calls it, that the avant-garde seeks to propose is therefore fake to the extent that it does not “borrow enough as prop before discarding the scaffoldings of tradition.” He highlights Olu Oguibe’s poem I Am Bound To This Land By Blood as a successful example of such a fusion. It is hard to quibble with Ede’s analysis of Oguibe’s poem; however one could make a compelling argument that the very techniques that Oguibe employs in his poem are as rooted in the poetry of our forefathers as Eliot is white. There may be similarities of techniques in both cultures but most of the credit ought not to go to the English.
Conversely, Ede dismisses Amiri Baraka’s poem Someone Blew Up America as a bad poem. He does not explain why; he is that disgusted by the mediocrity of the poem. But is it? But listen to this stanza in the poem:
Who live on Wall Street
The first plantation
Who cut your nuts off
Who rape your ma
Who lynched your pa
The poem fairly throbs with the aching urgency of a message that needs to be delivered. And it grabs you with enough violence to get your attention. What is bad about that? What is bad poetry? Like beauty, should it not be in the eyes of the beholder? In the absence of clearly defined, easily measured standards, why should we care what bad poetry is? It is unwise for anyone to suggest that poetry has no purpose and that it is irrelevant to whatever it is that we do here on earth. However, for poetry to have meaning, it must communicate relevance and purpose in its message. Baraka’s poem may fall flat on technical grounds but it effectively delivers a forceful message to the intended audience. So, why is it a bad poem? In other words, Ede is right; you are not a poet simply because you can string cute little sentences together. However, you could also be a poet despite an aversion to stringing together cute little sentences.
At one end of the spectrum, you have the purists who would dismiss any piece that does not meet established standards of literary expression, and then at the other end, you have those who say, to hell with rules, I am simply going to express myself! There ought to be a happy medium, one that does not sacrifice excellence in the craft on the alter of crass commercialism. It seems to me that there are some poets like Ede who adhere to a purist’s approach to the craft. This is problematic to me on a number of levels. The poets of old, the language of the poets of old, indeed the structure of the poetry of old may look quaint, if not antiquated today, but it is easy to discern that it was not always so. The poets spoke in a language using a cadence that was aligned with that of the audience that they were speaking to at that time. In doing so, the poets mounted an earned pantheon, based on the substance of their thought rather than what we see today as contrived, wholly unnecessary obscurity of words and in some amusing cases innocence of ideas. In those days, as Ede points out in his essays, it was an honor to be a poet akin to being a high priest. Because the poet spoke to the soul of the community.
I do believe that it is still an honor to be a poet. But who is a poet in today’s world? I propose that the poets that live on in our hearts and minds are those who have, using the tricks of the ancients, adapted their medium to effectively communicate the word. This last point is extremely important. Poets are indeed priests as Ede loves to point out. As buglers of joy and of doom, they have to fashion out crisp messages to the people in the language that the people understand. In Africa, today’s poets stand the risk of closing the barn door after the flight of doom, because they are too busy waxing their messages into the rigor mortis of what Chinweizu would call obscurantism. My point is that more than ever, Nigeria, indeed Africa cannot afford the luxury of having its best minds prattle on about the sheen of polished words. An inferno rages and we have the words to douse the inferno? Why dawdle?
If I were to be a poet, the questions for me would be the following: Why do I wish to express myself? Who is my intended audience? How do I connect with my intended audience? Have I been successful at connecting with my audience? It seems to me that forms, structures, and rules are useful only to the extent that they help the poet to effectively deliver a message. The poet feels a certain way and writes down these feelings using a certain vehicle. The good