“Our Country is not Doomed” – Professor Niyi Osundare

Guest Post – by Femi Morgan

ARTMOSPHERE, a leading monthly platform for the revival of a vibrant reading culture and the promotion of creative expressions in literature and the arts hosted world renowned poet, scholar and social critic, Professor Niyi Osundare on Saturday June 20, 2015 at NuStreams Conference Centre, Ibadan.

The evening commenced at 3pm with readings from Professor Niyi Osundare’s numerous poetry collections. This was followed by an interactive session centred on the backstories behind his works, the creative process, literature and political as well as social issues confronting our nation and people today. Tade Ipadeola, author of the award winning poetry collection, The Sahara Testaments moderated the session. There was also music performances by D’Jazz Band as well as a book signing session.

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L-R: Femi Morgan, Professor Niyi Osundare and Tade Ipadeola

Poet, dramatist, critic, essayist, and media columnist, Niyi Osundare is a Professor of English at the University of New Orleans, USA. He has authored over ten volumes of poetry, two books of selected poems, four plays, a book of essays, and numerous articles on literature, language, culture, and society. His works of published poetry include Songs of the Marketplace (1983), Village Voices (1984), A Nib in the Pond (1986), The Eye of the Earth (1986), which won both the Association of Nigerian Authors Poetry Prize and The Commonwealth Poetry Prize in its year of publication. He was also a recipient of the prestigious Folon/Nichols Award for ‘excellence in literary creativity combined with significant contributions to Human Rights in Africa’. Other published volumes of poetry include Songs of the Season (1987), Moonsongs (1988) and Waiting Laughters which won the 1989 ANA/Cadbury Prize for Poetry. He is a literary figure per excellence and the sole recipient of the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) award in 2014.

Tade Ipadeola, award winning author of Sahara Testament, introduced Prof. Osundare describing him as a man of wisdom whose grey hair has been earned in every way. He also commends Osundare’s simplicity as well as his musical depth in conveying ideas in his poems. ‘Osundare’s poem has a concentrated musicality that I have not encountered elsewhere. His is the height of sophistication even in the height of simplicity’.

Femi Morgan, curator of Artmosphere said that WriteHouse Collective, the parent body of Artmosphere is involved in publishing, content management and arts events in the country. He noted that WriteHouse is interested in ‘pushing the boundaries of literature and arts in Nigeria beyond its present limitations’. He also acknowledged the presence of Servio Gbadamosi, co-managing of WriteHouse Collective and the team. Others who were the event were Prof. Hyginus Ekwauzi, Dr Yomi Ogunsanya, Peter Akinlabi, Temitayo Olofinlua, Nwachukwu Egbunike and others.

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In Prof Osundare’s Opening remarks, he thanks Pastor Francis Madojemu, CEO of the Nustreams Culture and Civic Centre, for making ‘this kind of garden of poetry and philosophy’ available for artistic and creative expressions in Ibadan. He described the work done by WriteHouse Collective as a renaissance of the Mbari spirit. ‘Ibadan has always been the capital of Nigeria’s literature, it is the city of Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, JP Clark, Isidore Okpeho and Tade Ipadeola and with what I am witnessing today, the Mbari spirit is here’.

He admonished the audience that they should strive towards ideas and not financial gain. Here he described Nustreams Culture Centre as a place of ideas and in collaboration Artmophere he remarked that ‘what is happening here is a silent war against ignorance’.

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‘When I see Femi Morgan and the rest of the Artmosphere team making use of Nustreams I have an answer for many of my Nigerian students who come to me and say that Nigeria is a hopeless country. You said this country is doomed, yet you are trying to becoming a graduate in a field of study, you will get married and give birth to children. I believe somewhere along the line these children should take you to court for bringing them to a world that you knew was doomed ab initio. Our country is not doomed. We have all it takes to change this country, we have all it takes to resolve the terrible challenge between the vast millennial estuary, the resources and the human resources of the country. Everything we need is in this country. The Canadians built there country, the Americans built theirs, what are we doing to our country?

Osundare also said ‘It is good to write good poetry, short stories, speeches but it is important that we are conscious of our society. We must hold those who rule us to account-for you to write the best poem, if you are hungry you’re not likely to write the best poem, essays or creative writing piece.

‘I was talking to the publisher of  Sahara Reporters and I had to gush. It is important to gush. Critics should criticize when they see things going bad but to see things going the way it ought and not say anything is to relapse into a state of cynicism. What the Artmosphere team and Nustreams Centre is doing is laudable and we must encourage them to do more.’ He admonished that artmosphere and Nustreams involve secondary school students in their arts and culture projects.

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Servio Gbadamosi

Form
‘Form is extremely important to art else art disintegrates. Form is there, it should be there-We go back to rediscover it.  This is what Sahara Testament did so expertly. Free verse was championed by Walt Whitman who helped liberalize and democratize poetry, without deviating from the currency of poetry. This is similar to what the Beatles did in popular music-all these things are linked to America’s democratic experience.

Nevertheless, Osundare noted that a poem should find a balance between form and content. ‘ when form cheats content, it becomes a problem. It makes a poem simply formalistic and well put together-a pretty poem’. He noted that for a poem to be beautiful it must be a symbiotic relationship. Using the Yoruba indigenous motif, it has to be beautiful and useful. It is the two that makes the work of art thick.

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City Without People and The Katrina Experience
Femi Morgan asked on the occurrence of natural disasters linking it to the lack of capacity of governments to attend effectively to disasters.

Osundare noted ‘The first email sent to me after Katrina was from Wole Soyinka,where he called me ‘the-man-from-the-back-of-the-beyond’ . He had tried everything possible to make sure I was rehabilitated in another university, but because I was somebody without an address for about a week, I didn’t see it’.

“In that mail he said ‘I have just driven along Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos and I’m wondering when the Nigerian Katrina is going to happen’. The slightest shower, the lagoon rises and it is making for the land.” Some of the cities in Holland also have to grapple with this picture.  ‘Water is a friendly element but water has anger, it has memory-those parts of Lagos that were claimed from the sea, it would keep quiet but in its own time and tide it takes what was originally stolen from the sea’. New Orleans was stolen from the sea and the sea came came back to take its property’.

Chukwuka Okonkwo with Prof Osundare

Chukwuka Okonkwo with Prof Osundare

According to Osundare, the Hurricane Katrina is 10 years and two months short of the day it happened. He said that the effects of the Katrina experience lingers on ‘You grab the pen and you sit, ready to pen your inspiration down and then it evaporates’. It also prevents you from writing new ones. Osundare said he had turned down the idea of hypnosis to regain the memory of his lost manuscripts. Yet he notes that there are gains ‘ everything we posses, possess us. My father used to say ‘ People who don’t have money have problems but it those who have money’ have to grapple with the challenges of ownership because they subconsciously link their personality to their wealth.  For Osundare it dawned on him when he found himself and his wife in the ‘elemental stage’ after Katrina. He also said he was grateful for the assistance he received from friends, family and other people from all over the world.

Pastor Francis, CEO of Nustream Culture Centre thanked Prof Niyi Osundare and praised WriteHouse Collective for their tenacity in organizing the event for five years.

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