By Chinwengozi Opara
JELOSIMI Art Centre in downtown Oshodi, Lagos, came alive recently when Samuel Osaze read from his latest collection of poetry, The Strange Moon of Yenagoa. This was a few weeks after he launched it in highbrow Victoria Island at Goethe-Institut Nigeria. The beautiful paintings adorning the brilliant walls of the art centre provided a charming ambience for the audience who had come to listen to poetry and a lively conversation. It was a beautiful evening that had lovers of literature, which included some school children, who had come to read and share in the enlightening inspiration that birthed Osaze’s The Strange Moon of Yenagoa. Moderating the reading event was the artist and founder of Jelosimi Art Centre, Mr. Abolore Sobayo who introduced the poet, Mr. Osaze, as writer, culture programmer and rights activist.
Sobayo commended Osaze for the beautiful poetry collection that has German translation side-by-side its original English text in one book. The poet began the reading event on a nostalgic note when he shared the inspiration behind the eponymous title poem The Strange Moon of Yenagoa.
The poet recounted his journey as an Esan boy growing up in Ohordua, the sheer joy of seeing the moon illuminating the night sky, saying, “The appearance of the moon signified blessings, prosperity and was generally a good thing. People offered prayers and supplication when they sighted the moon. Children played joyfully under the moon’s calm and bright gaze.”
The poet said he had also spent 10 years in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, adding that Yenagoa shared similar attributes with his native Esan and had the same fascination with the moon.
However, when the poet recently visited Yenagoa, he observed a halo of a moon-like ambience that cast a yellowish light all around, and out of curiosity, he followed its direction and upon getting to his destination, realized with disappointment that it was the flames from a gas flare pipe as is commonly found in most oil-producing communities of the Niger Delta that gave off that unusual, moon-like light late that night.
Osaze’s poem ironically compares the ‘strange moon’ he saw at 9pm on arriving Yenagoa to the moon itself and the marked difference between the two. While the natural moon has no adverse effect on man and the environment, he said, the strange moon he saw that night is hazardous to both man and nature. Osaze’s reading was such a powerful rendition that had everyone at the gallery of Jelosimi Art Centre applauding the poet for the piece.
Then followed probing questions from the moderator, who wanted to know why Osaze’s collection was not written in the poet’s mother tongue, Esan language, but in two foreign languages – English with a German translation instead.
The poet explained that the Esan people were yet to resolve which dialect among them should be the official orthography even if all the dialects are mutually intelligible. He said the task was for Esan linguistic scholars to fashion out an orthography that is acceptable to everyone. Audience members equally lent their voices to the language issue from their own linguistic perspective. One remarkable contribution was on the beauty of collaboration in literature, which stressed that it is not necessarily the author’s responsibility to write in Esan but that other scholars who find the collection fascinating could pick interest and render it in Esan. Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece Things Fall Apart was cited as an example of a book that has endeared translations from the world over since it has been translated into over 50 non-Nigerian and non-English languages.
It was further argued that irrespective of the language a book is written in, it could carry unmistakable undertones of another culture and heritage, as can be seen in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which though written in clever English, essentially mines the rich cultural heritage of the Igbo people in what late literary critic, Prof. Donatus Nwoga succinctly described in his article, as ‘The Domestication of a Tradition.’
The moderator, Sobayo, however, maintained that it was better to have a book written in one’s language even if that makes it accessible to only a few people than having nothing at all.
The second poem the poet read was about how humans debase nature with their activities. Osaze said that in spite of man endlessly abusing it, nature still outlives man with all its beauty and grandeur intact. The piece is not centred only on the oil spillage in the Niger Delta, but nature generally, even in none oil-producing environments, how trees, though being fell for several of man’s economic activities, keep sprouting and thriving and then go on to outlive man generation after generation.
Three schoolchildren from the neighbourhood each read selected poems, after which the audience voted for the best reader. The author, Mr. Anote Ajeluorou, who was a special guest, later handed a copy of his children’s book, Igho Goes to Farm, to the winning schoolgirl.
Thereafter Osaze read the last poem for the evening titled ‘We bear the scars of their truth’ about #EndSARS protest. He explained that the poem is a tribute to the slain heroes of the now infamous Lekki Massacre of October 20, 2020. The poem has the ‘Aluta continua’ aura with its fiery battle-cry tone.
The #EndSARS poem brought back painful memories of that tragic episode when unarmed Nigerian youths carrying out a peaceful protest against police brutality, bad governance and failed systems were violently attacked by the military which shot live ammunition at them. Osaze‘s poem evoked the haunting memories of the exploitation of the masses. Yet Nigerians continue to thrive, displaying uncommon resilience and tenacity that seem genetically embedded in their DNA. However, in a position not unlike that of Nigerian government’s denial of that sordid episode, the Jelosimi Art Centre boss Sobayo disagreed sharply with the poet by contesting the bloody ending claim to the #EndSARS saga at Lekki Tollgate, saying although shots were fired, no lives were lost as claimed by various accounts.
The #EndSARS poem wrapped up an evening of stimulating reading and conversation. Group photographs were taken with everyone clutching a copy of The Strange Moon of Yenagoa.