African Poetry

Topics: Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, African people Pages: 7 (1903 words) Published: May 30, 2013
RICAN poetryTruthful and fruitful human experience forms the basis for written expression in any branch of literature. Conveyed through a language of international exchange, it can reach a wider audience for whom it becomes a useful reference in times of need. The English language attained international prominence due to several reasons; one of the most important being colonization. As in other countries of the Commonwealth, English was imposed on Anglophone Africa as a means of easy communication and administrative convenience. It is a historical irony that the same language serves the African writer in voicing his thoughts and feelings to the world at large. While discussing the future of English, Simeon Porter observes, It will adopt to meet new needs and in that incessant reshaping and adaptation, every speaker and writer consciously or unconsciously will play some part. (181) Today, the prediction of Porter came true of African writing in English. It brought strength and appeal to the English language by adding a large range of new vocabulary and usage. Writing on the problems faced by the African English writers, Chinua Achebe the famous Nigerian writer says, The African writer should aim to use English that brings out his message without altering the language to the extent that its value as a medium of international exchange will be lost. He should aim at fashioning out an English, which is at once unusual and able to carry his peculiar experience. (61) It is applaudable that the writers of Africa succeeded in accomplishing the above task set by Achebe, which is by any means not an easy one. Their successful integration of native experience and expression in an alien tongue received worldwide acclaim. Their success proved, as critics like Srinivasa Iyengar pointed out, A shot in the arm of modern English Literature has had to come from West Africans like Amos Tutuola, Wole Soyinka and Gabriel Okara. (16) The role of poetry, in African literature, has been highly effective in providing the people with the needful inspiration and the necessary insight. The language of poetry, for the African people, is a source of learning and becoming aware of their destiny that necessitates the knowledge of their past, present and the possible future. These and several other ideas fuelled African poetry in English. For the African poets, poetry became a powerful medium through which they conveyed to the world audience, not only their "despairs and hopes, the enthusiasm and empathy, the thrill of joy and the stab of pain..." but also a nation's history as it moved from " freedom to slavery, from slavery to revolution, from revolution to independence and from independence to tasks of reconstruction which further involve situations of failure and disillusion". (Iyengar, 15) When we read African Literature, we should, by obligation remember that, colonization was at its harshest in Africa. As history stands proof, it was highly exploited and savaged by the ambitious 'white man'. This experience is on the minds of all thinking poets. Despite getting 'uhuru' or independence, the bitterness returns again and again. The unforgettable colonial past comes angrily alive in a poem by Kenya's poet Joseph Kareyaku thus, It is not as you suppose, your lands,

your cars, your money, or your cities
I covet...
It is what gores me most,
that in my own house and in my very own home
you should eye me and all that's mine
with that practiced, long-drawn, insulting sneer. (quoted in Iyengar, 30) In a poem entitled "If you want to know me" Noemia De Sousa writes ruefully of Africa, by effectively using the literary device of personification thus: This is what I am

empty sockets despairing of possessing of life
a mouth torn open in an anguished wound...
a body tattooed with wounds seen and unseen
from the harsh whipstrokes of slavery
tortured and magnificent
proud and mysterious
Africa from head to foot
This is what I am. (Narasimhaiah, 137)
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