A POET’S PAST MUST ADRESS HIS PRESENT (an essay by Oludipe Oyin Samuel)

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The questions of emotional identity, of pathos and sentiments, of the feeling a poet dispenses—of what is measured ‘vicarious’ in a poem—are naturally conscripted among those rather too-curious or, say, satori-starved scenes of decadent minds, the bulk of far-indolent readers and near-mindless poets. Let me quickly declare my sensitivity for the authority of a writer’s emotions, his personal convictions and susceptibilities.

Even in surrealist spurs, he can only create within the fringes of his mood. Elsewhere, it spans a futile term of images that try to impress than express, a derivative poetry, almost ridiculous. For this reason, the poet’s past must address his present (if I shall teasingly nudge Soyinka on the rib), and address his consciousness toward the manner with which he shall umpire in the sphere of ‘heterogeneous’ readership. And I mean, umpire to recollect reputations.

Even on certain literary Facebook conversations, it is clear that the imminent scene would be an irreverent montage: The Poet at the stake under tags; a passionate post, excitedly emerging, letting the trivial comments reveal the petty regards—that appear either in overblown applauses or querying nosings—of an indelicate audience.

How be it then? How be it that some poets, ‘coming-of-poetry’, shall learn to muster a creative will when they do, or more fairly, are made to banish the authorities of their own originality, in expressions or forms whatsoever. The implication is a poet, who tries, out of the fringes of mood, to please readers and accordingly, forgets the questions of emotional identity; bugles an imitative originality, like the wilting arm of a leper raised to the world to provoke a charitable sentiment.

Sure enough, the poet as a literary artist is in a certain need of rejoinders, a running commentary on what lacks or seeps in his poetry. Where he is not his harshest critic, the readers occupy that terrain. But it should not be the drag-and-dodge captivity to a poet’s will, the ‘you-need-to-sustain-our-sensibilities’ thralldom that often informs the visceral yet innocent softening of a poet’s intensity.

No! Perhaps there are more significant kinds of emotions to sustain; perhaps that of the poet himself, and not forcibly the less-indulged readers’. For there is an inappropriate gruesomeness in the forfeiture of emotional identity, on the artist’s side. I do not speak of or for the eager and childish artist.

I merely demand self-justice to originality, which, most subtly, addresses itself in the totality of the collection of experiences that triggered a poet’s state-of-mind to write. I adore the unique poet, not necessarily the great, because poets have a tendency to be great; but the unique one is deeply rooted in himself, his inner sensibilities than the outers, those varied cadences that sometimes attempt to cudgel the place of a poet’s past in his work.

Tactlessly, this same trend has come to harbor the spheres of the ‘most contemporary’ literati. One may not so simply notice but its outcomes mirror themselves in the emotional gap one often spots in the spirits of a young poet. One finds a poet who sounds less like his environment or the rest of his remaining works. One finds a horde of clannish poets who have resumed trapping their styles in the net of the other. One finds a literary community that has forgotten to produce the spirit-immersed poetry, the kind that broadly establishes the contaminant emotive will; not the kind that breeds a hive of self-importance—tributes and odes to self—that which undermines the vicarious role of pathos.

The ones I refer to are the stanzas that sound like hailing ‘Black-power’ raps. Now, the average poet is no longer betrothed to his inner feelings as to his reader’s, so the oddities creep in.

Whenever I speak of this manner of issues, I like to recall my love for Victorian poets. It is baffling to the rational mind when it hears of something called the ‘literature of sensibility’, the literature that chooses emotion over logic; it is indeed baffling, especially when it now announces as an invention of some eighteenth century.

Yet, mine was not. I resent the insinuations that poetry must forever indulge itself in an indeed strenuously sane occupation of vindicating the world or interpreting puzzles that, from time to time, assail the mind. I think a poem too should be the lenient stuff, the mirror of sentiments that defies every scientific theory. Victorian poets give me this pleasure, in the works of a Lord Tennyson, Oscar Wilde or Robert Browning, a Matthew Arnold or Lewis Carroll. In the past few months, I found two poets whose works have wrung out the same inclination in me.

First, the profuse lyricist, Echezonachukwu Nduka and his emergent “Echoes of Sentiments” collection. His anthology did put the poet’s melancholic mandate to question! But I did enjoy every second of ogling originality, seeing how a poet from these days can still deeply root himself in his spirits.

The second being the Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom from among the vocal WRR community. His poem, “Bent But Not Broken” had won the ‘Share, Be Read’ international poetry competition (Category A). I stumbled upon it somewhere on a UK e-zine, Female First, where it was acceded that same credit.

Somehow, to me, he did concede his own astonishment as to how the supposed ‘merely-emotional’ poem could catch a well-deserved win. But I did grin.I wasn’t too eager to inform him that the same poem matched the essences of another Victorian poet William Henley, in his famous sixteen lines, Invictus. Invictus, the supposed Latin Unconquerable, carries the same strong, resilient weight as Kolade’s Bent But Not Broken (BBNB).

Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole…
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul (Invictus; lines 1, 2…15, 16)

Henley’s underwent the turbulence of glorifications and apprehensions from certain historic events. Just as Nelson Mandela on Robben Island treasured this piece and read it to himself for many nights; the same ‘master of my fate’ enunciations, capable of incentive, escaped the lips of Timothy McVeigh, the chief conspirator-terrorist involved in the Oklahoma City Bombing that claimed 168 lives, on the verge of demise.

However, Invictus is poignant and like BBNB, stirs up the will of its reader to rise above the ‘night’ of life. One only gets to capture such inclinations ever briefly in such sparsely-evolving lines as that of Elesin in Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman

My rein is loosened
I am the master of my fate
When the hour comes
Watch me dance along the narrowing path
Glazed by the soles of my great precursors.
My sole is eager. I shall not turn aside

In that play, Elesin proclaims that he shall not falter on his night of passage into the land of the dead, just as Kolade declares in his first stanza a resolution, forming from a stark anonymous past

Deep within me
I thirst for comfort
But I shall not compromise
Justice for its existence;
Wounded I truly was
But I shall not substitute
My integrity for recovery

Something is clear in the poet’s foremost lines: the speaker, whoever he is, is enduring his season of agony, and it is not subtly portrayed the factor to it. Not compromising justice for comfort or integrity for recovery tunes the motive of Henley from morale against tuberculosis arthritis to one against undeserved social or political detention. The speaker might have recited this from behind bars. And he goes on to mention the frail conditions of his consciousness, vigorously latching paradoxical denotations as “My hand aches but is folded up/ In preparation for a fight”, “My eyes are dim/ But opened to my aim”, “Legs wobbling in rigidity”, and a “Heart beating the drum/ Of fairness and equality”. So, beyond sentiments, the poet is not making any effort to veil the purposes of the supposed speaker. He is most likely to be an activist, and he, in his drollest metaphorical notion, condemns the vile brutes. According to him, his heart is beating a drum of fairness and they are:

“Persecutors dancing to the rhythm
But mocking the tune”

Besides, somewhere in the fourth stave, there was this aspect which struck me most vicariously in the attempt to recreate the stoicism of Henley. It features not as the barbaric recession arising from a barbaric affront; neither is it assurance for ‘the thirst for comfort’. The bold closing comes, the most impudent. It refuses to console the speaker as the Victorian poet did himself. In its place, it’s a surge of irked words:

If it will take all my bones
To be utterly broken
Before I can obliterate
The evil which mocks my glee, honour and strength
I wouldn’t give a damn!

So much verve, it adopted the most informal language and of the quadruple verses, was the shortest. After reading, I confessed my worries. I thought the poem was some resonance of a non-fiction. If Kolade had written such atypical work, I had wanted to wonder: when did fictionalizing become presumptuous? He replied and explained that he had dedicated it to his brother, a student-activist who was detained sometime in the past.

©Oludipe Oyin Samuel, poet and critic (first published August 3 2013).

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I am a member of the WRR editorial team.

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I am a member of the WRR editorial team.


  1. Now you analsed a good poem whose language is clear and direct, its message not buried in ‘hard’ words and its lines not cheapened with ryhmes unnecessary.

    And to be a good critic, is to know a poem well, compare and contrast it. It is not to chorus ‘I love it’, and that ends it.

    Good analysis, I must say. Kudos!!!

    1. Kukogho Iruesiri Samson – Abuja, Nigeria – I am a media professional with experience in multimedia journalism, book publishing, content creation, web management, public relations, media relations, social media management, and client relationship management. My interests include multi-platform content creation and management, media relations, digital and print publishing, and youth-oriented social services. I am open to middle-level positions in organizations that encourage innovation.
      Kukogho Iruesiri Samson says:

      Yes indeed. Poetry is also about the dissection, not just the writing of it.

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