Obi Nwakanma on Christopher Okigbo
(From his book: Christopher Okigbo, 1930-67: Thirsting for Sunlight,
[p.196] “[...] Kayode Jibowu had said something
to the effect that Okigbo wrote 'mere ditties' and dared call himself
a poet. Okigbo shot back saying. 'Oh. I wish I could write ditties.
They are lovely things to write. But I don't write ditties! Go and ask
Wole, ask J.P., who the poet is in this country... you block head, you
never could write anything!' (81)
also offered Okigbo refuge from the chaos outside. There is a sense
of distinct, personal disturbance fused with magical sensuality always
present in the poems written in Ibadan. This was to become the purpose
of Okigbo's writing: 'to bring out the sense of an inner disturbance,'
(82) as he confessed to the Canadian journalist and writer
Marjory Whitelaw. His growth as a poet was against a background
of political transition and change, exploding with extreme violence in
post-colonial Africa. Silence indeed was necessary in the life and
work of the poet. It was as important to him as tumult, as the sense
of motion. People who knew him often pondered these contradictions
in Okigbo's personality; these silences and withdrawals in which he relapsed
into deep melancholy and during which visitors to Cambridge House
felt its gaunt and awkward stillness.
He tried various forms of escape
in order to write: he would sometimes go to Torch Taire's home
nearby when he could no longer stand the human motion of Cambridge
House. Or, as Taire recalled, when as was sometimes the case, the
Electricity Corporation disconnected the power in Cambridge
House, because Okigbo had not have paid his light bills, being either too
broke or too distracted by other pursuits to do so. Even after Torch Taire
got married to his wife Oluremi, Okigbo would appropriate their house.
At such times, Torch and his wife would be forced to go over to Cambridge
House because they could not sleep with the lights on in their house while
Okigbo worked on his poems all through the night. Taire was close enough
to observe Okigbo's working routine. He recalls that poetry was neither
instant nor easy for Okigbo – 'he worked hard on his poems... he struggled
for words.'(83) Okigbo's poetry was thus, not merely wakened by a flash
of inspiration. […] Okigbo combined craft – something to which he committed
an intense mental energy, perhaps all his humanity – with a careful reaching
for the highest form of music in his poetry.
It was usual to find
Okigbo exhausted early in the morning, after the labour with the muse,
with crumpled balls of paper scattered about his study, the result
of an effort to arrive at some creative satisfaction or clarity. Observing
Okigbo at work was an unforgettable experience for the playwright and poet
Femi Osofisan. He spent a night in Cambridge House with the poet
which proved to be a startling introduction for the young Osofisan
to the ways of the muse at the feet of a master poet. About this time in
1965, Femi Osofisan was only a senior at the Government College, Ibadan.
[…] Osofisan had begun to read Okigbo's poetry at about this time and became
deeply engrossed by it. 'It was so different from everything else I had
resolved to become a writer principally because of Okigbo. He wanted to
discover the process of writing – to learn the poet's craft and routine.
He let Okigbo [p.196] || [p.197] know of his interest. […]
He could stay overnight in Cambridge House and observed him at work.
[…] 'It was instructive. Okigbo would write and tear up his effort. [...]
in the morning, he had only four lines. He showed me the poem and asked
for my comment. I thought it was great. But he was not satisfied
with his work. He tore that up too. [...]'(86) […] He was never totally
satisfied with his craft. […] it […] demonstrates Okigbo's artistic quest,
his reaching for the purity of the poetic line, and for perfection in craft.
He told Robert Serumaga who interviewed him in London in 1965
that he considered poetry 'technical … a form of craftsmanship.'(87)
strict standards on himself as an artist. This reaching for the purity
of art also powerfully demonstrates that aspect of his personality, the
innate, ordered universe, which Chinua Achebe referred to as the
'in-born finesse' (88) with which Christopher Okigbo did things. It also
reflects his artistic honesty and purpose. He was his own greatest and
most demanding critic. […] he knew deeply as a poet, that the muse was
never to be taken for granted. Okigbo also loved to read his poems
aloud to his friends to hear the echo and movement of his poetry, to test
the notes from 'the scansion he carried in his head.(89) 'I
hear sounds as they say a worshipper hears the flutes,'(90) he writes
in the final sequence of his poems, 'Lament of the Silent Sisters'.
Out of this process the poet grew. He was humble with his work in
the way that writers often are not. […] in his striving towards mastery
he shared his deepest poetic experiences with others. He valued
Ben Obumselu […] suggests that this tendency
to be public with his poems may be an indication of his initial uncertainty
about his abilities as a poet. He was tentative because
he did not feel sure about himself as a poet until he arrived
Source: Oni Nwakanma, Christopher Okigbo, 1930-67: Thirsting
for Sunlight. Woodbridge UK : James Currey / Boydell & Brewer Ltd.,