African Writers Symposium Review: Niyi Osundare

             Niyi Osundare’s reading and discussion at Tulane’s African Writers Symposium dealt wit the genre of poetry as an interactive experience highlighting the synthesis of beauty and utility, and in its form, acting as a microcosm for Osundare’s philosophies of art and life; both art and life achieve their highest meanings when they become shared experiences.

            Peter Cooley’s introduction praised the utility of Osundare’s lyric. Cooley remarked that the true teaching of Osundare’s poetry emphasizes the lesson that, “The personal is always political, and the political is always personal.”

            Osundare began his reading with an interactive song in which he asked the audience to participate in repeating the refrain. In both his native language and in English, Osundare read with an engaging energy and an interesting and impressive tonal fluctuation. His second poem, “People are my Clothes” gained special significance for the poet following Hurricane Katrina. “People are my Clothes” demonstrated the performance aspects of a poetry reading, as Osundare literally acted out his lyric. In “Letter from an Editor” Osundare told the story of an African writer whose manuscript was “damned with faint praise” by a British publishing company, and addressed the unique challenges African writers face when trying to appeal to wide audiences.

            Osundare then read a few poems from his new book Days, an ode to the days of the week. In “Food Day” he praised the culinary senses of the world, and in “The Things that Days Do”, Osundare remarked on the wisdom, pride, and at times, suffering of the days of the week. In “I Envy the Days” Osundare took an interesting look at the civility of order of the days of the week, personifying each day with a projection of trite human emotions such as jealousy or competitiveness.

            Peter Cooley’s interview centered on the oral traditions of poetry and song, and the subsequent relationship between song and social purpose. Osundare attributes both the oral and aural aspects of his poetry and writing process to the tradition of African poetics and how poems are written to be performed in song or chant. Osundare remarked, “It is the hand that writes and the heart that thinks.” When asked about dealing with his poetry in multiple languages, Osundare said, “The creation of poetry is a translation in and of itself from the ‘inner language of the in-between.” 

 

Alexander C. Lipoff

 

 

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