21st March is World Poetry Day.
Its purpose, according to the 1999 UNESCO declaration, is to promote the reading, writing, publishing, and teaching of poetry throughout the world. What better way to celebrate the day than to celebrate some of the most famous Nigerian poets?
Ben Okri is a Nigerian poet and writer, widely considered one of Africa’s foremost post-modern and post-colonial writers.
He first recorded success as a writer at the age of 21, with the publication of “Flowers and Shadows”, his first novel. His place as an author of repute was consolidated when he became the youngest ever winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1991 for his novel “The Famished Road”.
Okri’s works are, among other things, largely influenced by oral tradition, especially stories told by his mother. His experience of the Nigeria civil war has also contributed to his work. His poetry work includes “An African Elegy”, “Rise like Lions: Poetry for the many” and “Mental Fight”.
Widely revered as one of the major modernist writers of the 20th century, and an exceptional post-colonial English-language African poet, Okigbo had a lot of his work published in various international journals while working at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka.
He joined the Biafra army during the secession and died in active service in Nsukka, the very place where his career as a poet began. Many of his works were lost during a bombing raid by the Nigerian Air Force, on his hilltop home in Enugu, however, some survived, including poems written in his native Igbo language.
Okigbo published “Limits” (1964), “Lament of the Masks” a Yoruba praise poem in commemoration of the centenary of the birth of W. B. Yeats (1964), “Dance of the Painted Maidens” in commemoration of his daughter’s birth in 1964, and the very prophetic “Path of Thunder” (1965–67), published after his death in 1971.
Even though Vatsa was a top-ranking military officer, he was in every right an accomplished poet and writer.
Vatsa published eleven children’s poetry collections and eight for adults whose titles include “Verses for Nigerian State Capitals” in 1973), “Back Again at Wargate” in 1982, and “Reach for the Skies” in 1984. He also had a Pidgin English collection which he titled “Tori for Get Bow Leg”
The Writers’ Village, established in 2013, is named in his honor.
Soyinka is a celebrated playwright and poet, and is the first African to be honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded in 1986. He was also a strong critic of the successive military regimes in Nigeria.
His poetry collections include: “Telephone Conversation” (1963), which appeared in Modern Poetry in Africa, “Idanre and other poems” (1967), “A Big Airplane Crashed Into The Earth”, originally titled “Poems from Prison” (1969), “Mandela’s Earth and other poems” (1988) and “Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known” (2002).
The poet/playwright has a long list of other honors, which include the 2009 Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award, International Humanist Award (2014), Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Humanities, University of Johannesburg, South Africa (2017), and Europe Theatre Prize’s “Special Prize” (2017)
Osundare regularly had his poems published in newspapers during the military regime. Poetry was his vehicle of criticism of the ruling junta. This got him frequent brushes with security operatives, who asked to know what his poems meant and whom they were referring to.
Osundare holds a number of honors for his poetry, including the Fonlon/Nichols award for “excellence in literary creativity, combined with significant contributions to Human Rights in Africa”.
Some of his work include the 1986 poem, “The Eye of the Earth”, which won both the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, and the Association of Nigerian Authors’ poetry prize, and “Waiting Laughters” (1990) which won the Noma Award.
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Akwaowo Willie is a social media consultant for several businesses including SMEs and Startups. He is also an entrepreneur and writer with interests in entertainment, media, fashion, among others. He is married, with 2 adorable children.