1.0     Introduction

In an interview with this writer some time in 1993, the Nigerian poet, Niyi Osundare, while responding to the issue of conscious style in his poetry, remarked as follows:

 I am not a painter, but I am a connoisseur of painting…The page for me is like the canvass for a painter, and I see it as a great opportunity that must not be wasted. I want to draw poetry on it in such a way as would make it mean more. So there is that consciousness about it…(113)

With these words, Osundare confirmed what had become observable in his poetry: the joy he derives in plying the poem, playing with form and occasionally indulging in different forms of visual experimentation. In the tradition of free versification, he often indulges in the exploitation of ‘free’ form, not only to appeal to his readers and capture their attention and interest, but also to intensify his messages (Adagbonyin 1).This paper pays attention to aspects of graphic representation in eight poetry volumes of Osundare1 and also considers some of their stylistically motivated features. Graphic representation which involves “the patterned systems of the graphic substance” (Spencer and Gregory, “An Approach to the Study of Style” 70) is described by Leech as “the whole range of writing system, punctuation and paragraphing as well as spelling” (A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry 39). According to Crystal and Davy, the feature involves “language’s writing system, or orthography, as seen in the various kinds of handwriting and typography” (Investigating English Style 18). These definitions, when applied to poetry, obviously embrace phenomena like lineation, punctuation, capitalisation, lexical cramping, lexical truncation, alphabetical bracketing, aphesis, etc., which, overall, help to define verse shape and the general layout of the page.

It is four aspects of the above manifestations of graphic representation (punctuation, alphabetical bracketing, lexical cramping and lexical truncation) that we focus on in this paper. Like the other manifestations mentioned above, they are meaning-signalling devices.

1.1     Punctuation

It is generally agreed that punctuation constitutes a veritable means of encoding the unspoken aspects of a linguistic performance. A visual medium of language, punctuation “maintains the link between the spoken and written words of discourse….[and]…is therefore a clue to interpreting language and meaning in a poem” (Mabel Osakwe, “The Language of Wole Soyinka’s Poetry” 127).

Looking at Osundare’s poetic texts, however, this statement appears not to apply totally.  This is because, while punctuation is used with great regularity in some of the texts, it is used randomly and sparingly in some others.  There are even texts where punctuation marks are not used at all. In most of these texts, the reader’s predictive knowledge of English grammatical patterns aids his interpretation of the poetic texts as he can fill in, mentally, the punctuation marks, where they are expected to be.  For these same texts, too, thought patterns, rather than graphological markers, come in handy as useful cues for determining sentence structure. We shall now look at this deviant use of punctuation.

1.1.1    Irregular or Non-Use of Punctuation Marks

Regarding the irregular or non-use of punctuation marks, the very first poem, ‘poetry is’, in the first volume, Songs of the Marketplace, provides a ready example, as it hardly sports any punctuation mark.  The only instances we have in this poem of 33 lines broken into six stanzas are four apostrophe marks used as follows: “the hawker’s ditty” (3), “the grass’s morning dew” (3), “no oracle’s kernel “(4), “for a sole philosopher’s stone “(4); and a period used to mark the end of the poem. Stanza 12 of “Excursions” (also in SMP) shows no enthusiasm in the use of punctuation marks (see text 24 above).  The poet leaves the reader to fix in the marks, where necessary, in his processing of the text, using as expected his (the reader’s) predictive knowledge of English structure.  It is this knowledge that enables the reader to identify four distinct clauses, three began by the use of “several” and the other signalled by the contrastive conjunction “but.” In all, four punctuation marks – three commas and a period – are supplied; a comma each at the end of lines 2, 4, 6, and a period after “eye” (end of text).

In the following passages, the reader is also expected to fix in question marks where appropriate, because Osundare provides none. Here, he must recognise the interrogative patterns and intonational cues:

1)             We ask the tyrant

                       when will you end your torture

                       he asks us

                       when will the snake stand on its own legs

                       when will the rat wed the mouse’s offspring…

 ‘The Padlock and the Key’, VV 65).

  2)           do you remember

 those blast furnaces

 where millions sweat for a pittance

 on waists leaner than a wasp’s

 those plantations

        where profit whips slash

 the drudging flesh

 those mines

 where men buried alive

 resurrect billion lusts

 and diamond dreams 

(‘Remember’,  A Nib 16).

 3)            Oh moon oh moon where is your horse where, your haste

 Who reaped your gallop in the furrows of the sky

         Oh moon oh moon where is your wardrobe, where, your ward

 Who spread your silk in the loom of the sun

(‘XX’,  Moonsongs 39).

For example 1), the reader is required to know that the text is written like a narrative complete with the narrative/turn markers “we ask the tyrant”, “he asks us”, so that he also supplies inverted commas open and closed for the sentences conveyed in the form of direct speech.  Identifying such sentences is aided by the narrative cues.

No doubt, the infrequent or non-use of punctuation marks constitutes, in the text, an important aspect of deviation, but it cannot be described as eccentric. No where in his texts does Osundare take the liberty of using punctuation marks where none is called for.  In this regard, he differs markedly from the American poet, E.E.Cummings, whose idiosyncratic use of graphetic features marks him out as one of the most eccentric poets of all time.

1.1.2    The Stylistic Significance of Infrequent Use of Punctuation Marks

The first reason that may be adduced for Osundare’s infrequent use of punctuation marks is that he seems to view the practice (especially the use of commas and semi-colons) as an unnecessary hindrance to the free-flow of his ideas.  It destroys the tempo of reading, breaks up the text unduly, thereby “adding difficulties to the reader’s attempts to assimilate fairly long stretches of text at a time” (Crystal and Davy, Investigating English Style 179). Besides, since the grammatical structures he always manipulates give fairly reasonable cues as to where the breaks between structures come, it is not really necessary to use distracting punctuation marks as additional indicators. The following text from Midlife illustrates his point glaringly:

 4)           Through burning waters

Through ashes of accumulated patience

Through earth which chews the showers

of  tardy rains

Through lakes pregnant with storms

Through seasons which bloom every seed

 For twilights of contending baskets

Through earth’s gable

Through the window of the sky

The sun reaches out for its ram horn  (Midlife 7).

The urgency conveyed above by the absence of punctuation marks (commas) after each of the prepositional phrases used by Osundare to recall the past, cannot be missed. It is obvious that the poet discards the marks in order not to slow the tempo of reading. Introducing pause markers of any kind would delay reading, especially as the paratactic phrasing anticipates a subject + verb + object component. This eventually comes in the last line. The rush of ideas and the piling up of effects creates suspense. In addition, the fast tempo of reading, made possible because of the absence of commas, intensifies the sense of urgency and immediacy in the text.

Another stylistic effect of Osundare’s unconventional use of punctuation marks, especially commas, is conceptual bonding. Here, the poet succeeds in tying words together. The result is intra-textual compounding, the neutralisation of semantic oppositions and contextual conditioning. We illustrate the point with two examples from the texts:

                         5)          it must end, this slave life must end

heloted squattered squalored kraaled

booted butted robened hanged carcassed 

(‘Soweto’, SMP 47).

  6)         The moon the moon is the cannibal stomach

of slaving galleons, Badagry  Elmina Bagamoyo

Port of (S)pain, the crayon claws of the

apartheid dragon….

(Moonsongs 25).

In 5), the poet raises hope for the oppressed blacks in South Africa’s South West Township (Soweto). The connection of all the past-participial verbal features “heloted”, “squattered”, “kraaled”, “booted”, “butted”, “robbened”, “hanged”, “carcassed” is reinforced by the absence of commas, so that they can now be more definitively viewed as items which readily collocate with “slave life”. Thus, a slave life is a “heloted” life, a “squattered” life, etcetera, which the speaking voice affirms must end.

The slaving galleons of Badagry, Elmina, Bagamoyo and Port of (S)pain are what the poet says the moon is in text 6). These were all vibrant slave ports during the period of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. They all represented the humiliating and dehumanising aspects of that chapter of our history. It is for this reason that Osundare conceptually ties them together here. He largely shuns the use of commas in listing these “galleons” in an attempt to bridge whatever geographical gap exists between these former slave ports. They are now grouped together because they represented one major theatre of suffering, humiliation and slavery.

Apart from achieving conceptual bonding, Osundare’s neglect of punctuation marks in some of his texts intensifies certain words and phrases. In the following texts, for example, the words “maps”, “going”, run” and the prepositional phrase “of breaking chains” are intensified:

7)            …the moon is the throaty clatter of

                      breaking chains of breaking chains of breaking chains

(Moonsongs 26).

8)            Going going going

The water is going 

(WL 67).

9)            My story has legs

But it will not run away

Run run run like a wandering elf 

(‘wolf gift’, SOS 117).

 10)         Maps maps maps

for the map is a promise of the compass  (ML 68).

We suggest that the absence of punctuation mark in 10), where Osundare plays with the word “maps”, tends to give the impression of a large number of maps, whereas in 7), where he views the moon in another “complex of masks” as a symbol of liberty, it is that of an endless, uninterrupted breaking of chains, a continuing action. In text 8), a sense of urgency is conveyed in the uninterrupted repetition of “going”, while in 9) a sense of drama is conveyed: the word “run”, because of the absence of any breaks in its repetitive pattern, actually seems to ‘run’.

Still on the stylistic effect of the irregular or non-use of punctuation marks in the texts, a point that must also be made is that ambiguity often results from Osundare’s unenthusiastic use of punctuation marks in several of his texts. Again, the reader draws upon his predictive knowledge of grammatical patterning to place punctuation marks where they ought to be in his processing of the texts. The following texts show instances of ambiguity caused by the non-use of punctuation marks where they are required:

 11)         The sun stands smothered

and clouds heavy exchange

groans of parturition  (‘Dry Season’, SMP 73).

 12)         we sing the lines

and hear our voices

read the words

and see ourselves

in the mirror of every letter 

(‘A Nib in the Pond’, A Nib  13).

In passage 11), Osundare describes the sudden gathering of clouds in a dry season afternoon. Here, the reader is faced with a puzzle, which arises because of the trouble in readily classifying the word “clouds” in line 2. Is it a verb or a noun? The trouble arises because of the absence of any punctuation mark. If the reader considers it as a verb, the puzzle deepens, since the word immediately following (“heavy’) is not a noun but an adjective. He is tempted to process it as “heave”, the verbal whose orthographical form comes quite close to the word “heavy”. Nevertheless, even this yields no meaningful stretch of utterance when combined with “exchange” and the words in the line below it – “groans of parturition”.  He produces the following:

 and clouds heave exchange

groans of parturition

 In examining the entire text closely, however, the reader will notice  that the key to the disambiguation of the text actually lies in the word “clouds”. If he conceives it as a noun, it becomes obvious that the word “heavy” is a manner adverb used as a form of interposition between “clouds” and “exchange”, with “exchange” beginning the predicate. He, therefore, needs to place commas before and after “heavy”. The result is the stretch of utterance:

The sun stands smothered

and clouds, heavy, exchange

groans of parturition.

This becomes a logical, meaningful processing of the idea of fruitlessly waiting for rain which the entire poem from which the extract is drawn talks about.

In passage 12), the reader’s task is how to make out a clear thought pattern from  lines 2 and 3, for these, indeed, are responsible for the structural ambiguity:

                        We sing the lines and hear our voice read the  words and see 

                                    ourselves in the mirror of every letter.

By placing a comma after “voice” (line 2 of text 12), he resolves the problem and emerges with this structural pattern

sing the lines and hear our voice


read the words and see ourselves…

1.2       The Use of Bracketing

Bracketing is a device used by Osundare to interpolate words, phrases and sentences in the poetic texts. It  creates a useful avenue for providing extra information, and for authorial comments. More specifically, however, alphabetical bracketing helps him to limit, restrict and amplify the meaning being conveyed by the lexical items he uses. Words affected by bracketing in this regard  are usually made to look like double-edged swords in their semantic import, and new collocational spans are usually created. The words can be processed independently or otherwise of the bracketed letters: the reader is usually left with a choice. Functionally speaking, the stylistic effect of bracketing is that it shows Osundare’s personal attitude to the issues he is addressing. Alphabetical bracketing shows that the poet is not just content with using lexical items; he wants to range beyond their single meanings, thus enriching communicative value.  In the following pages, we shall be examining the two types of bracketing mentioned above, i.e. those involving words, phrases or full sentences and those involving letter(s) in words. We shall, as usual be doing this against their communicative value.

13)           And then Sule feels his strength

 Buckle for the first time

 His forehead oozes some blood

(Not enough to go round)

His head hollows into swirls.

(‘Sule Chase’, SMP 17 – 18)

This text is the sixth stanza of one of Osundare’s most satirical poems.  Osundare here describes the state of a victim of society’s wrath fleeing with a crumpled three-kobo loaf of bread he had been forced by hunger to steal. Sule is pursued by almost everyone in society, including those who should know better. The pursuers include tailors “with giant scissors,” permsecs “with PENDING files”, barristers “with dusty wigs,” NEPA experts “with fused bulbs”, telephonists, the doctor, the don, contractors, Reuter agents, etcetera. It is a race that is destined to end tragically, especially when we are told in stanza 2 of the text that “A barrel-buttocked woman” is the one who “blows the whistle / for the fastest race in Lagos”. With this sensation- /blood-seeking crowd on him, it is a race Sule the victim cannot win.  In describing his gradually failing strength, Osundare, with the use of brackets, introduces a rather sarcastic note by stating that the blood that goes out of Sule’s already injured forehead is not enough to go round his pursuers. It is not enough to slake their thirst. In this remark lies the butt of Osundare’s criticism.  The fact that he puts this comment in brackets clearly marks out his authorial voice. He is not an impartial, ‘uninvolved narrator’; his sympathy certainly lies with Sule.

In this same poem, ‘Sule Chase,’ bracketing is used in three other instances, thus making it the only poem in the entire volume (SMP) where bracketing is used with such frequency. These are in stanza 3, where Osundare makes reference to one of Sule’s pursuers: “The sergeant just gone to inspect / his tenth mansion (you can never trust / contractors: they’ve grown so smart / since the first battalion of oil rigs / Besieged our shores)” (16-17) and where the crowd now swarming on Sule is said to include “The sergeant with his belt / (He lost his gun in the chase)” (18). In all these instances, Osundare seeks to deride Sule’s pursuers.

In Songs of the Marketplace, bracketing of words, phrases and sentences is further used for authorial comments, as for mere interpolation, as follows: ‘Siren’ (21); ‘the Horseman Cometh’ (45); ‘Namibia Talks’ (49) and ‘Hiroshima’ (55).

In Village Voices, it is used as follows: ‘A Villager’s Protest’ (48); ‘The New Farmer’s Bank’ (50); ‘The Eunuch’s Child’ (54) and ‘Dying Another’s Death’ (55).

A Nib provides four instances of use as follows: ‘The Poet’ (10); ‘From Pub to Pew’, ‘Merry Metamorphosis’ (28) and ‘On Hearing of a Coup in a Friendly Country’ (33).

We can find examples in The Eye (3) and (14) where there are two instances each, and in the poem ‘Forest Echoes’ (15).  We also have examples in ‘Harvest Call’ (19) and ‘eyeful glances’ (24). In Songs of the Season, we have the following examples: ‘Song of the Pandering Don’ (13);  ‘Only Four’ (51); and ‘For Chief Samuel Fal Adeniran’ (64). Further instances are: ‘For Ayodele Awojobi’ (77), ‘The King and the Poet’ (124).  We have one example in Midlife  (81).

As for the other kind of bracketing – alphabetical bracketing – a great number of instances abound in Osundare’s poetry. We comment on only the following across his texts:

14)          Once here in May

a tasselled joy robed the field

like homeless green

once here in May

the sky was a riot of pollen grains

and ivory mills waited (im)patiently

for the browning of grey tassels

(‘Harvest Call’, The Eye 19).

 15)         Waiting

like the pothole for its po(r)tion of blood 

(WL 52).

 16)         So

Next time the taxman comes in his hel(i)copter

let him come like an iron hawk

he will find us waiting,

a flock of iron chicks

(‘echoes from the rural abyss’ SOS 133).

In text 14) above, Osundare reminisces on the joy of harvest and the richness of the month of May. It was a month, he recalls, of green and of plenty, a month where grey tassels (of the maize) gradually turned into brown and “ivory mills waited (im)patiently”. The bracketing of the syllable/morpheme ‘im,’ which graphologically highlights ‘patiently,’ provides the suggestion that the word can be processed with or without the brackets. Thus, we can derive the word ‘patiently’ or ‘impatiently’ depending on whether or not we incorporate the bracketed morpheme ‘im’ in our processing. It goes to show how much Osundare wants to range beyond one level of meaning. ‘Im’ conveys an affective attitude. It stresses that while the ivory mills the poet talks about may be yearning for the browning of grey tassels with a great deal of impatience, their waiting is also a patient one since this must come to pass. In ‘patiently’, therefore, lies Osundare’s attitude of hope. He seems to suggest that since the sky becomes “a riot of pollen grains” in the month of May the patient wait for the browning of grey tassels will certainly yield fruits. We must note the hint at  ‘May’ and ‘riot’ which reminds us of the 1989 “Anti-Sap” riots in Nigeria.  These riots yielded a harvest of blood in the streets but witnessed/anticipated a temporary relaxing of economic measures by the then military regime.

The same affective attitude we notice in 14) recurs sharply in 15) where, in talking about an aspect of waiting, Osundare provides two meanings in ‘po(r)tion’. This word can be read either as ‘portion’ (as in measurement,’ e.g. ‘portion of land’) or ‘potion’ (as in, for example, ‘liquid mixture’). This is due to the bracketing of the letter ‘r’. In conceiving the idea of  waiting as the pothole waiting for the ‘po(r)tion of blood’, Osundare gives an attitudinal focus to his message. He wants us to go beyond the ordinary meaning of ‘portion’ and instead relate to the word ‘potion’. As man waits for life, so does the pothole thirst for its dose of blood. This is Osundare’s proposition and it raises a sense of alarm over the danger of (our) pothole–ridden roads.

Finally, in 16), Osundare seeks solidarity in the collective ‘us’ (those in the rural abyss) in line 4. He raises a sense of resolve against an expected invading taxman. Next time the taxman comes “in his hel(i)copter”, he rouses the rural folk, everyone must wait as “a flock of iron chicks”. The bracketing of ‘i’ in ‘helicopter’ gives a strong indication that Osundare wants to foreground the rather unusual word ‘helcopter’. Nevertheless, innovative as this word may be, we are tempted to think that the three letters ‘hel’ is the prime motivation for the innovation.  In other words, Osundare has a special interest in ‘hel.’ We will here ignore the graphological incompleteness of the word, in case we are thinking of ‘hell,’ and instead consider the phonological implication. This, in itself, also offers a semantic implication. Transcribed phonemically, ‘hel’ can be rendered as /hel/, the same way that ‘hell’ can be rendered. Therefore, what we have is a phonological pun. We suggest that in foregrounding “hel-copter” Osundare specifically alludes to the idea “hell on wings!” He visualises the next coming of the taxman as hell descending, since this makes life difficult for the ordinary folk. Because he feels this rural community can repel the power of this “hell on wings”, he is hopeful that the iron hawk will meet them – ‘us’ – waiting, “a flock of iron chicks.”  An iron resolve to ward off the invading taxman and his exploitative tendencies (hell) is a danger proof. This is what Osundare seems to recommend.

1.3       Lexical Cramping

This graphetic feature, like truncation which we shall soon see (1.4), is a deviation from the normal syntactic expectation of space between different words. Involving the running of words together on the pages of a text, it arises from the language user’s desire to graphologically ignore the rule of spacing which normally indicates where one word ends and another begins. The running together of words on a page often depends on the user’s artistic intention, but it is specifically the result of such user’s desire to fuse words together to achieve semantic compounds.  James Joyce and E. E. Cummings are writers who distinguish themselves in this regard. Osundare, who incidentally, says he has not read much of Cummings  (Adagbonyin 114), uses lexical cramping in only three of his poetic texts. These are Songs of the Marketplace, A Nib in the Pond and Waiting Laughters. That the practice does not extend to his entire corpus is not an indication that he considers it of little significance to his poetic production; rather, it is that he indulges in it only when the need arises.

There are five instances of the use of lexical cramping in Songs of the Marketplace, the first three coming from the poem ‘Sule Chase’:  (i )  “And Sule has / the onceinalife luck / Of leading Lagos in a race” (17);  (ii) “Sule / Tears through traffic / In bumpertobumper grave (17); (iii) “The Homicide Unit arrives / for an onthespot arrest” (18). The other two instances are drawn from ‘The Nigerian Railway’ and ‘Reflections’, respectively: (iv) “crawl ing / wear ily / fromswamptosavannah” (30); (v) “We are all equal: / cocoacoffeetea growers…/…./ And cocacoffeetea drinkers”(38).

A Nib in the Pond has only one instance: “Swilling and swaggering / threepiecesooted heroes / basking masturbated egos / in impotent suns” (‘Tottering Tower’ 25).

Waiting Laughters has two examples: (i) “The innocence of the Niger / waiting, waiting / fourhundredseasons / for the proof of the prow” (37) and (ii) “waiting/withoutafacewithoutanamewithoutafacewithout a- / waiting / for the Atlantic which drains the mountains with practised venom” (37).

In “onceinalife” above, four words are cramped together to serve a more forceful note as an adjective compound describing ‘luck’. Osundare aims for an intensifying effect. “Onceinalife” implies that which does not happen often. It embellishes Osundare’s ironical tone. There is even, a strong element of humour that the word conveys. This emerges when we weigh the lexical compound against the grim background in which it has been used. Sule is fleeing with his life, with a large hypocritical mob in hot pursuit of him. Yet, he is being described as having the luck of a lifetime to lead Lagos in a race!

In “fromswamptosavannah”, Osundare, in running together four words – ‘from’, ‘swamp’ ‘to’ and ‘savannah’  – to derive a locative adverbial phrase, aims for what may be described as graphic onomatopoeia. That is when we view his cramping against the overall visual shape of the text, ‘The Nigerian Railway’. Here visual form echoes or enacts (!) sense. The ‘sense’ is the Nigerian railway itself which the poet describes metaphorically as “snaky structures and tortuous millipede on legs of iron”. “Fromswamptosavannah” serves the function of visually simulating this snaky, lengthy structure and of indicating the unbroken railway link between the South (‘swamp’) and the North (‘savannah’).

“Threepiecesooted”, drawn from A Nib, simulates the expression “three-piece-suited”, though it does not adopt the hyphens. As a phonological pun, its significance lies in the word  “sooted” which is chosen by Osundare to achieve a deriding effect. The text from which it is drawn is a critical examination of an ivory tower –  the University of Ibadan – to be precise. Osundare describes as “threepiecesooted heroes” some of his colleagues who frequent the senior staff club – the ‘brave dons (who) wrestle it out/with sweating bottles / swilling and swaggering” (see full text, page 25 of A Nib). There is an indirect reference to the fact that these colleagues are always fairly well turned out – in three-piece-suit – but Osundare would rather prefer to see them as not “suited” but  “sooted”. The word bears his ire, just as the lexical compound from which it is derived fully registers his attitude of derision.

Osundare’s devising of “withoutafacewithoutanamewithoutafacewithouta– ” emerges as, perhaps, the most experimental and complex of his lexical cramping in his entire volumes. This is so, because eleven lexical items have been run together here, all making three phrases, with a fourth being interrupted. Separated, the cramped lexical items can be read as “without a face, without a name, without a face, without a- ”. An explanation we can adduce for Osundare’s desire to run these items together is that he intends to tie together, conceptually, the facelessness and namelessness of waiting which he talks about in the text. In other words, waiting without a face is not different from waiting without a name. Both are aspects of waiting. The repetitiveness of the pattern suggests the interminableness (and boredom!) of waiting. It is necessary to note here that Osundare  seeks to use graphic form to simulate ideational content. The absence of punctuation marks (fullstops or commas) at the end of the full phrases he cramps together suggests how concerned he is with making sure the reader processes the items together conceptually.

1.4       Lexical Truncation

Like lexical cramping, lexical truncation is also a foregrounded irregularity, in that it distorts patterns of syntactic expectation. It results from taking liberty with the graphological rule of spacing, of the acceptable standard lexical exploitation of space for English words. Here, lexical items are split without regard being necessarily given to their phonological or morphological structures. Often, for the conceptual content of a particular text to be fully grasped, it requires the piecing together of the truncated morphs or morphemes of words.

Osundare’s poetic texts show a wide range of truncated words. There are those that are truncated phonologically (syllabically), those that are truncated morphologically and those whose truncation is neither phonologically nor morphologically motivated. These truncations are marked with or without hyphens and they often spread beyond single lines. They constitute an avenue through which Osundare strives to achieve some form of collocational scatter for his words, a feature which increases the expansive range of his words. We shall illustrate this point shortly, but for now, we show the different patterns of truncation in the texts.

1.4.1        Phonologically (Syllabically) Motivated Truncations

These types constitute the highest number in the poetic texts. They are so called because their divisions are determined by syllable end. Some degree of musicality is achieved in their pronunciation. The following examples are available in the texts:

     SMP:                        “Con-Gre-Gation” (28), “Con-Tact”(49);

     A Nib                         “a

lone” (9), “con science”(21), “reliability”, “re-liability”(22),    “eve-     ning sin-phoney” (42), “Burn-ham-dom” (42).


    The Eye:          “spine-less”(16).

    Moonsongs:      “ex


                                     ated” (36), “per….fume” (53).

“a-mazing” (68).


    Waiting Laughters:     “a-

            long” (6), “ill-

                                                            literate” (16).


                        grounded” (78), “re- tiring” (91).


     Songs of the Season: “con-tract” (24), “a-mazing” (116),


 solve” (145), “quiet-

                      ly” (146), “be

                                                              come” (146).

     Midlife: “care-less”(27), “gun-

                                                prints” (67), “geo-


“con-tour” (97).

1.4.2        Morphologically Motivated Truncations

Here, the division of words is determined at the end of morphemes rather than syllables2.. The following examples are observable across the poetic texts:           

    Moonsongs:                 “ash –

            en” (116); “loud-


    Waiting Laughters:      “Wait

      ing” (6), “sleep

                                                ing” (32), “un

                                                                                    do” (32),


                         forgetably” (35), “crown-

                                                            ing” (58).


Midlife:                          “un

                                                   easy” (84).

1.4.3        Non-Phonological, Non-Morphological Truncations

A Nib                           “id-ioms” (9)

Moonsongs:                 “rid-

dling” (57),  “art-

                        eries” (68).


Waiting Laughters:      “band-

ages” (6),  “wo

                                  und” (34), “urge-nt”(74),

“Pilgrim-age” (92),  “comp-

                                                                        ass”(80), “tong

                                                                                         ue” (81).

 1.4.4    The Significance of the Truncations

As the above sets of examples show, there is no consistent pattern in the manner Osundare truncates his words. The different types reflect his desire to achieve variation. They equally show how he seeks to match graphological form with the prevailing contextual (contentual) situation. This fact is obvious in some of the truncated words in 17), 18), 19), and 20) below. In these examples, truncations are used as expressive devices aiding communicative value:

17)          They have reaped another skull

passed lip to lip

at death’s banquet

toasted to granulated dreams

to the eve-ning sin-phoney

of sunset anthems (‘Cock of our Dawn’, A Nib  42).


18)          The moon is an exile

in the territory of the sky

with a fugitive baggage

and platforms of rocky sandals




by hostile fumes

and unrepentant poisons

of foreign factories (Poem xvii, Moonsongs 36).

19)          Wait


And the hours limp a –





of fractured moments  (WL 6).

  20)         When I am dead and gone

When this mouth no longer savours

The warmth of passionate breaths

let me dis




into the blue of the sky

(‘when I am dead and gone’, SOS 45-6).

Text 17) is taken from the poem marking the death of Walter Rodney. The “they” here refers to his killers, those who “burnt him  to death in Burn-ham-dom” (see stanza three of this poem). The truncation of the place name gives a considerable amount of musicality to recitation, a feature which even the invented word “sin-phoney” serves to reinforce even though it is a pun on the more familiar “symphony. In this new coinage, “sin” and “phoney” constitute the key words because of the hyphen Osundare introduces between the words. The result is a new collocational scatter. “Sin” readily collocates with “eve”, the first part of the truncated word “evening”, as we are reminded of Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden (see The Holy Bible, Genesis Chapter 2). “Phoney” itself is intended to register an impression of falsehood. It is a kind of “sin” in its own right. Thus, considered in full, the expression “eve-ning sin-phoney/of sunset anthems” suggests that the anthems Osundare is referring to are not only sinful but also clothed in falsehood. Yet, these were what those who “reaped” Rodney’s skull “toasted granulated dreams” to. It suggests that Rodney’s death was not genuinely mourned by those who murdered him.

Osundare in passage 18) describes yet another ‘phase’ of the moon. He views it here negatively. It is an “exile” which has kept itself distanced from other elements in the sky. The “baggage” it bears is a “fugitive” one. However, the poet does not blame the moon for its state. Rather, he blames the “hostile fumes / and unrepentant poisons / of foreign factories” as being responsible for the moon’s “exiled” state. This at once confirms Osundare’s unhappiness with environmental pollution and the contributions made by Western technology in this regard. Identifying with the moon’s “expatriated” state, then, becomes a strategy for blaming this very culture. What we have in this text is a unique kind of truncation. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it spreads over three lines of unequal indentation, each line containing a fragment of the word “expatriated”. Again, it is expected, as in other patterns of truncation in Osundare’s texts, that the reader’s processing of the word involves an amalgamation of these fragments. Osundare seeks to achieve visual impact.  Of the three fragments that make the word “expatriated”, the only familiar fragment  is the morpheme “ex” which incidentally is not a free morph. In considering the moon to be an exile, Osundare actually takes the word apart from itself.  This is why the words “exile”, “fugitive”, “foreign” all share a semantic affinity with “expatriate,” the nominal from which the past-participial verb “expatriated” is derived.

Three instances of truncated words present themselves in text 19) where Osundare again dwells on the lingering culture of waiting endlessly, often meaninglessly. These are “waiting”, “along” and “bandages”. The poet deliberately fragments these words to now produce new collocational ranges. A point to make about these truncations, as we noted earlier for one-word lines in the poetic texts, is that Osundare seeks to achieve graphological emphasis by this. Within the context of this excerpt, the new words emphasised are “wait”, “long” and “ages”. These words share the same collocational span. “Long” and “ages” (as in “waiting for long”, “waiting for ages”) convey almost the same impression. They describe the kind of wait the unidentified persona in the text undertakes. As the hours drag slowly on, waiting becomes a bore. Lexical truncation is not used here just to register this impression; it is also to try to capture it.  Reading requires the harmonisation of the fragmented words and morphemes to produce a meaningful stretch of utterance.

In the last text we examine in this paper (text 20), we note that of the graphologically highlighted fragments in the two truncated words “dissolves” and “quietly”  (“dis,” “solve”, “quiet” and “ly”) only “quiet” gains a prominence that is semantically relevant to the text’s conceptual content. This emphasises the manner the speaker in the text seeks dissolution “into the blue of the sky” when he is dead and gone. What he seeks is a quiet death.

1.5       Conclusion

Osundare’s graphetic manipulations clearly confirm him as a poet who truly cares about the appearance of his poems on the page. The more their appearance serves as some form of run-in towards the communicative core, the better. For a poet who is largely concerned with the ideational capacities of the written word, this is quite justifiable. That the poems we have seen manifest instances of deliberate foregrounding, therefore, reflects the desire of the poet to register his unique artistic stamp. He also seeks, by this, to break the monotony of visual patterning. This has an affective appeal, which commits the reader to the poems rather than serve as a bore.


1   The eight volumes are:  Songs of the Marketplace (abbreviated in some places in this essay as SMP)  Village Voices, A Nib in the Pond, (abbreviated as A Nib)  The Eye of the Earth (The Eye) and Moonsongs. Others are Waiting Laughters, (abbreviated as WL), Songs of the Season,  and Midlife, (abbreviated as ML).

   There are some exceptions in the examples “un-do”, “un-forgetably”, “un-easy”, which can also be considered under syllabically motivated truncation, because of their prefixes. 


 Works Cited

Adagbonyin, A. S.  Niyi Osundare: Two Essays and an Interview. Ibadan: Sam Bookman Educational and  Communication Services, 1996.

Crystal, David and Derek. Davy. Investigating English Style. Essex: Longman, 1969.

Leech, Geoffrey. A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry. Essex: Longman, 1969.

Osakwe, Mabel. “The Language of Wole Soyinka’s Poetry: A Diatype of English”. Doctoral diss. U of Ibadan,    1992.

Osundare,  Niyi. Songs of the Marketplace. Ibadan: New Horn Press, 1983.

—  —  –. Village Voices. Ibadan: Evans Brothers, 1984.

—  —  –. A Nib in the Pond. Ife: Ife Monographs on Literature and Criticism.  4th Series, (6), 1986.

—  —  –. The Eye of the Earth. Ibadan: Heinemann, 1986.

—  —  –. Moonsongs. Ibadan: Spectrum, 1986.

—  —  –. Waiting Laughters. Lagos: Malthouse, 1988.

—  —  –. Songs of the Season. Ibadan: Heinemann, 1990.

—  —  –.  Midlife. Ibadan: Heinemann, 1993.