Like all other literatures in general, African literature as a whole and African poetry in particular has its own distinctiveness and authenticity. African poetry expresses African predicaments and world view within the context of the evolution of African societies. It also addresses the problems of human existence which the Africans share with the rest of humanity
Modern African poetry is very different from most forms of poetry which focuses on the individual. It is communal in nature and it is this communal spirit which informs most of the poets in their creative works. The focus on society with its attendant social criticisms is in the African tradition. African writers in affirming their faith in their native culture defend it against alien encroachments and prejudices. The Negritude writers asserted their ‘Africanity’ to fight against colonial prejudices. Although they tended to romanticize the past, their exaggerated portrayal functioned against cultural annihilation. Every African writer is a Negritudist in one way or another. A number of modern poets express their defiance of their indigenous culture against the invading Western one in many of their poems.
African poets that gained prominence from the late 50s can be said to be the second generation poets and can be considered as Modern African poets. These poets started to write just before and after independence in their respective nations. Modern Anglophone poets include , Gabriel Okara , Dennis Brutus, Kwesi Brew, David Rubadiri, Wole Soyinka, J.P. Clark, Lenrie Peters, O’kot p’Bitek, Kofi Awoonor and Oswald Mtshali. From the Francophone Africa we have Leopold Senghor, Birago Diop and Bernard Dadie. And From the Lusophone region we have Jose Craverirha, Agostinho Neto and Noemia de Sousa to name but a few.
The second generation or Modern African poets can be differentiated from earlier poets both in form and content. While the Pioneer poets were preoccupied with freedom movements, restoring human dignity and trying to abolish racism, the Modern / second generation poets had set themselves a different agenda. The second generation poets had an opportunity to receive higher degrees both at home and abroad.
The term “Neo- colonialism”gained currency in the late 60s and early 70s. The second generation African poets were still concerned with the social ills of their societies especially corruption and nepotism. They used their poems to express their disappointment over the new set of leaders. They addressed the excessive use of power and the get rich quick syndrome which became a pandemic scourge which the modern African poets wished to express through their poems. Culture conflict also took the epicenter of may of their poems. This generation can be said to have established the canon or what can be considered as parameters in which subsequent poems or poets could be judged.
Thematically this generation of African poets took it upon themselves to challenge the deliberate misconceptions of Africans by Europeans. They deliberately took the opposite stance in their poetry and this manifested in poems such Gabriel Okara’s Piano and drums and Wole Soyinka’s Telephone Conversation . The contrast between African and Western cultures are also expressed in Okigbo’s Heavensgate,wherein all negative images are used to describe alien culture and positive ones to describe the African way of life. In a similar manner Okot p’Bitek of Uganda in his Song of Lawino portrays Lawino as a symbol of African culture, with dignity, humility, respect and authenticity. She is painted as a contrast to Clementine and Ocol who indiscriminately copy alien Western ways of life and so look absurd. Lawino assumes the royalty and courage of a lioness and the beauty and gracefulness of a giraffe. Repulsive creatures such as the hyena, monkey, ostrich and the python represent the copied alien ways. Soyinka too exploits to a great extent the Yoruba pantheon in his plays, novels and poems. Idanre the title poem from his collection of poems titled Idanre and Other Poems, is centered on Ogun the God of iron, war and hunting. In the same poem there are references to Sango, God of Thunder and Lightening and Esu, the God of Chance.
J. P. Clark and Soyinka treat the theme of re –incarnation of the wanderer child in their poem with a similar title Abiku. In his poem Soyinka treats the theme according to the Yoruba tradition , while Clark treats it as Ogbanje according to the Igbo belief. But both poets express the traditional African belief in the cyclic nature of life and the things that affect the space and time of African tradition.
Modern African poets placed great emphasis on form than content and most of their techniques they used were Western. Alliteration, assonance, rhyme, rhythm, including paradoxes and ironies. The language was rather cumbersome in terms of diction, vocabulary and idioms. The use of symbolism was dense and clustered, which often resulted in misunderstanding than understanding the poetry. Most words were used to render associated meanings or ideas rather than the dictionary meaning. These poets were greatly influenced by European writers such as William Shakespeare, T.S.Eliot, Ezra Pound, Gerald Manley Hopkins, W.B Yeats and the French Symbolists. What was ironical was that these poets while focusing on African themes and preoccupations were using Western poetic techniques to express them. This often times rendered their poetry obscure and difficult to understand. Poets like Okigbo, Soyinka and Clark were musical in their poetry. Repetition was used to enhance musicality. While Clark attempted to create ‘sprung rhythm’ with his repetitions, Soyinka’s expressive use of alliterations often caused great impediments to comprehensions. The poetry of this generation was very academic and privatist in nature. In consequence the language of these poets become more recondite and difficult to decode.
In the Portuguese speaking parts Africa, especially in South Africa the struggle for emancipation from colonial rule had the most direct impact on the literature in general and poetry in particular. The majority of writers had a profound commitment to the social and political changes that were taking place in their region. Writers in Angola and Mozambique have concentrated greatly in writing of verse; but very little is known of their work for reasons of language. But critic of African writing acknowledge the high standards achieved by poets like Agostinho Neto, Noemia de Sousa Jose Craveirirho and others . While remaining firmly committed to the struggle against Portuguese colonialism, the best of these poets kept close to those emotions that could open up the warmest affections of lyricism in the Latin language. African poets of Portuguese expression like their French counterparts inherited the whole poetic tradition and used verse to express public themes. Such a tradition combined indigenous African traditions with Latin forms to create a powerful form of poetry that did not flinch from its public function. Thus politics and the passionate desire for change became the dominant theme of this poetry. Marcelino dos Santos, JorgeRebalo, Costa Andrado and others like them gave to Lusophone poetry verse its political character. Agustino Neto’s poetry is a good example of this kind of poetry. The above brief explication of the content and form of Modern African poetry is indicative of the social, political and cultural forces that were and are still at work on African poetry as a whole. It also gives us a glimpse into the vast panorama of themes and styles of the significant body of work in its long years of literary effort. It is also indicative that in Africa as is elsewhere the development of poetry is close knit with the social, political and economic development of society. An in depth analysis of selected poems will reveal that what lies behind the tortured obscurities of style and the recurrence of themes are as a result of the social, economic and political forces often thought to be non –literary.
Modern African poetry thus seems to have risen from the aptness of poetry as a succinct verbal art form in expressing feelings and attitudes in economically desperate times as Africans have been going through. Commitment in African writing has always been present in one way or the other. This seems to have been out by the thematic and technical preoccupations in much recent African poetry. Modern African poetry expresses a strong and steadfast commitment towards socio – economic change for the benefit of the generality of the people. It was only by the second half of the 1960s that most modern African poets matured and established themselves as power voices across the African continent and beyond.
We will now embark on a careful analysis if selected poems of modern African poets to ascertain to what extent the socio – economic and socio- political situations in most African nations have influenced the theme and content of modern African poetry. Selected poems from the following poets will be analysed:
Leopold S. Senghor
Gabriel I. Okara
John Pepper Clark
Oswald M. Mtshali
The early 60s and 70s saw the flowering of modern African poetry. Thematically this generation of African poets took it upon themselves to challenge the deliberate misconceptions of Africans by Europeans. The Negritude writers asserted their ‘Africanity’ to fight against colonial prejudices. Modern African poets placed great emphasis on form than on content. The second generation African poets were still concerned with the social ills of their societies especially corruption and nepotism. They used their poems to express their disappointment over the new set of leaders. Culture conflict also took the epicenter of may of their poems. This generation can be said to have established the canon or what can be considered as parameters in which subsequent poems or poets could be judged.
1.5 SELF-ASSESSMENT EXERCISE:
1. State a few characteristic features of Modern African poetry.
2. Differentiate the thematic differences between Anglophone and Francophone and Lusophone poetry.
Nwoga, I. Donatus (1979) Modern African Poetry: The Domestication of a Tradition. African Literature Today, Retrospect and Prospect, No.10, New York: Africana Publishing Company. pp.32-56.
_______________ (1986) West-African Verse: An Anthology, Lagos Academy Press Ltd.
Adeko, Adeleke (1999) “Theory and Practice of African Orature.” Research in African Literature, Vol.30, No.2, pp. 222-227.
Aiyejina Funso (1988) “Recent Nigerian Poetry in English: An Alter-Native Tradition” in Perspectives on Nigerian Literature 1700 to the Present. Vol. One Lagos: Guardian Books Nigeria (Ltd).
Amuta, C. (1989) The Theory of African Literature:Implications for practical Criticism London: Zed Books
Jones, O. Eldred & Narjorie Jones (ed) (1996) New Trends and Generations in African Literature , No. 20, London: James Curry Ltd. pp. 1-8
Ogede, S. Ode (1996) “New Trends and Generations.” African Literature Today, No.20, London: James Currey Ltd. pp.62-72.
Ogunbiyi, Yemi (1988) Perspectives on Nigerian Literature 1700 to the Present, Vol. I & 2 Lagos: Guardian Books (Nig) Ltd.
Ohaeto-Ezenwa (1991) “Dimensions of Language in New Nigerian Poetry”, African Literature Today, No. 17.
Bondunde, Charles (2001) Oral Traditions and Aesthetic Transfer: Creativity and Social Vision in Contemporary Black Poetry, Bayreuth African Studies Series, 58. Bayreuth; Bayreuth University.
Chukwukere, B.I. (1992) African Literature Today, 12 New Writing, New Approaches. Books, London, Heinemann Educational, pp. 16-24.
Gogura, S. M.& Agukwe, E. L. (ed) (2000) Issues and Trends in Language and Literature Teaching For Nigerian Colleges Yola, Paaraclete Publishers
Heywood, Christopher, ed. (!989) Perspectives On African Literature. London ; Heinemann Educational Books
Nwoga, I. Donatus (1986) West-African Verse: An Anthology, Lagos Academy Press Ltd.
Senanu, K.E. & Vincent T. (1999) A Selection of African Poetry (New Edition),
Longman Group Ltd.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
TOPIC: CONTENT AND TECHNIQUES OF MODERN
AFRICAN POETRY- - - - - 9
2.1. INTRODUCTION - - - - - - - 10
2.2. OBJECTIVES - - - - - - - 10
2.3. IN-TEXT - - - - - - - - 10
2.3.1. CONTENT OF MODERN AFRICAN POETRY - 10
2.3.2. TECHNIQUES OF MODERN AFRICAN POETRY - 11
2.4. SUMMARY - - - - - - - - 12
2.5. SELF-ASSESSMENT EXERCISE - - - - - 12
2.6. REFERENCE - - - - - - - 12
2.7. SUGGESTED READINGS - - - - - 12
2.0 TOPIC: CONTENT AND TECHNIQUES OF MODERN AFRICAN
POETRY 2.1 INTRODUCTION:
Modern African literature as whole and modern African poetry in particular which is informed by African culture is utilitarian in nature. It is community oriented rather than based on individual psychology, and is didactic for ethical and moral instruction. African poetry draws on beliefs, world- view and folkloric heritage of the African people. This lecture will discuss how Modern African poetry is conceived to be functional and how the poets have strived to make their poetry relevant to their respective societies.
At the end of the topic you should be able to:
i. Differentiate the difference between African and Western literature.
ii. Describe the main content in most modern African poetry.
iii. Elucidate the techniques deployed by modern African poets.
2.3.1 CONTENT OF MODERN AFRICAN POETRY
Viewed from the critical perspective of content, African poetry deals primarily with collective destinies of the African within his own human and physical environment. Although a particular human living condition which the poet expresses is inserted in a time and space frame work, his creative imagination has a temporal and spatial forward and backward movement, which unfolds the evolution of the society and the life - ways lived in it.
Since African literature takes “matter” from the realities of African living conditions and value systems in the past and present, one easily recognizes it in socio – historical events, names and environments. In the African society the writer, be it a novelist, dramatist or poet is a sensitive “questioner” and reformer; as all literature in a way is criticism of the human condition obtainable in the society it mirrors. The writer often cannot help exposing the bad and the ugly in man and society. Thus Much of African literature is a deploration of the harsh and inhuman condition in which the majority of Africans live in i.e. poverty, misery, political oppression, economic exploitation, excesses of the affluent, liquidation of humane African traditional values, and all forms of injustices which seem to be the lot of a large majority in most African societies.
In drama, novel, poetry or short – story, the writer’s dialogue with his physical and human environment comes out as a mirror in which his people and society can see what they look like. Every image painted by a skilful; artist is expressed or put into writing / print, becomes public property and leaves itself open for evaluation by those who read and understand the language and expression.
In most African literature social issues and the way people relate are some of the major subjects, be it in drama, fiction or poetry. How individuals interact in love, friendship, and their relationships with the larger society are the sine qua non of literature .People’s interaction in society develop the ethics and morality of a society.
Politics is usually integrated into a people’s culture and everybody is in one way or the other affected by politics. Political practices are part of a people’s culture. Thus politics forms an important thematic preoccupation for modern African writers.
In literature it is important who is writing and in what context the writer is writing. Time and space, history and place set the context of a literary creation. The history of a society is also essential, as many themes stem from a society’s historical background. Modern African poets are greatly influenced by their rich oral literature which is essentially didactic. Most poets make use of the functional didacticism of oral literature, to reflect the culture, history, politics and society as a whole in their writings. Social issues and the way people relate are also some of the major subjects of literature, be it in drama, fiction or poetry.
2.3.2 TECHNIQUES IN MODERN AFRICAN POETRY
The language issue, consequently became another problem in the writings and evolution of Modern African literature. African literature today is a product of the cross – cultural fertilization between the pre –colonial and colonial past and post - colonial present of Africa and Europe. The Modern African writer is a man of two worlds - African and Europe. Thus his creative writings even when it is in an indigenous African language expressing authentic African life experiences are often tinged with acquired Western techniques. Almost all African writings in general and African poetry in particular display the combination of African oral techniques along with certain artistic procedures common to both African and Western literatures.
Modern African poetry has not only deep and solid roots but also has a concrete and relevant background and setting. The culture provides the poetry with allusions, images, symbols, and a moral ethical imperative. The ethically rich culture has enhanced the works of the creative writers who see themselves as having the social role of cleansing the society. New novels, plays, and poems are modeled on folklore forms and techniques. These works demonstrate the affirmation of faith by different generations of African writers in their cultural heritage. African literature is suffused with various traditional traits.
Modern drama is characterized by rituals, the supernatural and a language enriched by proverbs. Fiction has many folkloric anecdotes and concentrates on the direction of the entire society. While poetry absorbs qualities of traditional, oratory, ritual, incantory rhythms and symbolic plant and animal imagery originating from folklore. African oral traditions of literature has greatly influenced the three genres - drama, fiction and poetry.
Modern African poetry has deep and solid roots in culture and tradition of the African people. The culture provides the poetry with allusions, images, symbols, and a moral ethical imperative. The ethically rich culture has enhanced the works of the creative writers who see themselves as having the social role of cleansing the society. New novels, plays, and poems are modeled on folklore forms and techniques. . Most poets make use of the functional didacticism of oral literature, to reflect the culture, history, politics and society as a whole in their writings. These works demonstrate the affirmation of faith by different generations of African writers in their cultural heritage. . African oral traditions of literature has greatly influenced the three genres - drama, fiction and poetry.
2.5 SELF-ASSESSMENT EXERCISE:
1. What were the thematic preoccupations of modern African poets ?
2. What form of poetic techniques do they deploy in their poetry ?
Nwackukwu Agbada, J. O. J. (1991) “The Question of Language.” African Literature Today, No.17, London: James Curry Ltd., pp. 165-175.
Nwachukwu Agbada, J. O. J (1991) “The Language of Post-War Nigerian Poetry.” African Literature Today, 17.
King, Bruce. (1975 ) A Celebration of Black and African Writing: Oxford University Press.
Nwankwo, Chika (1990) “The Oral Foundations of Nigerian Written Poetry”. Literature and Black Aesthetic, Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books (Nig) Ltd. vol. 5, pp. 315-327.
2.7 SUGGESTEDREADING :
Nwankwo, Chika (1990) “The Oral Foundations of Nigerian Written Poetry”. Literature and Black Aesthetic, Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books (Nig) Ltd. vol. 5, pp. 315-327.
Nwoga, I.Donatus (1979) Modern African Poetry: The Domestication of a Tradition. African Literature Today, Retrospect and Prospect, No.10, New York: Africana Publishing Company. pp.32-56.
Ogungbesan, K. ed. (1981) “New West African Literature”, World Literature Written in English WLWE), Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 71-74.
This lecture will embark on a thematic and stylistic analyses of a poem by a Francophone poet Leopold Senghor.
By the end of the topic, you should be able to:
i. Decipher the theme of the poem.
ii. Discuss one main poetic device employed by the poet.
3.3.1 Leopold Sedar Senghor
Senghor born in Senegal is one of the oldest and most prominent of African poets. A poet philosopher, scholar and statesman Senghor is also the greatest exponent of the philosophy of Negritude. Negritude as an ideology was merely developed as a reaction to cultural deprivation that African poets experienced in Europe. This led the educated elite to revive through literature, the cultural values, and identify the beauty of Africa by extolling their ancestral glories. This led to the use of traditional imagery, symbols and rhythm, Negritude has passed through a number of phases and was at times accused of over sentimentalism. Nevertheless Senghor’s poetry gained great importance and won many international prizes for his contribution to African literature as a whole and African poetry in particular.
Let us analyse Senghor’s poem titled
3.3.2 I will pronounce your name
I will pronounce your name, Naett, I will declaim you , Naett!
Naett, your name is mild like the cinnamon, it is the fragrance in which
the lemon grove sleeps,
Naett, your name is the sugared clarity of blooming coffee trees
Fresher even than short dusk, when the heat of the dusk is
Naett, that is the dry tornado, the hard clap of lightning
Naett, coin of gold, shinning coal, you my night , my sun!---
I am your hero, and now I have become your sorcerer, in order to
pronounce your names.
Princess of Elisa, banished from *Futa1 on the fateful day.
3.3.3 CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE ABOVE POEM: I will pronounce your name
Though this is a written poem, the word “pronounce” in line 1 and the repetitious declamation of “Naett” suggest an orality which links the poem to the traditional form of poetry found in oral literature. The repetition evokes the passion of fondness the poet for the subject “Naett”. This passion is reinforced by the poet’s exuberant comparison of “Naett” with various states in nature: “mild like cinnamon”, “the fragrance in which, The lemon grove sleeps”, “ the sugared clarity of blooming coffee trees” and the freshness of “dew”, of the “tamarind”. He compares Naett even to a “dry tornado” and “the hard clap of lightning”. Up to this point we get no clear indication of who Naett is. But when he likens Naett to “coin of gold”, “Shinning coal, you my night, my sun! ---” , we get the impression that this person who is so precious to the poet could be a black woman. This impression is reinforced when he refers to her as “Princess of Elisa” in the last line.
The above poem is symbolic in nature. In the poem Senghor expresses his love and reverence to all that is Black. Naett seems to symbolize everything African. In an evocative manner, the poet celebrates his love concern for all Africans, especially the black women. Through the use of similes and metaphors Senghor’s praises everything black. The name “Naett” sounds like “night” which suggests darkness or blackness.
3.4 SELF-ASSESSMENT EXERCISE:
(1) Pick two instances of smiles and metaphor and state their importance in the poem.
4.0 TOPIC: POETIC ANALYSIS OF GABRIEL IMOMOTIME OKARA’S POEM 4.1 INTRODUCTION:
The theme and style as is found in Grabiel Okara’s poem will be discussed.
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
i. The effect of societal occurrences on the poet.
ii. The poetic devices used to express his theme.
4.3.1 Gabriel Imomotime Okara
Grabriel Inomotime Okara was born in the Rivers State of Nigeria. Unlike poets of his time who attended famous universities at home and abroad, Okara is a self tutored poet. He is one of the older modern Nigerian poets who started writing in the fifties and is still writing. Okara, like Okigbo experienced the wrath of the Nigerian Civil War and many of his war poems are considered among the best among war poems in Nigerian poetry.
Okara imbibed deeply his rich tradition and culture and this is reflected in his poems. The influence of traditional folk literature, along with motifs of childhood innocence and concerns about the identity of his people as a minority group in Nigeria run through his poems. Okara held several important government positions, and these brought him closer to a cross-section of the society. This enabled him to have a greater insight into human nature, which later provided him material for his later poems. His first collection of poems is entitled The Fisherman’s Invocation and his second is entitled Fantasy. There is a subdued tone and rhythm, irony with lyrical grace as well as imagery. These characteristic features are very evident in the poem below.