Invoking the Warrior Spirit: New and Selected Poems.
"THE POEMS ARE arranged in the order of their writing," and the fourteen-page glossary is exhaustive. The first detail makes of Invoking the Warrior Spirit a chronological autobiography -- from student days to the present -- of the evolving interests of Tanure Ojaide Co. 1948 in Nigeria). The second relieves the text proper of a multitude of asterisks and page notes. This is in contrast, however, to the absence of adequate bibliographic information for the eleven verse collections (eight of which have been published) from which these seventy-nine poems have been selected.
The book title, also that of Ojaide's ninth collection, is revelatory. The warrior is the poet himself, protesting, fighting against political malfeasance, and invoking others to fight as well. The particular arena in question, Ojaide's own country of Nigeria, serves as an armature for oppression and corruption everywhere. One definition of neocolonialism is that whereby the sins of the colonizers have been continued by those now in power, although, Achebe-like, Ojaide does not view precolonial Africa as a total Eden.
I'll proceed chronologically myself, except for "Naked Words," which inspires in me a certain uneasiness: "We will not change our songs because of their [non-Africans'] presence/... / We must speak the truth / about ourselves to ourselves." Is Ojaide making a case for his and/or Nigerian English, for his take on esthetics and style? If so, read no further in this review.
My apprehension starts right at the first poem, "Message of Lust": "It knows not ... he feels not. The Pay and Records boys are riding Yamaha." Am I in for a bookful of stilted English and poetastering, or is this just schoolboy Ojaide? Likewise the next, "Children of Iroko": "Hair has grown more grey without / New entrance to the grave-fields./... / Fecundive rites." A new element -- incomprehension -- is added in "For Chris Okigbo," where the eponym "wrote for us daily inking sheets for humanity." Well, Ojaide was twenty-two at the time of writing. Such as the foregoing distracts from content and message, but in the main the first poems inveigh against those above who prey on those below. In "What I Carry Along" we read: "In a war to enrich masters / Recruits die for majors to be promoted."
These elements persevere through the author's thirties and early forties. In "Death of the Warrior" the eponym "was struck in early morning light/... / He did not live to walk with a stick / But covered more than a lifetime's strides," and in "For My Child In Hospital" there's "only those whose waists cropped a homeful / enjoy their final passage." Through all this, though, we learn much of Ojaide's homeland and its legends. "Labyrinths of the Delta," for example, speaks wonderfully of the riverine Water Bride.
One poem after another of Ojaide's is an ars poetica. If he ever submits to the `zines, he'd best consult Poet's Market, since many of the 2,000 of them it lists do not want poems on poems, whose usual tenet is: this is how to write poetry and that's how I write it. In "Beneath the Skin" Ojaide's poetic "gods convene." More blatantly in the next poem, "I Am Going to Be Rich," his poetry will let him "become an instant star." "No Prescription Cures a Country Nobody Loves" is a line repeated in its own poem, not to speak of "has it happened here that the sharer forgot himself / to raise the spirit of the eighty percent lowlies?" In "Songs for Ita" Ojaide speaks of "the brazier / that will not cool down once a-burning." Messages are torpedoed by such language.
There are exceptions. In "Today's Pain" the narrator desires a girl despite her imperfections. In "Consolation" his father, on his deathbed, movingly summons him home. But often mixed with the good is apoetry. In "Future Gods" the deities of past destruction (shades of Achebe) are called on to succor those of the present, but oh, the lack of brevity, and lines like "Let who conjured a stream to flow in his backyard / water our crops in persistent drought / to stave off annihilation."
Halfway between his first and latest poetry, some relief is afforded. "London," for instance, is pure delightful invective against the insensitive ex-colonizers. "I Be Somebody" expresses in lovely pidgin the viewpoint of the man in the street. And although Ojaide can't be restrained from his penchant for writing poems on poems -- "To Aridon" [God of Memory] and on and on -- that vein can produce a qualified winner, such as "The Crow's Gift," where the Crow, after a devastating bushfire, brings a burnt offering to the gods, who return lush greenness to the land: "Aridon, give me the crow's gift; / I need fertile grounds for songs."
The apoetic -- m'as-tu vu! -- vocabulary, some of it apparently coined (cf. fecundive), is present throughout. In "Amulets," for example, we find "I had no enemy in the sundering fracas" and "but I will not snuff candlelight or hurricane lamp / to extend the sovereignty of night." In the book's last poem, "Witness the Five," the plea against corruption is weakened by "but the majority lie crippled by intolerance." In the way that black francophone theater is often more interesting for content than for esthetic worth, Invoking the Warrior Spirit is to be recommended despite itself.
Chris Waters University of Rhode Island
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|Publication:||World Literature Today|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2001|
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