By Anote Ajeluorou
LAST week, scholars, academics and friends gathered at Trenchard Hall of University if Ibadan in the maiden edition of The Niyi Osundare Poetry Festival 2015. Organisers had said Prof. Niyi Osundare is a global literary icon, whose poetry is both topical and polemic and on the side of the suffering masses and visionary as it navigates a refreshing literary course that benefits from in his folk Yoruba tradition.
At the symposium that followed, Diala presented the lead paper titled ‘Topicality and the Visionary Artist: Preliminary Thoughts on Niyi Osundare’s Poetry’, where he analyses the poetry of the Ikere-Ekiti-born scholar. But this was after former Harvard University teacher Prof. Abiola Irele had also commended the scholarship of Osundare, when he said, “We’re here to celebrate one of our topnotch writers, whose poetry is very accessible. We hope this would be continued as well as celebrate other writers. We hope we have something like this annually in all the universities so we can meet more regularly, as a sign that we’re creating, writing”.
“Scholarship on the poetry of Osundare continues to privilege the social and political content of his work, in addition, of course, to his fascinating appropriation of the techniques of indigenous Yoruba poetry,” Diala notes, adding that Osundare’s poetry tackles social and political corruption, bad governance, campaign for ameliorable conditions for ordinary Nigerians and his concern for poetic art. Diala locates Osundare as The People’s Poet, with the kind of poetry that is accessible while retaining poetic qualities and also steeped in Yoruba folk tradition. He further comments, “The poet’s recollections of the manifold oral resources of the Yoruba poetic heritage are passionate, and its impact on his conception of poetry as both people-oriented and performative is decisive”.
Counter-hegemonic discourse, Diala says, is another area where Osundare’s poetry stands out when he said it contests the authority’s version of events, especially in his collection Songs of the Seasons, made up of poems from his newspaper column. In these poems, Osundare confronts the powers-that-be, but he does this with an eye for the timelessness of his poetic art.
Diala also situates Osundare in the realm of the humanistic in which he bestrides the global scale with his poetry where Osundare himself also affirms, “Humanity is one. My travels around the world have shown me we are more united than politicians want us to believe”. Diala submits that although Osundare is concerned about the social and political conditions of his country and deploys his poetry to wrestle the political actors to do the needful, he’s still a ‘poet’, noting, “Osundare is essentially a poet, rather than a political activist or even propagandist, wooing language for memorable and compelling images of transformation. He scours varying realms of experiences in search of antithetical images of birth, rebirth and regeneration, on the one hand, and decay, dissolution and death, on the other. His arena is infinitely larger than the Nigerian politics, even larger than the political”.
A discussant of Diala’s paper, Dr. NIran Malaolu said Osundare is one academic who did not curry for political power through appointments by joining the looters, but who remained committed to using his art for the benefit of the masses in speaking truth to power, a course he said is “dangerous and difficult, but obviously the path of honour”. Another discussant, Adagboyin, a literary stylistician, argued that topicality and polemics in Osundare’s poetry are often hyped more than the enchanting beauty in them. He said, “Topicality does a great disservice to the beauty in Osundare’s poetry. There’s a conscious simulation of the content with the stylistics. Osundare is a stylistician; as a very conscious artist, he needs to pay attention to that aspect of beauty, the unity of the content and the aesthetics. It’s as if the page is the canvas on which Osundare paints his ideas”.
Olorunyomi also stated that Osundare’s use of the oral tradition in his poetry is “not a cheap transfer of the oral to the written, but allowing all senses to feel; it’s hyper-textual. The use of traditional motifs is turned into something extraordinary, the familiar and the distant. In his counter-hegemonic discourse, Osundare is critical and creative at the same time. But is the counter-hegemonic era over? I’m not sure”.
In closing, Osundare read another poem from his City Without People collection in which he paid homage to all those who reached out to him in fellowship and sympathy shortly after the Hurricane Katrina tragedy and sent him relief materials like clothes and cash. He particularly recalled late Chinua Achebe’s memorable words of comfort, “What the storm took away friendship will restore”.
In a sense, The Niyi Osundare International Poetry Festival 2015 is part continuation of that restoration borne of friendship! Already, keynote speaker, Prof. Na’Allah has challenged the organisers to consider his institution, Kwara State University, Malette as host of the festival next year. He said although Ibadan was Osundare’s base, the acclaimed scholar was a citizen of the world and everyone should be allowed to have a share of his scholarship which the festival connoted.
Akeem Lasisi and Edaoto performed to bring the festival to a close.