by the drop of the
hat. I tell you most immigrants are living a lie as life here. The
credo is suffering in silence while you pretend to live in affluence.
If you really want to know how people live here ask about the many
steps to obtain their papers: the medical tests, the staying in line as
early as 4am to obtain permission to visit home, the thousands of
dollars paid to lawyers who help you fill out the forms, the
interviews, the finger printing, the photos and so much more just to
live on God's own earth. To compound this reality many cannot speak
because there are no spaces where their voices

can be heard.
They have elected to speak only through procreation. In the epilogue of
Osofisan's book he writes, "Journey's end, our hearts have ceased to
stutter. You and I. Our screams no longer hug the walls like cobwebs
hug the walls like cobwebs. There is only silence now. And the silence
is complete. The silent sowing of another seed. Another life." Though
the Yorubas say Ile labo simi oko, (which roughly translates to home is
the hope of the sojourner), I say home is the resting place of the body
(ile labo simi ara). Taking liberty with the lines Osofisan points to
the inability to procreate. Is making babies in a place like America
such an expensive venture? The bedsprings go silent too when men should
be men. Let's say no more on that subject. I can tell you what silence
means in a country of many laws and bills to pay. God help us. So I
walk the streets looking for the face of God, hoping that the bounty
promised will be fulfilled. I sat at about 2am on the day I turned
forty and wrote my heart out. I share it with you and end this sinful
self-adulatory piece (or torture if you choose) with what my country
has taught me.

The Poet wept. As I turned forty bringing to
life niceties and naughty things. /The unslipped ring, /the unborn
kings, /the feathered children in tubes/ the cornered coalition the
ANA-tommy of a failed writer peddling sub-standard syntax, /parading
sub-versions of texts that can't be submitted to critics' dissecting
tables

As I turned forty, /comfortable enough to pour myself
out./The Poet wept I looked out...Looking For the Face of God/ I looked
out of the window for the 480th time thinking I'll see the face of God
smiling or just looking over all. Instead, I saw the mind of God in my
own mind, the little window to my being. As I looked again into the
streets, I felt the wind of God fresh & refreshing, powered by
unseen rods. I heard the sounds of God in the rustling leaves. I beheld
the color of God in all around.

The weight I felt, heavier than the Pound, stronger than Cents in their hundreds to make the green.

"The hand of God is upon me..." even as I write from this screen, the might that makes our sight

see
from within without screams, now powers my dreams. God is the light
that surrounds all as we fight our way through the maze in life filled
with strife. I'll look out again for the hand of God that holds all
things as I feel my way through and pay bills dictated by 'unseen
hands' in this corporate-land of hard rules.In the City of God streets
are songs thoughts have wings Speech is praise and light is displayed
for eternity.The Eye of God in fraternity with the past and future.

The Poet leapt in joy?

Song of Recall with Shadow tunes

Now
I have unleashed my expectations on the future hoping one will meet the
other and order will visit a life on the run from home The present has
since left the past as memories, moments and movements.Come dance to
this song that recalls, come recall the feet of youth that combed the
streets of hope....and so the Poet felt for present readers and hearers
of the word

The lamentation.

He will be forty-four, two months before the politicians roll out the drums again to celebrate the

independence
of his country. He lived a good portion of his years as one of the
children in a middle class family. As a child the taps had water and
electricity supply was fairly constant. He went first to Ereko
Methodist School and two years after enrolled at Ireti Primary School
next to Corona, Mekuwen, Ikoyi, where the children of the well fed
attended. As they say the rest now is history as he looks back to his
years at Igbobi College where Mr. J. O. Olatunbosun was in charge.
Those were days when Khaki Igbobi and that blue and yellow tie meant a
lot to the young students. The injunction of the school anthem was to
play ones part in any task since wherever there is an Igbobian, there
should also be a noble Nigerian. The word noble and its entire
connotation shaped his vision about life and society. The need to
create a new society brought him in touch with one of the original
thinkers for social change in Nigeria. Dr Seinde Arigbede remains a
shinning star, a restless soul that lives in the terra firma of hope
that one day the real people of Nigeria would be participants in their
own history. To Nigerians who do not know Doctor Arigbede, ask around
or read Wole Soyinka's

Book "The man died". Though not much is
said about him, the book at least opens a window into what he is
capable of doing. He remains, for a reluctant generation, that is not
wasted but simply waiting.Waiting for a space to perform, waiting for
the social space to proffer the kind of changes that would transform a
nation on its knees. If he is asked to point a finger at what has hurt
the most in the last year, it must be the indifference and inability to
influence programs and projects back home. If you recall a long letter
was written to the Minster of culture about what could be done to
energize the sector. As expected, the man ignored the letter and the
sector reminds one of unmanned failing objects (UFO). Let the belly
aching be restated that as long as the country retains the services of

insensitive
Ministers of culture that are unwilling to accept other voices and
ideas, so long will our nation search aimlessly for revival. Someone
will read that line and misinterpret it to be the ranting of a
frustrated forty-four year-old man. If the truth be told the country
needs better channels of citizen's

feed back. Nigerians
irrespective of class or ethnic groups should be able to communicate
with the leadership of various sectors. Arise O compatriots...

The
song of despair continues, and he worries what will happen when he
turns forty-seven. The nation will be on the "march again" looking for
men with many wives to be the new rulers. Will there be a thought to
try a woman for an effective change? Nigeria has taught me that the
electorate prefers men with more than one wife or those with a wife at
home but have one or two outside. How does one explain the fact that
between Olu Falae and Olusegun Obasanjo Nigerians chose Obasanjo? The
explanation is simple, leadership and private lives have nothing in
common. What matters and essential is how many more become poor and how
many loose their lives. How many stayed in school or how many schools
stayed open? One day a true graduate of the Nigerian educational system
would mount the saddle of leadership or is this gapping absence a
commentary on the nature of Nigerian educational system? Let the
question be asked clearly: Do Nigerian Universities have the capacity
to prepare graduates for leadership or are they just producers of top
rated eaters of crumbs? There is so much to say and so much to belly
ache about Nigeria. As he wishes himself happy birthday in this strange
land. Let all who pluck from "poet tree" continue to await the ripening
of fruits and leaves in the wind. To paraphrase Osofisan again and add
my own words: "Shut the basket (mouth) No more nightmares Let there be
light (hearted news)"

So as your attention shifts to other stories let hearts re-consider the past, the future and the unseen.

So long, so long my friends.



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