In the very first poem in the collection, The Fate of Vultures and Other Poems (Malthouse, 1990), which emerges as a programmatic declaration of sorts of his essence as a voice of vision for his society,Ojaide affirms:
“I do not cry in vain” (2). Eight lines later, he asserts: “I dressed my words with steel shafts/for a long hunting season.” (2). These words, to a large extent, validate Ojaide’s awareness that there is indeed battle, and that this battle will be long. They also confirm his acceptance that for this battle to be won, and early too, one should be well armed. For the poet whose major arsenal is words, he must deploy words with ‘steel shafts’ which must be capable of piercing the consciousness of the overlords and the ‘vultures’ who wield political power. This declaration thus implants the kinetic energy and combative impulses that inform Ojaide’s poetic creation.This paper attempts a close study of the linguistic decimals which form the architectonics of resistance in representative texts in The Fate of Vultures. Of particular interest here are the lexico – semantic features deployed by Ojaide, among a range of linguistic options, to hammer at the opposition, denounce their strategies of misrule and establish solidarity with the masses.
In offering these linguistic insights, we are, as is the nature of stylistic analysis, “concerned with relating linguistic facts (linguistic description) to meaning (interpretation) in as explicit a way as possible” (Short 5). The aim is to clarify readers’ literary-critical intuitions and shape them into greater understanding.
Roger Fowler has noted the relevance of linguistics (stylistics) to the study of literature. According to him, “linguistics does provide ways of unfolding and discussing precise textual effects, and may be a means of assuring a sound factual basis for many sorts of critical judgements” (28). The fact that the experience which the poet sieves is communicated through language provides enough bases for a linguistic investigation of texts. Stylistics, as an analytical branch of linguistics, is of particular aid to literary criticism in that, in carrying out its investigation of how the resources of a language code are put to use in the production of actual messages, it extends the literary intuitions of the linguist and the linguistic observations of the critic, thereby making their relationship explicit. It is this explicit relationship that helps to expose the text in its manifold diversities as a work of art using the medium of language.
A linguistic (stylistic) approach has become desirable, because an observable feature of much of the critical writing on Ojaide is that it leans a good deal towards a study of the ‘what’ than of the ‘how’; or, to put it in another way, of the ‘content’, rather than of the ‘container’. A reason for this is because the critics are often overwhelmed by the deep social concerns of Ojaide’s works, and so spend time delineating their details and complexities and playing down on how the container carries the content in precise and explicit terms. It has not really mattered whether the criticisms are favourable to Ojaide or not. Of the rather harsh critical responses to Ojaide, for example, Stewart Brown’s observation that Ojaide’s poems, except for a few exceptions, “are mostly blunt ‘messages from the front’, imagistically flat but loud with rhetorical outrage” (71) (emphasis added) typify the kind of imprecisions we are talking about. Even while the critic admits that he does not doubt Ojaide’s “sincerity or the depth of his anguish”, he flays him for “the unending self-righteousness of the narrative voice,” “the artless predictability of the sentiments” and “the clichéd language of protest”, which he says undermine the force of the poems (71). But no where does Brown validate these claims by showing through an explicit linguistic exegesis how these come to be. It is our opinion that because the literary process embraces both that which is created and the manner the ‘that’ is created, it devolves on the analyst to pay reasonable attention to both in his criticism. This is because, as Osundare rightly notes, even while conceding that art is just “more than a clever anatomy of its technical architectonics”,
… ‘beauty’ is very much a function of form as it is of content, and … in a well-executed piece of work, form advances content while content gives sustenance and relevance to form (“New Figure of the Committed Poet?” 2-3)
Ojaide’s oeuvre is a clear reflection of a poet who pays close attention to both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of poetic production, a reason why he is grouped among members of Funso Aiyejina’s “alter-native tradition”1. A winner of major national and international poetry awards, including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for the Africa Region (1987), the BBC Arts and Africa Poetry Award (1988), Ojaide is also a double recipient of the All-Africa Okigbo Prize for Poetry (1988 and 1997), and of the Association of Nigerian Authors’ Poetry Prize (1988 and 1994). His sensitivity to language use reflects in the works he has published to date2. He can, therefore, be said to be a writer who has sufficiently cut his teeth in the writing business and is poised to use his talents to bring greater awareness to his society. This makes it quite compelling that a study such as this be carried out to justify not only the considerable attention he gives to both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ in his poetic production, but also to complement his growing international reputation.
Writing on the modern poet and poetry as a tool for social change, Olafioye notes that
Modern poetry has a social conscience and content. The poet sees himself or herself firstly as an individual, as well as a member of the collective whole. Hence, the metaphor alludes that the writer is no unattached airplant, dangling loosely without roots. He must have roots, cleavage, and a sense of belonging. He must connect himself to events, especially politics, that affect the lives of his people. He must participate, however tangentially, in social retrieval, if only with ideas, when society goes ornery. If he does so, the poet then affects contemporary realism and experience in his work with the passion for and commitment to the accuracy of meaning in imagery, diction and content, which he draws from every department of life. (50-51)
Speaking on a similar responsibility while explaining the raison d’etre for creating “Songs of the Season”, his weekly column then in The Sunday Tribune, Niyi Osundare, Ojaide’s former class mate, fellow poet and co-member of Aiyejina’s “alter-native” tradition states as follows:
My overriding mission is to create songs which jolt the slumbering, give hope to the despondent, open up the eyes of the blind. In a country of astonishing social inequalities, and pervasive ignorance, it is to show my people that the rich were not born so, and the poor need not die so. It is to stress the inevitability of change and the triumph of justice. (“Bard of the Tabloid Platform” 12)
Without any doubt, the above mission is what Ojaide has also set for himself as a writer who is concerned about the socio-political situation in his country, a mission that compels the Sierra-Leonean poet and author, Syl Cheney-Coker, to declare that “the very existence of the African writer is a political statement” (3055). That commitment to the cause of liberating the masses of the people from injustice and political bondage is inevitable is something Ojaide is fully aware of. It forms the architectonics of resistance and protest we find in his poetry. Ojaide affirms that change is not possible until it is worked for. If he therefore “uses curses, damnations and uncompromising, combatant, linguistic weapons to assail social nemesis” (Olafioye 96-97) it is in agreement with the responsibility placed on him by his electing to write, because the committed poet cannot “shut the closet on/ plebeian skulls cracking/ under patrician heels/ on kings and queens, gorged on/ our earth’s wealth/ belching bullets on tattered masses” (Osundare, ‘A Nib in the Pond’ 6). The vanguard for revolutionary change is one of which the committed writer is a part. He is, thus, both in “a text of words” and the “context of battles” (Osundare, ‘The Writer as Righter’ 38). He raises awareness about the malaise in his society, exposes the vultures and equips the mass of the people with the necessary ingredients to resist these vultures. After a word or two (in the next section) on the subject matter and theme of The Fate of Vultures, we shall be seeing how Ojaide devises his linguistic patterns both to protest and resist.
The Fate of Vultures is a speech to “social predators through mind-boggling images” (Olafioye 96). In this collection of 51 poems broken into four sections, Ojaide confronts these predators. He holds them in challenge, embattles their conscience, deprecates their guise and guile and mobilises the ruled in the battle for change. As Olafioye opines, albeit in an impressionistic manner, this collection “demarcated Ojaide’s stylistic maturity and departure. In this work, he came to his own priesthood. His words flow more fluently, direct and refined, his diction is more eclectic to suit the delivery of his message” (94). Themes of corruption and greed, insensitivity and malfeasance bolstered by the cankerworms of African leadership echo throughout the collection – all these against a backcloth of pining and whimpering masses who are denied basic essentials because of the greed of the ruling but powerful few. What Ojaide seeks in many of the poems in this collection is to “run aground” the “cosy oligarchy” (Olafioye 97) of political ne’er-do-wells and rogues – the metaphorical vultures.
The linguistic facility that Ojaide deploys to battle the ‘opposition’ comes in the nature of: 1) individual lexical items and lexical items artistically combined to produce stunning collocations, 2) pronominal forms, and 3) imperative and declarative structures. But to suit our purpose, emphasis will be on 1) above.
On the use of individual lexical items and lexical items combined to produce collocations, it needs to be stated that words, which constitute the smallest unit of language, occupy a central position in the poet’s arsenal. In the English language, words are formed from the twenty-six letters of the alphabet, and a writer’s mastery of words is often predicated on his mastery of the alphabet and how it can be put together. However, on the ideational plane, what one wants to say often influences the kind of words he uses, and how effectively he chooses the right words to express the thoughts he wants to express is also dependent upon his degree of familiarity with, and proficiency in, the language.
The Systemic Functional model of grammatical description (the neo-Firthian model) while recognising lexis as a unit of description like other models, makes lexis an independent level. In this model, lexis functions as the basic element of the Group – nominal, verbal group, etc. Its lexical ‘content’ as pertaining to the taxonomic organisation of vocabulary, relates to the ideational function which the grammar specifies, while lexical ‘register’, as this relates to expressive words or the stylistic organisation of vocabulary, forms a part of the grammar’s interpersonal function. The textual function of the Systemic Functional grammar embraces collocation (collocational organisation of vocabulary)3
Ojaide deploys lexical items with the consciousness of the issues he is addressing and the point(s) he wants to make. ‘The Music of Pain’ (2), the first poem in the collection, reveals him as a poet who is quite sensitive to words. The poet commands the reader to listen and to appreciate the fact that his is not a cry in vain; he has prepared himself well for battle and armed his songs with enough memory to deal with “overlords/ who clamped reins upon the jawbones/ of upright words” (lines 7 – 9). To establish this convincingly, he has to invoke “Aridon”, the god famed by the Urhobos to be the repository of memory, to provide a record of past victories that had been gained against state tyrants who tried to stop the poet from speaking the truth. We are at once struck by the poet’s certitude that songs can do a whole lot in the battle for change, more so when these songs reflect “communal pain”. The pivotal lexical items devised by Ojaide while pushing this argument include “resistant cries”, “scurvy conscience”, “overlords”, “upright words”, “steel shafts”, “selfish rule”, “land’s infantry”, “strength of millions”, “expanding heart”, “fate-lift”, “fine-filed matchets”, “mystery bees” and “communal pain”. Two things are immediately observable from the above: the first is that all the words – both single and combined – are nouns; secondly, they reveal that, in his attempts to go beyond the expressive possibilities offered by language, Ojaide is prepared to devise unusual collocations. “Resistant cries”, “scurvy conscience”, “upright words”, “steel shafts”, “selfish rule”, “mystery bees”, “fine-filed matchets”, and “communal pain”, all have the combination of Adjective + Noun, respectively. Adjectives are highly favoured by Ojaide as collocational partners for his nouns, because what he seeks is to convey his thoughts graphically, and the use of descriptive tags does come in handy here. “Resistant cries”, as a noun phrase forming a part of the longer noun phrase “chorus of resistant cries”, is used by Ojaide in the text to suggest defiance. It is this defiance that the poet says he had to seek for his songs. The militant and uncompromising tone becomes immediately decipherable. “Scurvy conscience”, from the longer “land’s scurvy conscience” suggests a nation that has become so sick that it has lost the capacity to properly determine what is right or wrong. This, indeed, is a terrible malaise that the poet considers worthy of being excoriated. “Upright words”, from the longer “jawbones of upright words” can be immediately observed to be a ‘strange’ lexico-semantic formation, because as a componential analysis would reveal, there is certainly a ‘mistake’ in selection. Collocationally, “upright” cannot, literally speaking, combine with “words”. We can speak of “upright man”, or, in a different sense, have the sentence “The pole is upright”, but not “upright words”. But to have economy of diction, Ojaide goes beyond the expressive possibilities of language to create a new impression that words, like men, can be upright, because they are truthful. He thus elicits some level of seriousness from the reader to the effect that this reader must believe him that the dictators (“overlords”) indeed do often attempt to stifle the truth that come out from the mouth of the poet. It is, however, temporary, because as Aridon, the god of memory would testify and unroll from history’s tapestry, the “overlords” have never really won. Herein, then, lies the hope that, because the poet won before, he would always win again.
“Steel shafts” may not register the same awe that Ojaide’s unusual collocations convey unless it is viewed against the longer utterance, “I dressed my words with steel shafts.” Then we become immediately struck by the fact that, literally speaking, this is impossible. “Words” cannot be dressed, except in poetry. And this is what Ojaide is writing! The import of this is that Ojaide consciously strives for communicative impact. Words that are dressed with steel shafts, like soldiers in battle in an armoured tank, cannot be easily hurt, or killed. They immediately become lethal objects: hand grenades! Ojaide’s confidence in the power of well-armed words is decipherable, and it not only indicates the combative edge in the poet, but also his spirit of never giving up.
“Selfish rule” is part of the longer nominal stretch of utterance, “chiefs of selfish rule”. It is attributive. The poet-persona deploys the collocation to describe those who have seized the rein of power and now use it as a personal instrument. It is these “chiefs” that he seeks to put to shame with the communion of the people on whose behalf he sings. It should be noted that, as in the use of “overlords”, Ojaide avoids deliberate name-calling here. He definitely seeks to avoid banality and, rather, achieve suggestiveness.
In his affirmation that his songs are “the land’s infantry”, Ojaide further sharpens the combative and militant edge of his poetry. The die is cast. War has come! The fact that he engages in a recollective process by his use of the past tense “became” (“My songs became the land’s infantry”) does not attenuate the significance of this militant position; rather, it is meant to glorify the past and motivate the present to take control of the future. The poet is quite sure of this future, because he has for support “the strength of millions”, and his cause is justifiable. Therefore, a “fate-lift to laughter”; i.e. the fulfilment of destiny, is just a question of time.
Responding to the issue of the efficacy of words to trip the tyrant, and rebuffing the mockery of the cynics, Ojaide’s persona, in strong affirmative terms, insists that songs “are fine-filed matchets/ in the hands of the threatened” (lines 25 and 26). He also conceives them to be “a swarm of mystery bees” which can do no other thing but haunt “robbers of the proud heritage”. “Fine-filed”, like the previous “fate-lift”, is a neologism, carefully devised by Ojaide to register his unique vision of things. While “fate-lift” conveys the poet’s affirmation that it is the people’s fate to enjoy laughter and not the pains that the tyrant would want to see them have, “fine-filed” vivifies the image of something so carefully filed that it has become razor-sharp. To forge ahead fighting the battle, the threatened would need to have their matchets in this wonderful condition. It is the only guarantee to defeat the powerful and well-armed opposition. Further stretching his metaphors, Ojaide’s contrivance of songs as “mystery bees” attempts to ram home the image of surprise as a weapon against the opposition. Like mystery bees, who appear to emerge from no where, yet are quite dangerous, Ojaide seeks to take the tyrant by surprise. This approach is a tactical one which has often been deployed in warfare. It affirms the popular saying that the best form of attack is surprise! It must be noted that in indicating these tactics, Ojaide clearly acknowledges the power and might of the opposition. But so also does he believe that if songs can capture “the roar of lions” and “the jungle mortars of elephants”, the tyrant is nothing! Doubtless, Ojaide, as a wordsmith, attenuates the fear for the opposition in his use of words and stunning collocations.
In “What poets do our leaders read?” (6), we are offered a series of insights about leaders who, though quite weak intellectually, display a high capacity for hypocrisy, arrogance and the thirst for blood. Here, again, Ojaide exhibits his potentials as a competent user of words. The questions he poses are largely rhetorical, because their answers are self-implied; yet he displays an aura of one who wants to be informed. Here, perhaps, lies the significance of the poem. Yet, it is obvious that Ojaide’s triumph resides largely in the words he deploys in the dialectic of resistance. He commands the addressee not to “mince my heart-sprung words” (stanza 2, line 1), or “mint lores of salvation/ from the bloodsmacked and bone-decked thrones” (stanza 2, lines 2 and 3). This imperative is significant because the poet values his words greatly. Rhetorically speaking, the use of this imperative is an important attention-catching device, and it is interesting to note that, in processing its conceptual content, the reader gets drawn to the poet’s lexico-grammar. The neologism “heart-sprung” (as in “heart-sprung words”), “bloodsmacked” and “bone-decked” (as in “from the bloodsmacked and bone-decked thrones”, stanza 2, line 3) are devised by the poet to convey an affective attitude. “Heart-sprung”, a compound formation which is a combination of Noun + Verb, is used to convey the idea that the words come straight from the heart. For this reason, they are to be believed and not set aside. While conspiratorially soliciting their cooperation in not trifling with his words, Ojaide further directs the readers not to believe they can get salvation from thrones that are already violated and littered with the blood and bones of the slain. In other words, while having confidence in what he says, these same people should further believe him to the extent that he would not be lying about the information he reveals. The imperatives, then, are imperatives of caution and in their starkness, the reader is meant to be swayed never to see the ruler as his friend. It should be noted that Ojaide contrives “bloodsmacked” as one word, even though it is made up of Noun + Verb and plays the role of a compound adjective. Fusing the words together and not using a hyphen intensifies the meaning. In introducing a hyphen between “bone” and “decked” in “bone-decked”, the poet merely strives for normalcy, and the word equally helps in foregrounding the image of thrones that are crammed full with the bones of the slain. In using the expression “top ones” (stanza 3, line 3) to refer to the ones on top; i.e. the leaders, Ojaide’s aim is clearly to achieve variety in his description of the looters of state power. He sustains this in the second to the last stanza of the poem, as if relishing the words he uses to describe them. Thus, the leaders are “perjurers of the word/ drummers of bloated drums/ carriers of sacrifice; fanners of vanities”, structures which have the same grammatical features of Noun + Prep. + (Det.) + (Adj.) + Noun. They are also “sellers of tatters”. The poet appears to have come to a stage in the process of asking what poets the leaders read when he can no longer use “kind” words. The damnation he, therefore, rains on these people at this stage, reflects the poet’s bitterness for the killers who have no intellect in them. They also convey a no-holds-barred situation, which reflects total defiance of failed rulers.
“The Wanderer’s victory” (8) reflects a personal testimony in several respects, but it is also deeply public in its significance. In this poem, the persona, who calls himself a wanderer, celebrates his victory over those who thought he would never make it. Although the they he speaks of are not identified by name, textual indications suggest that they constitute the ‘opposition’. In this respect, then, it becomes quite easy to see the poet-persona as embodying the spirit of all the deprived and marginalised for reasons of “birthplace”. It is fairly convenient to see this text as the epilogue to a long season of battle with words made of “steel shafts”, in that it ushers hope for those who battle.
In “The Fate of Vulture” (11), the title poem of the volume, Ojaide displays, yet again, his penchant for using appropriate words. He invokes memory by calling on Aridon to “bring back my wealth/ from rogue-vaults” (stanza 1, lines 1 and 2). He at once, by the use of the possessive pronoun my, registers his claim to the wealth of the land which power-hungry politicians have looted and stowed away in “rogue-vaults”. It is this right that empowers him to make the demand, for which Aridon, his “memory god” and “mentor” must trace an ash-trail path to the hands of the looters. Setting off the dialectics of resistance, the poet-persona deploys two nouns, ‘hurricane’ and ‘whirlwind’, as in “I would not follow the hurricane,/ nor would I the whirlwind” (stanza 2, lines 1 and 2) to indicate that, regardless of the temptation, he would never be carried away by the power of graft which appeared to have brazenly swept away those who looted the nation’s wealth. The persona is quite convinced not to follow these powerful forces, because “they leave misery in their wake” (stanza 2, line 4). Unfortunately, the looters did not know this, or if they knew, did not care; and in this moment of reckoning when all that had been illegally gorged must be returned, it has become too late. Ojaide’s use of ‘rogue-vault’, his own lexical innovation, and a compound formation of Noun + Noun, is meant to graphically taunt both the rogues and the places where they have gone to hide their loot. Similarly, ‘pocket-lift’ as in the longer “They ran for a pocket-lift/ in the corridors of power” (stanza 3, lines 7 and 8) which is also a Noun + Noun formation and another of Ojaide’s own creation, is deliberately used to attack these politicians who are believed by the poet to have no other business in the corridors of power, except to steal – line their pockets. We are reminded here, of course, of the more familiar ‘shop-lift’. Also in this stanza 3, the persona, close to mentioning the rogues, identifies them as “The chief and his council, a flock of flukes” (stanza 3, line 4). They are also “range chickens” (line 6) who consumed and scattered. It is, however, in stanza 4 that Ojaide, as Olafioye puts it, “clinches his theme of political corruption by hanging exemplary, scampy politicians on the poetic scaffold guillotine…” (53). “Shamgari” and “Shankari” occur prominently here, and Ojaide’s phonological pun is meant to deride the more familiar ‘Shagari’, hence, to drive his point home further, he observes that these people “shun gari/ staple of the people/ and toast champagne…” Ojaide clearly refers to the key events and the actors of a particular era in Nigerian politics where, having pillaged the nation’s treasury and hidden their loot in foreign bank accounts, the actors denied the ordinary Nigerian his basic means of livelihood. It was an era of crass materialism, where some members of the ruling elite even had their names on champagne brands! Not also spared is ‘Alexius’ the architect who could only design “wind-razed mansions” in the Abuja Federal Capital.
It is note-worthy that in criticising the ‘flash millionaires’ of this era and demanding from them all that they had looted, Ojaide carefully creates a collocation set with such words as ‘wealth’, ‘rogue-vaults’, ‘bowels’, ‘closets’, ‘crates of cash’, which helps him to amplify his theme of corruption. Extra-textually, these lexical items do mean the same thing, but within the context of the text, they have been contextually conditioned to hammer similar propositions. In the last stanza of the poem, he describes the fate of these vultures of stolen power: if they do not end up in jail, they live perpetually in their crimes, mourned only by their types when they eventually die.
The motif of ‘The Arrow-Flight’ (16) is seen by Olafioye as “the harangue of state or rulership for corruptive practices” 94). But more than anything else, this poem demonstrates, once again, Ojaide’s no-holds-barred denouncing of greedy and ruthless rulers. It reveals the poet as one who would continually seek the right words to resist the predators. ‘The Arrow-Flight’ does not rely in deliberate name-calling; rather, it uses a series of animal images to push its arguments. Besides this, the poet leaves his readers with a wide range of suggestions as to who the ‘evil-doers’ are. The pronominal forms ‘they’, ‘them’ come in useful here. There is also a reference to ‘king’ and, of course, Ogiso, the poet’s historical and legendary image of the ruthless and brutal ruler. Ojaide concedes one advantage his unnamed ‘they’ have and identifies this as similar to that which the hare has over “the crestfallen cock” (stanza 1, line 2) and the lion “over the goat” (stanza 1, line 3). These images at once register a certain quality of oppressive brutality and cunning with which, we are told in stanza 2, that the unnamed ‘they’ “command the world to attention, riding/ through waves of tears in a vain-lift”. “Placebos and fufu-ful promises of wellbeing” are what it takes for these leaders to “seduce hungry patients” (stanza 2, lines 3 and 4). Ojaide’s attempt to convey the overwhelming authority of the rulers over the ruled whose cries of hunger “cannot be heard from high places” (stanza 2, line 8) is observable. The lexical items ‘vain-lift’ and ‘fufu-ful’, his neologisms, suggest, yet again, that in his desire to extend the expressive possibilities of language, the poet is prepared to create new words. ‘Vain-lift’ is a nominal compound made up of Adjective + Noun. Like ‘fate-lift’ (Noun + Noun) which plays the role of a noun compound in ‘The Music of Pain’, the poet’s aim is to achieve compression. The lexical hybridization of ‘fufu-ful’ is also designed for this same purpose. In the third and last stanza of the poem, Ojaide registers his defiance of the rulers. This defiance is signalled by the contrastive coordinator ‘but’, as in “But let them not confuse/ muscle with metal,/ fanfare with fame”, the poet’s allusion to the fact that the rulers may have a wrong opinion of their importance. He thus wishes that the arrow-flight, picking wings from the angry wind, will pluck “the spider in the centre of his web,/ the tortoise in his moving fortress,/ the hyena in his bone-furnished den…” a clear reference to the rulers. That the ‘Ogiso’s’ whom Ojaide refers to as “a plagued dynasty of beasts” (stanza 3, line 14) are not spared, but are rather wished by the poet never “to live a full life”, heightens the mood of defiance.
The last poem we will discuss in this paper which shows Ojaide’s careful deployment of words as weapons of battle and resistance of the rulers and their ploys is “When Tomorrow is too long” (18). In this poem, the poet calls on his unnamed addressees to be wary when a juggler arrives in town, loaded with a bag of histrionics. Although naturally this juggler would draw attention since he is a spectacle himself, no one should fall for his tricks. Ojaide clearly recognises the deftness of the juggler and concedes it: “His closed fist presses/ a honeyed cake into an ashen loaf./ With his gap-toothed shine for a wand/ he throws out one thing/ with one hand/ and with the same five/ he takes in more than seven.”. What is needed is absolute vigilance. Recognising that the juggler never moves alone and that he has in his tow “attendants, poster-pasters” and all those who “frolic in the loot of a flood”, there is a sense of urgency in the appeal. Of course, Ojaide does not directly name the juggler, but textual cues suggest that he is the ruler who seeks to perpetuate himself in power by being the beneficiary of a democracy which he ostensibly seeks to bring to the people. In the final stanza of the poem, Ojaide calls on his addressees not to allow the juggler to perform, even when he comes to town “with an eagle in a glittering cage”. They should, rather, “Do to him what you’ll do/ to a cobra in your doorstep”. This stanza thus clinches the theme of resistance in the poem.
There is no doubt that language is an important structuring device in poetry and that it does play a vital role in the poet’s attempt to communicate his ideas, views, feelings, etc. As a structuring device, it offers the writer a huge opportunity to project his artistic vision.
In our examination of sample texts from The Fate of Vultures and Other Poems, through a consideration of Ojaide’s exploitation of individual lexical items and collocation, we have tried to show that linguistic insights could serve as aid to critical interpretation and that ideas gained can help to place on a more proper footing the reader’s intuition about literary effects. On a particular note, we have seen that Ojaide specifically views words as sacred objects which must be used to strike the right cords of meaning. Communicative effectiveness would, therefore, depend on how well a writer has taken advantage offered by language’s immense possibilities. In his combative disposition in which he sees as becoming more over-bearing the “overlords” who have taken over control of state power and now flash it like a dangerous weapon, Ojaide believes he desires a powerful linguistic arsenal dressed as “steel shafts” to take on the opposition and hit hard. To a large extent, he succeeds, and one only hopes that the targets of his onslaught would read him and change their ways, after all, “What poets do our leaders read?”
1 This tradition of Nigerian poetry, as Aiyejina explains, is made up of “young Nigerian poets… set to make poetry as relevant to the realities of their daily existence as possible: no more pursuit of the clever and esoteric lines of Soyinka, the Latinate phrases of Okigbo and Echeruo or the Hopkinsian syntax of Clark.
2 These works, apart from the one under study, include Children of Iroko, Labyrinths of the Delta (Greenfield Center, NY: Greenfield Review Press, 1973, 1986, respectively), The Eagle’s Vision (Detroit: Lotus Press, 1987), The Endless Song (Lagos: Malthouse Press, 1989), The Blood of Peace (Oxford, UK/Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1991), The Daydream of Ants (Lagos: Malthouse Press, 1997), Delta Blues and Home Songs (Ibadan: Kraft, 1998), and Invoking the Warrior Spirit (Ibadan: Heinemann, 1998). His poetry has graced the pages of many anthologies such as The Heinemann Book of African Poetry in English (1990), Border Lines: Contemporary Poems in English (1995), Poesie d’Afrique au Sud du Sahara(1995), Rainbow Voices (1996), and Poetry 2000 (1996). In addition to two books of literary criticism, Poetic Imagination in Black Africa: Essays on African Poetry(1996) and The Poetry of Wole Soyinka (1994), his memoir, Great Boys: An African Childhood (1998) has been released by Africa World Press, Inc, New Jersey.
3 The terms ‘ideational’, ‘interpersonal’ and ‘textual’, as they relate to the functions that the neo-Firthian Systemic Functional model sees language as performing, are explained in detail in MAK Halliday (1970a, 1970b, 1971 and 1973). In the ideational function, language is viewed as encoding propositional content; i.e. our experiences of the real world and of our inner world, while the interpersonal function provides a means whereby communication is achieved through the assumption of speech roles in interaction. The role assumed could be that of declarer, questioner or the one who gives orders. The textual (or discourse) function emphasizes the means which language provides for making links with itself and the situational context in which language is used.
Aiyejina, Funso. “Recent Nigerian Poetry in English: An Alter/Native Tradition”. Perspectives on Nigerian Literatures 1700 – the Present 1. Ed. Yemi Ogunbiyi. Lagos: Guardian Press, 1988. 112-128.
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