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Nigeria. Ezenwa-Ohaeto. Contemporary Nigerian Poetry and the Poetics of Orality.

Ezenwa-Ohaeto. Contemporary Nigerian Poetry and the Poetics of Orality. Bayreuth, Ger. Bayreuth University. 1998. 182 pages. $54.95 ($29.90 paper). ISBN 3-927510-58-0 (46-7 paper).

Following the publication by James Currey Ltd of a very commendable biography of Chinua Achebe (1997; see WLT 72:3, p. 671), Ezenwa-Ohaeto has now shown his versatility by producing a three-part study of "the body of poetry works produced in Nigeria in the eighties," in which he concentrates on "the manifestation of the poetics of orality." After providing an introduction titled "Towards a Poetics of Orality," the author offers the reader a "Survey of Orality" and then, in two sections, a gallop through some of the authors who were published during the eighties. The volume is, however, a disappointment.

Ezenwa-Ohaeto justifies his concentration on a particular decade by writing, "It must be noted that the period of the eighties was a period of great intellectual ferment," and by asserting, unconvincingly, that "the feeling in the air was akin to the feeling in the sixties, shortly before and after independence." Despite his claims for the qualities of the decade, the critic does not limit himself to the eighties. He contrives to accommodate some, such as Tanure Ojaide, who published extensively during the seventies (Children of the Iroko appeared in 1973), and others, such as Molara Ogundipe-Leslie, who had begun to make a mark in the sixties but who, for one reason or another, did not assemble a volume of her work at that time.

The bibliography lists few anthologies, generally disregards poems in literary journals, and has no references to work that appeared in the daily press. Even more damagingly, it omits gramophone records, tapes, CDs-a great pity since those poets who were the keenest to communicate orally booked into studios and negotiated contracts with recording companies. One wonders why the work of Anikulapo Kuti was not considered, and surmises that it might have been-if only it had appeared in an elegantly printed volume.

The scope of the volume, the quality of the writing, and the construction of the argument are deficient. The quotations from the first page of the book that I incorporated into my opening paragraph are symptomatic of the stylistic clumsiness which marks much that follows. Do we really need "poetry works" and the repetition of "period" and "the feeling?" A critical analysis that moves, as Ezenwa- Ohaeto's quickly does, into the troubled area of style must be presented in opaque prose that does not draw attention to itself-and this cannot be said for the manner in which Contemporary Nigerian Poetry is written. Many will note with concern the substitution of "would" for "will" in numerous constructions. The habit seems to have become part of Nigerian English, even of the English in which literary critics express themselves. The late, lamented Ken Saro-Wiwa-whose poetry, incidentally, rates only just over a page in Ezenwa-Ohaeto's study-waged a war against the local usage. In his absence, who will take up the challenge?

By the time I had read and reread the Bayreuth text, pages were coming away from the spine. Not for the first time in my experience of the African Studies Series, the finish proved inadequate, and, sad to say, the book is not robust enough to be recommended for library purchase. In this case, the physical shortcomings complement the imperfect scholarship: the book does not approach the quality of the same author's book on Achebe, perhaps because of a lighter editorial touch.

James Gibbs

University of the West of England, Bristol
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Gibbs, James
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:6NIGR
Date:Mar 22, 1999
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