The Literary Corner: Introduction to African English Drama with Brooks Robinson (side b)


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Brooks B. Robinson: The literary Literary Corner Black Writers of the World; a series of analysis and interpretations of Black World Literature.

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Today an introduction to African poetry. I'm Brooks Robinson and we'll explore the various phases in the development of African poetry, attempting to touch as much of the vast continent as we possibly can as we go along.

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As in all other genres in African-English literature and I'm going to stress the African-English part of it. A substantial body of accomplished African-English poetry did not appear until the 1950s.

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This is not to say that African poetry did not exist until this time. Quite the contrary is actually the case.

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African poetry before the 1950s existed, however, but only in oral forms. And after the 1800s or 19th centaury African poetry existed in languages besides English.

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Now African oral poetry is as old as African civilizations and cultures themselves.

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And certainly one cannot consider African-English, African-French, or any other form of African poetry without considering the African oral poetry.

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Now, as far as African poetry in it's oral forms is concerned; one sees basically three major themes.

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First, you have the themes of Africans and their guides: Ogun, Orisala, Orunmila, Ala, all of the chís and how man was related to the gods, a source of life.

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This was, and it still is to a very great extent a real concern

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Secondly, one can see in African oral poetry explanations on the roles that individuals should play in the very tightly knit African communal or tribal society.

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Poems on the chief, the chief's role, the warriors role, the fathers role or the head of the clan and even the roles of women and of children.

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And thirdly, we see the theme of the beautiful and sometimes the not so beautiful aspects of African culture.

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The customs, the elaborate weddings, funeral rites and so on. All of this in African oral poetry.

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Clearly the simplicity and clarity of African oral poetry accomplished what it was intended to accomplished. And many critics feel the same about it.

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In that, as you have seen, oral poetry acts as an explainer or as a definer and as kind of record keeper. Now this you will find true about most of oral literature in general.

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Now when Africans finally started writing, uh in the 19th century, it was primarily in non-English languages.

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However, the poetry that was written was primarily in European languages i.e. French and Dutch and German.

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And outside of the- of this realm you have some poetry written in Arabic as well.

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Now, the most significant poetry of the non-English African poetry came out of the 1930s and 40s during what has since been called the Negritude movement.

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The major Negritude poets of that period were personalities like Aimé Césaire, Léon Damas, Léopold Senghor, David and Birago Diop.

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The emphasis of the Negritude poets and the basis for that title as well was blackness.

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Um, the Negritude poets rejected in every way European cultures and customs, just all aspects of life brought to Africa by the Europeans.

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The Negritude poets Africans major aim was to get Africans to turn away from and reject European cultural education on an even economic domination and revendicate African self esteem.

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the Negritude poets wrote about public kind of concerns. Europeans, their politics, the European culture, the European customs and all of this that the Negritude wanted the Africans to get away from.

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Now, the reason I made that point was because it's one of the major factors that separate the Negritude poets of the 30s and 40s from the African-English poets that began to write in the 1950s.

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And the African-English poets you'll see moved away, not totally from emphasizing the importance of blackness but they moved away from the public kinds of concerns

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and they dwelt more heavily on the individual, a kind of personal-ness about the poetry that the African-English poets wrote.

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When one looks at African-English poets specifically, one automatically looks into Western African because simply the most significant African-English poetry came out of western Africa.

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From Nigeria, West Africa as some of the major West African poets you had Wole Soyinka, who's more famously or more popularly known as a dramatist, but he's a very fine poet as well.

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You had John Pepper Clark, Gabriel Okara and so on. But probably the most important west African poet and by most critics estimates he is, it's Cristopher Okigbo.

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As a prime example of African-English poets dealing with the individuals concerns as opposed to the public concerns projected by the Negritude writers Okigbo stands out dramatically.

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Okigbo is just very personal in his poetry, almost religiously so.

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And Okigbo is known for his concern with the spirituality of man. Man's soul, his souls development, his development and growth and so on.

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So from a prelude to the limits we'll allow you to hear

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and understand what I'm saying about Okigbo personalness and-and spirituality in his poetry as you'll hear prelude to the Limit.

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Kuojo Yelekepala: An image insists from the flag pole of my heart, The image distracts with the cruelty of the rose …

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My lioness Wound me with your sea-weed face, blinded like a strong-room.

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Distances of your armpit-fragrance Turn chloroform, enough for my patience –

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When you have finished, and done up my stitches, Wake me near the altar, & this poem will be finished.

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Brooks B. Robinson: Note the closeness of Okigbo's poetry, how he begins with the word image.

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See the image closely as he says it 'the image insists from the flagpole of my heart' very close, very personal poetry.

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And notice the reference to the alter, he says 'wake me near the alter'. The preoccupation almost with religion. Wake me at the alter after the struggle to get there after you have 'done up my stiches' he says and the 'poem will be finished'.

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Okigbo very, very personal and outstanding example of the personalness, the-the process of dealing with the individual with African-English poet a primary example Christopher Okigbo, one of West Africa's major poets.

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East Africa, the home some scientists say of civilization itself, is noted for it's oral poetry, but among African-English poets it ranks fairly high as well.

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Persons like John Mbiti, Shaaban Robert, and [[Shelley Kibana?]]. These are very important East African or Eastern African poets.

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Because East African English poets were developing in the midst of change, the move out of the colonialist, getting rid of them as they began to write, because of this

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this whole period, you find the Eastern African poets stressing this whole change in their, in their poetry.

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The, their concern with struggle is very apparent, even insecurity, even though they had moved the colonialist out they're still insecure about their culture, their society. And it's reflected in their work.

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As an example, here's a poem by the East African English poet Shaaban Robert, entitled 'Our Frame'

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Kuojo Yelekepala: Our frame is poor. Even when we are in security of our insistence of the Worlds Grace, and Majesty, and Vanity.

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In this age of ours, So full of delusiveness, And pomp, and sacrifice.

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And at the time of death, When life fails, A grave keeps us, To cover rottenness, Our bad smell.

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It is not man's habit to abide impurity, Whatever his state may be.

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Brooks B. Robinson: In addition to the comments made before Shaaban Roberts 'Our Frame' was read, I think I should note here, again, the individualness of the poem;

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Robert speaks directly to the individual. It's consistent with much of African English Poets.

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You find Shaaban talking about 'Our Frame' as a pluralistic, kind of having a pluralistic connotation, yet he's really being very personal.

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He's talking to individuals. He's telling the individual, you know, 'Our World', 'the worlds Grace, and Majesty, and Vanity', 'in this age of ours'. Here again, pluralistic, but he's talking to the individual.

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'So full of delusiveness, and pomp, and sacrifice', and he seems to be trying to say, to the reader that we should evaluate life individually. Even though we're here together collectively, let's evaluate life individually, and see that we're not at all-

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no matter state what we may be. Finally a look into Southern African English poetry.

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As a result of the South African struggle over the past ten to fifteen years, you have this kind of great awakening. This mass of African, southern African writers, writing in a protest kind of form.

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Because of that struggle there, poets writing in this vein, personals like L.D. Raditladi of Botswana, B.W. Vilakazi of South Africa, Vernon February of South Africa, Daniel Kunene of South Africa.

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But the most respected South or Southern African poet is probably Dennis Brutus. Brutus's poetry reflects the-the epitome of the protest found in other Southern African poetry writers.

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An example, here's a poem from Brutus's work, one of his many volumes, we take this one from the volume called Poem.

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In this particular poem Brutus talks about the suffering that the Southern African has to endure, but he adds the fact that among the native Southern Africans the tenderness still survives.

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Kuojo Yelekepala: Somehow we survive and tenderness, frustrated, does not wither investigating searchlights rake our naked unprotected contours;

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boots club the peeling door. But somehow we survive severance, deprivation, loss.

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Patrols uncoil along the asphalt dark hissing their menace to our lives, most cruel, all our land is scarred with terror, rendered unlovely and unlovable;

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sundered are we and all our passionate surrender but somehow tenderness survives.

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Brooks B. Robinson: And again in the Southern African English poetry the element of the individual

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personalness of the poetry. Even though we're experiencing all of these problems in our lives, We, yes, on a pluralistic level, We still have this tenderness.

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But still, individually, between us, I and You, We, still allow tenderness to survive.

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And this personalness, this concern with the individual, seems to be the outstanding continuity factor, in all of African English Poetry.

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This has been the Literary Corner of Black Writers of the World. A series of analyses and interpretations of Black World Literature.

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Today you've listened to an introduction to African English Poetry.

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Technical assistance provided by Bob Chan. I'm Brooks Robinson. Readings done by [[Kuojo Yelekepala?]]

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The Literary Corner was been made possible by funds from WHA Radio Madison, Wisconsin, a service of the University of Wisconsin Extension.

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