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I Am A Writer

by Odia Ofeimun / 22.11.2013

Odia Ofeimun, poet, polemicist and polymath was born in Iruekpen-Ekuma, Edo State, Nigeria, on March 16th 1950. The author of ten significant volumes of poetry, Mr. Ofeimun has also published two books of political essays, four books on cultural politics as well as editing two anthologies of Nigerian poetry.

At home in Nigeria, Mr. Ofeimun’s practice of journalism, spanning the years of military tyranny, has inspired a whole generation of journalists in print and electronic media. The principled stand of Mr. Ofeimun came at the price of random invasion of his residence, seizure of his manuscripts, computer discs and Nigerian Passport to deny him freedom of movement. Undeterred, and while practicing probably the most dangerous vocation of all at the time, Mr. Ofeimun served the Association of Nigerian Authors as General Secretary and President respectively. He has been designated advisor to PEN Nigeria Centre and is a founding member of the Pan African Writers Association.

Though only 62, Mr. Ofeimun is fondly called ‘Baba’ by the post-civil war generation of Nigerian writers many of whom have found touchstones in his works or have been individually mentored in writing by Mr. Ofeimun. For his copious literary output while engaged with anti-military rule struggle in Nigeria, Mr. Ofeimun has been called an exemplar of conscionable and consistent writing and the writerly life.

This is a very much needed poem of declaration. Stand up African writer and claim your place as a writer.

I am a writer

(Exactly ten years after the British High Commission denied me a visa to enjoy a facility provided by the British Council to see the London Book Fair, and then relented, only for General Abachaís goons to seize my passport, my visa application was rejected again, this time, with a sticker on my passport, which says “he claims to be a writer”…)

I do not claim to be, I am a writer
as my passport insists
across decades, and still counting,
drawing humus from Year Twelve
when school bells added my name
to the throng gambolling along
with the Pied Piper of Hamelin
and, the Ancient Mariner
whose magic, and the bamboo flutes
of Martin Carter in Guyana jail,
took me by hand to know Ogun,
when Okigbo’s road was famished.

I do not claim to be, I am a writer
as the crow flies, thrillingly sure
though the syllabus of errors
at the British High Commission
may set no column for my stripe
after mourned deaths of the mother
my waify poems at eighteen
elevate siblings at the WAEC
stocking ten-legged thesis
on muses who bring the unborn
to quaking life before stamps
hit the pad at the Passport Office.

I do not claim to be, I am a writer
whose trip under African skies
took Sun-dance to Sadler’s Well,
queen Elizabeth hall by the Thames,
and fleet street of glancing nods
with poesy of the body’s rhythm
rounding the Cape of Good Hope
and toasting five hundred years
above visa-gripe and truth’s fibre,
as art for life vouchsafes it,
setting navel closer to navel
to keep fellow-feeling in grace.

I do not claim to be, I am a writer
guerrilla-happy in unhappy times
pacing the common morality
of truth tougher than fear
and blood oaths segmenting worlds
and stalling the muse of spines
whose fist, raised in salute
to commonsense of hearts
to defeat spite and lucre
and the division of spoils
encumbering the earth with visas

I do not claim to be, I am a writer
beyond the prisonhouse of English
in which I wrest my djinns
I’ve crossed borders into Urdu,
and fished in the dialects of Rilke
world-round to tip my lagoon
in homage to Neruda’s Spanish
I’ve returned gifts to Montale
wherever my English envy
denies a tongue its entry,
I’m happy, beyond mere fashion
For trips that visas can’t deny

*For more on Odia Ofeimun and other Pan-African poets please visit Badilisha Poetry website, produced by the Africa Centre.

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