Sunday, March 25, 2007


At the programme organized by Friends of the Arts, Lagos (FOAL) and CORA for Niyi Osundare, Kunle Ajibade, founding member
of The News Magazine and his wife look on as the discussion takes place. Middle and lower pictures are Professor Osundare and Nefretiti, the African All-female ensemble, celebrating this major milestone in his life.

More Osundare

Professor Niyi Osundare's 60th. Top picture, Crown Trpupe, the dance drama group performs 'abracadabra'. In the centre, Jahman Anikulapo, Chair person of CORA chats with Anthony Ebika, the performance poet from Ibadan. Bottom picture is Mabel Segun, veteran writer and Niyi Osundare.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Osundare @ 60



Niyi Osundare was born in Ikere-Ekiti in 1946 and gained degrees at the University of Ibadan (BA), the University of Leeds (MA) and York University, Canada(Ph.D.). He was head of English at the University ofIbadan, but currently of the University of NewOrleans. A prolific poet, he published Songs of theMarketplace, his first book, in 1983. Some of his other collections include Village Voices (1984), The Eye of the Earth (1986), Moonsongs (1988), Midlife(1993), Waiting Laughters (1990), and Selected Poems(1992). Since 1985 he has published his poems in theNigerian newspapers, starting with the series 'Songs of the Season' in the Nigerian Tribune. He has won prestigious international literary prizes: The Eye of the Earth won a Commonwealth Poetry Prize and Waiting Laughters won the Noma Award. His latest collection is entitled Tender Moments, which represents the first comprehensive collection of Romantic poems by a poet who has been variously critiqued as subtly combative and political.

Niyi Osundare's "State Visit"

THE STATE VISIT- A Review by Wole Oguntokun

The State Visit by Niyi Osundare is a Stage Drama published by Kraft Books Ltd in 2002 but first performed by The Creativity Workshop at the Arts Theatre of the University of Ibadan in 1997. The genre chosen for expression by the writer is a sartorial comedy.

The location is the fictional Yanke, which appears to be a thin veil for Nigeria itself and the antagonists are the ruler of the country simply known as “Head” and his entire cabinet of ministers. The Head and his ministers prepare for a state visit by a ruler of a neighbouring country, Wilama, hence the title of the drama, a visitor known by many names including the “Son of the Leopard, Descendant of the Towering Giraffe, Offshoot of a warrior family…” amongst many others.

Many Nigerian playwrights consider it a point of social responsibility to discuss the issue of the excesses of their military leaders and Professor Osundare is no exception. Wole Soyinka’s King Baabu, this writer's Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka? and Deji Toye’s Botching of a Brute are examples of work done in this regard.

The cabinet of Yanke, an obsequious crew that follows its leader, the Hyena of Yanke to the point of absurdity in his various schemes are given curious characters by the playwright bordering on the farcical. The Minister in charge of Public Morality is female but spends time engaging in touching and being touched in sensitive areas of her body by the Minister of Agriculture, all these taking place during cabinet meetings. It appears the Minister of Agriculture whose ministry is deprived of money designed to keep the masses from starvation is a form of the former Roman Emperor Nero who fiddled as Rome burnt. This minister has no problem with the impending starvation but finds the threat of hunger to the people amusing.

The Minister simply known as “Agric” says: “What future are you talking about?” The future is not the problem now. When it comes, it will take care of itself. Let us eat and be merry today. Why should we bother about tomorrow? You can only grab what you see.”

The Minister of External Affairs is lent more intelligence than the entirety of the cabinet combined, indicating to the reader that sometimes, the dictator-rulers of Africa often add members of the intelligentsia and academia to their ranks, people who should know better but instead become willing aides in the continuous pillaging of the African continent.

The voice of conscience in the cabinet of Yanke’s government is the Minister of finance who makes his opposition known to his fellow cabinet members and the Head of Yanke. He then walks out on the cabinet and is replaced by a more unscrupulous and opportunistic Finance minister. It is unlikely that in reality, any finance minister could state his opposition plainly to a ruler like the Head. Opposition is not accepted lightly by people of this ilk, is regarded as a personal affront and extreme and final steps are taken against thos regarded as disloyal. Sanni Abacha of Nigeria (who appears to be the Head) and Idi Amin Dada of Uganda are examples of the reactions of maniacs in power.

There is an official journalist for the Head and his ministers and the extremes gone to, so as to be perfect in the pictures taken are absurd, ridiculing the entire cabinet. It appears that the main pattern of satirizing the excesses of African and particularly Nigerian leaders is farce. The journalist represents those that fiercely opposed the Head but who were bought over by subtle threats and the largesse given by the government to those it tries to silence. The question to be asked here is, “Does everyone have a prize?”

Even today, in modern day Nigeria, it is obvious that parallels may be drawn between the cabinet of Yanke, deaf to the entreaties and sufferings of its people and the ruling government in Modern day Nigeria peppered with members of the ruling political parties.
The discontented people of Yanke are represented by a selection of beggars, students, workers and a discontented painter who refuses to use his skills for preparing for the visit of the neighbouring ruler. The beggars tell their own stories of how they have been betrayed by the state, left to fend for themselves in extreme deprivation. It is obvious that Yanke is a failed state, lacking all forms of welfare for its people and the similarity to the Nigerian situation is extremely disturbing to this reader.

One of the beggars becomes a alms-receiver as a result of an accident with a piano he was helping to unload. The Piano itself, an instrument of cultural enlightenment meant for his master‘s daughter, falls on him as he helps with the unloading, and causes him the use of his limbs. The master, representing the upper class does not see to his welfare and subsequently he becomes a beggar. The symbolism of the piano as an instrument of subjection and repression is a striking one.

The painter (or creative person) who refuses to work for the Lion of Yanke fearlessly calls the entire cabinet derogatory names to their faces. He refers to them as tyrants and vampires but the Head chooses to remain obtuse, not understanding what is being said. When the cabinet finally realizes the “artistic” insults of the painter, the ensuing rage costs the painter his life.
The State Visit does not take place, at least in the play as the people violently resist the excesses of the Lion of Yanke. The Narrator is left to finish the story in the end, saying that “Yanke will never be the same again” and indeed the songs of opposition are heard continuing despite the deaths of several citizens at the hands of the law enforcement agents of Yanke. The Narrator who set us on the path to an understanding of the play ends the performance and it appears as if the future of Yanke is in the hands of the people and whether they will choose to react or be silent. One wonders if this is a call to revolution by the playwright. For those who might think all revolutions are calls to anarchy, we must remember that we have seen the success of a rose revolution where no shots were fired but where the people took back the reins of government from undeserving leaders.

The writer seems to be comfortable with a didactic approach, one where lessons are taught and learned and indeed the entire play through its Narrator, plot, twists and the development of its characters teaches moral development all the way. The helplessness and frustration of the citizens in the country today are well thought out and a way out is revealed by the playwright. The people must speak up and reclaim what is theirs or die in the throes of tyranny.

Professor Niyi Osundare


A review of Niyi Osundare’s TENDER MOMENTS

by Folu Agoi


There is a popular notion that violent games sometimes exert a positive effect. This is often achieved by means of catharsis, which refers to the process of discharging, and thereby providing relief from, powerful or repressed emotions. The seat of all emotions, especially love, and thoughts is the heart. Love is the basis of all existence. Love rules the world. This seems the basis for the publication of TENDER MOMENTS, a collection of love poems authored by Niyi Osundare, the Ikere-Ikiti- born Professor of English (now at University of New Orleans, USA). The collection, published in 2006 by University Press PLC, Ibadan, reflects a marked departure from the previous collections for which the African leading poet is generally acclaimed as a political poet renowned for his rather combative style. These publications, based mostly on the socio-political circumstances of his beloved country, Nigeria, include: Songs of the Marketplace (1983), Village Voices (1984), The Eye of the Earth [joint winner of the 1986 Commonwealth Prize for Poetry] (1986), Moonsongs (1988), Midlife (1993), Waiting Laughters [winner of the NOMA Award] (1990), and Selected Poems (1992).


As hinted above, the heartland of every worthy, sterling endeavour is passion. Passion is the blood that runs through the veins of the writings that portray Osundare as a literary firebrand, die-hard political poet, and indeed, his latest offering, which is based on the supple subject of love. Though each of his previous publications, especially the award-winning work, The Eye of the Earth, is jazzed up with spicy lines, TENDER MOMENTS, which accentuates the Poet Laureate’s humanity and shows him as a man of intense, fierce passion, is his first exclusive work dedicated to the celebration of love. However, some of the poems betray strong political undertones, e.g.:

So even now that the GeneralDecrees death from the distance

Of rocky castlesNow that legislated Terror reddens the streets

All the powerful lies usurpThe lanes of complacent ears (“You Gave Me Memory”, p.26);……………………………………I wanted so much to comebut there were corpses across the path
The generals, drunk on beer and blood,emptied mortar shells into surging crowds,in desperate awe of a foe called democracy (“Love in a Season of Terror”, p.33);
The 102-page publication, which parades 77 verses, classified under three main headings (In the Mood, Songs of Absence and Metaphor), opens with a poem entitled “In the Mood for Love”. This 12-stanza poem, spiced with the following refrain, effectively sets the stage for the thrilling odyssey of romantic poetry, bearing much evidence of surrealism, which awaits the reader in the collection:

Sun mo bi, Ologuro (Move closer, Sweetheart)I am in the mood for love tonight.

The poem is crafted against the backdrop of the moon, as if stressing some link with Moonsongs, an earlier collection of the nature poet:

The moon is playing hide-and-seekBehind the clouds. A mellow smileLingers on the lips of the sky (p.3).

This poem is followed by “You Are the Reason” and “Love Can”, a 3-part poem introduced by the following paradoxical lines, which seem a precursor of the strong feelings about the character and power of the subject of the volume, love, articulated in the verse with copious employment of oxymoron (bitter sweet, heavy light), and (also in other poems in the collection) antithesis, metaphor, simile, personification, etc.:

Love hurtsLove heals
……………………………Your buttocks like loavesRising in the furnace of the sun. (“You”, p.85)……………………………
Your breasts are two virgin hillsWith their pinnacle of paradise. (“Metaphor”, p.96)
“Tender Tormentress”, p. 23, is another poem in the publication that reflects the use of oxymoron. However, the 3rd stanza of the poem bears what seems an isolated case of typographical error:

in the feathery sockets of of a voice...

Other poems in this section include: “The Evening of Your Smile”, “Forbidden Song”, “Firelove”, “04 04 04” “Special Day”, “Touch Me”, “You Are”, “Not Now, Desdemona”, “Adumaradan” (Yoruba and English versions), “Queen of the Night”, “Divine Command”, “Tender Tormentress”, “Tender Moment”, “Tasks”, “You Gave Me Memory”, “Born in Every Land”, “Breaking Bread”, “Beehive”, “the Fish in Your Eye”, “Phone It in”, “Puzzle”, “Love in a Season of Terror”, “Public Passions”, “Laughter without Forgetting”, “Who’s Afraid of the Mermaid?”, and “The Longest Love Poem in the World”, which contains only one word:


The 2nd segment (Songs of Absence) comprises: “Song of Absence” (1 & 2), “These Many Moons”, “While You Were Away”, “Borrowed Paper”, “Chase”, “Three Sadnesses & an Acre of Laughter”, “Promise”, “Where?”, “Miles and Rice”, “Bulb Eyes”, “Airport”, “Love from the Sky”, “Fly Fast”, “Fly Me”, “I See You”, “Have You Seen Her?”, “Heart’s Eye View”, “Skirt”, “Rain or Shine”, “Dusk”, “Endnote”, “Under Another Sky”, “Tidings/Trade Winds”, “Closer by Far” and “Elephant Across the Path”.

The verses in the 3rd section, captioned Metaphor, are: “Questions for a Poet’s Wife”, “Bless”, “Keep the Window Open”, “Love Grows in Your Garden”, “Apple of my I”, “Mood”, “You Taught Me”, “Liquid Legend”, “Mountains”, “You”, “No-Yes”, “Loreving”, “My Miss Take”, “Do It”, “Grafted”, “Melody”, “Ebony (1)”, “Born Between Two Seas”, “First Love”, “Dogon” and “Metaphor”.


The verses in TENDER MOMENTS are, in the main, lyrical. These poems exhibit the essential ingredients of African poetry, which is largely panegyrical, dramatic, and musical. Most of the poems in the collection, especially “Bless” (p.75) could be sung to the accompaniment of drums, gongs, flutes, horns, sekere (rattle gourd) and other African traditional musical instruments.

Some of the poems feature refrains and songs; e.g. “In the Mood for Love” (3), “Adunmaradan” (pp. 17 & 19), “Elephant Across the Path” (p.68).

Though blank verse is employed in much of the poetic content of the publication, the poet reflects much industry and discipline, especially in the area of versification. The verses in the collection are mostly consciously skilfully patterned; e.g.:

Hold me tightUnfreeze my night
Count my teethWith the tip of your tongue
Deck my neck with a golden wreathKnock me our with your endless song
Climb my mountain and pluck a starLove’s blue sky is never far. (“Do It”, p. 89)

Virtually all the poems in the collection are imagistic. Vivid imagery, mostly drawn from the poet’s home environment, is employed. The dominating images in the publication are those that appeal to the senses of sight, touch and smell.

Wherever you goSomething follows:A pair of happy mountainsDifficult not to seeImpossible not to love. (“Mountains”, p.84)
……………………………….Did you feel a tingle between your legsAs you passed through our haunted spots (“These Many Moons”, p.43)

One unique feature of TENDER MOMENTS is the interpolation of Yoruba expressions in many of the verses that make up the collection. For instance, the opening verse, “In the Mood for Love”, is spiced up with a curious refrain composed of an exciting intermixture of Yoruba and English lines:

Sun mo bi, Ologuro (Move closer, Sweetheart)I am in the mood for love tonight.

The author’s recourse to the rich linguistic repertoire of his homeland is not peculiar to this precursory poem, as could be seen in the following samples:
“Adumaradan”, a poem written in Yoruba, and translated into English (pp. 17 -19);
“Alabaun abandons its tabernacle of tricks” (“You Are the Reason”, p.5);
“A universe of iyan, a fragment of fishSwimming lustily in a sea of sokoyokoto” (“Phone It In”, p.31);
Patonmo (“Endnote”, p.64);
Awero (“Tidings/Trade Winds”, p.66);

Another prominent element in the collection is humour. This is reflected in the content and diction of virtually every poem in the work, especially the poem entitled “Mataphor”, p.98, which is based on El Postino, a love story woven around Pablo Neruda. The poem, which features a colourful cinematic plot, also highlights Osundare’s excellent quality as a fantastic wordsmith:

Meta meta metaphor meta lo fo kii se kan.

This expression is a trans-lingual, Yoruba-English pun: metaphor bears multiple meanings; in Yoruba, meta lo fo means three is what it means.

The language employed in the volume is largely limpid and racy, if not risqué or earthy. This is reflected in virtually all the verses in the collection, replete with concepts and images that would have been adjudged vulgar were it not for the poet’s masterly, creative use of language. Here are a few samples:

Love can swim like a fire-tailed spermthrough the dark caves of desirewhisper wet wonders in the ears of eternal circles. (“Love Can”, p.6) ………………………………
There is a secret flowerbetween your legs behinda thicket of thornsand a thousand touch-me-nots. (“Forbidden Song”, p.10)………………………………I soar lovewardsIn the firmament of your breast. (“Firelove”, p.11)…………………………And so you said:‘Let us go behind the wallsAnd I will show youThe birthmark below my navel’ (“Tender Moment”, p. 24)…………………………….My song will find you in your flair of feathersEven as I touch you in your soft, abiding core. (“Tasks”, p. 25)


The verses in TENDER MOMENTS, the author’s first major publication after he lost his entire library and other valued possessions to Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged his New Orleans (USA) home in 2005, is obviously an authentication of the humanity, and perhaps, the fecundity or virility of the 60 year-old author. The robust, strong, somewhat daring collection, which is an attestation to the affirmation of life, indeed lends credence to the notion of the indestructibility and immortality of the creative spirit.




The Committee For Relevant Art (CORA) is working, in partnership with Bookbuilders Limited in Ibadan, on a workshop for Book Editors. The event will run from April 26 to 28, 2007, at the Goethe Institut in Lagos.
The workshop is the first attempt by CORA to engage in capacity building for the Book industry.
The idea of the workshop is to develop a generation of fully trained book editors who are envisaged to energize the book industry with the editorial skills that are so lacking in current literary and scholarly books.

In hardly any of the few operating publishing houses is there a book editor of redoubtable skill and renown. “Indeed, so negligible is the impact of editors on the few books that are published that nobody makes the ordinary connection between editing and the quality of a published book”, according to the CORA proposal.

Mrs Chris Bankole, the key facilitator, and Mrs Sherifat Oladokun, both of Book Builders Limited, a highly regarded firm of book editors, will give closed-session lectures, seminars, and tutorial-style meetings. Participants will have the opportunity to engage in practical demonstration of how a book is worked on. They will learn about the role of the editor in relation to the publisher, agent, and author, and the differences between a newspaper editor and a book editor. There will be illuminating conversations on a range of topics including Initial assessment of a book, Copy Editing, Substantive editing, Proofreading, Indexing, Cover design, Grammar and useage, cliches, Nigerian malapropisms. It will also look at challenges in editing creative writers; both of children and adult fiction, as well as Scholarly/ tertiary publishing / research vs university, textbooks. Participants, who will pay 10,000 naira for three days (which covers tuition, course materials, tea/snacks, lunch, certificate and group photograph) will be taught Footnote / reference styles, publications of Newsletters / flyers / brochures as well as how to handle tables / diagrams / maps etc.

“The experience is not substitute for a sustained academic program in publishing”, the proposal reads. But we hope that participants will gain a lot from this workshop to develop career interest in book publishing. The organizers look forward to hearing from such large (mostly erstwhile multinational ) publishers such as McMillan, Longmans, Evans, as well as homegrown, midsized companies including Spectrum, Africana, 4th Dimension, Litramed. The workshop will be particularly useful for emerging companies like Farafina, New Gong, Cassava Republic, BookKraft, Kraft Book .

Perhaps the major beneficiary from this sort of learning would be people between ages 22-40, preferably university graduates or those in the final semester of their bachelor programs, with demonstrable interest in reading and writing.

Graduates that can produce their certificates may not necessarily present their transcripts. Staffers of reputable publishing firms should only need to present a letter from their employer authenticating their status. Completed application package will include a letter of application, and a statement of purpose. For those who are not working in a publishing house, there is, required, a letter of recommendation from academic mentors or teachers.

Contacts: CORA Secretariat, Ayo Arigbabu, (, Jumoke Verissimo, ( Juwon Bukola Phillips( and Wale Omotoye (

Thank you so much,
Toyin Akinosho
Secretary General