Saturday, March 7, 2015

Sunday's Mini-challenge: Wole Soyinka

Hi everyone ~  I am continuing my featured poet series with another Nobel Prize winner in Literature (1986), Wole Soyinka.  

Wole Soyinka was born Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka in Abeokuta, Nigeria on July 13, 1934. The son of a canon in the Anglican Church, Soyinka grew up in an Anglican mission compound in Aké. However, his parents were careful to balance this colonial, English-speaking environment with regular visits to his father's ancestral home in Isara. He would later chronicle these years in his autobiographical work, Aké: The Years of Childhood (1981) as well as in Isara, a Voyage Around "Essay" (1989).

Soyinka attended the University of Ibadan (1952-54) before earning a BA in English from the University of Leeds. From 1957 to 1959, he served as a script-reader, actor and director at the Royal Court Theatre, London, and while there, developed three experimental pieces with a company of actors he had brought together. Although African writers have traditionally viewed English, French, and other European languages as the tongue of the colonial power, the tool of stigma and imperialism, Soyinka made the decision to write in English in order to gain access to an international audience.

In 1960, Soyinka returned to Nigeria and founded the 1960 Masks, a theatre company that would present his first major play, A Dance of the Forests, in which the spirit world and the living world clash over the future of a half-born child. Although A Dance of the Forests exhibits a fairly serious tone, much of Soyinka's early work satirized the absurdities of his society with a gently humorous and affectionate spirit. As the struggle for independence in his country turned sour, however, Soyinka's work began to take on a darker tone.

In October of 1965, Soyinka was arrested for allegedly seizing the Western Region radio studios and making a political broadcast disputing the published results of the recent elections. In December of that same year, he was acquitted. He then served as director of the Drama School of Ibadan University in Nigeria until 1967, when he was arrested for writings sympathetic to secessionist Biafra. This time, he was imprisoned for twenty-two months. In Madmen and Specialists (1970), written shortly after his release from prison, Soyinka's protest grows much more powerful, perhaps as much a tribute to the playwright's suffering as to his growth as an artist. Madmen and Specialists dramatizes what the NEW YORK TIMES calls, "a police state in which only madmen and spies can survive, in which the losers are mad and the winners are paranoid about the possibility of another rebellion." In another powerful piece, Death and the King's Horseman (1975), the Elesin--chief minister to the dead King--fails to properly exercise his act of ritual suicide, thus jeopardizing the delicate and mystical balance between the dead, the living, and the unborn.

Soyinka's other plays include Kongi's Harvest (1967), The Lion and the Jewel (1964), The Trials of Brother Jero (1964), The Bacchae of Euripides (1973), Opera Wonyosi (1977), A Play of Giants (1985), Requiem for a Futurologist (1985) and Beautification of Area Boy (1994). He is also known for his novels, autobiographical works, poetry, and criticism, and in 1986, he became the first African writer ever to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Your hand is heavy, Night, upon my brow.
I bear no heart mercuric like the clouds,
to dare.
Exacerbation from your subtle plough.
Woman as a clam, on the sea's cresent.
I saw your jealous eye quench the sea's
Flouorescence, dance on the pulse incessant
Of the waves. And I stood, drained
Submitting like the sands, blood and brine
Coursing to the roots. Night, you rained
Serrated shadows through dank leaves
Till, bathed in warm suffusion of your dappled cells
Sensations pained me, faceless, silent as night thieves.
Hide me now, when night children haunt the earth
I must hear none! These misted cells will yet
Undo me; naked, unbidden, at Night's muted birth.

Fado Singer for Amalia Roderinguez

My skin is pemiced to fault 
I am down to hair-roots, down to fibre filters 
Of the raw tobacco nerve

Your net is spun of sitar strings
To hold the griefs of gods: I wander long
In tear vaults of the sublime

Queen of night torments, you strain
Sutures of song to bear imposition of the rites
Of living and of death. You

Pluck strange dirges from the storm
Sift rare stones from ashes of the moon, and rise
Night errands to the throne of anguish

Oh there is too much crush of petals
For perfume, too heavy tread of air on mothwing
For a cup of rainbow dust

Too much pain, oh midwife at the cry
Of severance, fingers at the cosmic cord, too vast
The pains of easters for a hint of the eternal.

I would be free of your tyranny, free
From sudden plunges of the flesh in earthquake
Beyond all subsidence of sense

I would be free from headlong rides
In rock seams and volcanic veins, drawn by dark steeds
On grey melodic reins.

Please read more of his poems here.

Our challenge is to write a new poem or prose poem in response to Wole Soyinka's words. Some examples of responses include affirming what the speaker said or using his title or line of verse as a jumping board for your own writing.  I look forward to reading your work ~ Happy weekend to all ~ Grace (aka Heaven)


Grace said...

Hi everyone ~ I hope you enjoy his poems & I am looking forward to your responses ~

Margaret said...

The featured poet series is one of my favorites! Love learning about new poets and learning more about those I know. I am on a bit of a blogger break, but I might sneak in and post something a bit late! Thank you for the work that went into this.

brudberg said...

I love these series.. It really challenge me.. the complexity of these poems sometimes stun me, and seeing poetry at its best... The night poem was my inspiration, though I must say as a lover of Fado I might return to that one too...

Scarlet said...

Thanks Margaret ~ As I am researching on other poets, I am also learning along the way ~

Bjorn, I find his work really complex so this is really a challenge for all of us ~


Marian said...

Really wonderful, Grace, thank you. Very inspiring.

humbird said...

Inspiring tremendously, Grace! Thank you!

Arlee Bird said...

As I was reading those names at the beginning of this I thought I was reading a fantasy. What a story. The guy has quite a life history.

Arlee Bird
A to Z Challenge Co-host
Tossing It Out

Kerry O'Connor said...

Is it just my blog feed or has the entire text of this post vanished?
Going to check the original.

Anonymous said...

Boy this stirred a mask on the pile ... Thanks, Grace, for doing the heavy lifting and reminding us again what a big pond we're on ... How lucky we are (to have you -- and that pond!).

Grace said...

Hi Kerry,

Good to see that all is well in blogland, smiles ~

Maria, Humbird, Arlee Bird

His life and words are very inspiring to read ~

Brendan, thank you for supporting the featured poet series ~ I too am continually amazed by the terrific poets from other countries ~

Susie Clevenger said...

Thanks Grace for introducing us to this poet. I have written two poems for this, but still I don't know if I like either for the prompt. You've definitely stirred up my muse. :)

Grace said...

Susie, post two, if you like, smiles ~

I will be checking throughout the week for any late entries ~

C.C. said...

Brilliant introduction, Grace. Thank you for all the hard work you do behind the scenes for these posts. It must take so much time and effort and these are always so inspirational and just really get the muses dancing with glee. Thank you, thank you :-)

Jim said...

Thank you, Grace. This was a little bit painful but I needed to write it. Many years after my five years in the Army, I still ask, "but what for?" Of course I knew, so did Dr. Soyinka.

Outlawyer said...

Thanks, Grace. I have read Ake, but not read the poems at all. They are wonderful. k.

Susan said...

Death and the King's Horseman is one of my absolute favorite plays. It is a joy to read Soyinka's poetry. I'll try to have something for you by Tuesday, Kerry.

Hannah said...

Thank you, Grace! I enjoyed this poetry and was inspired to research the poet's birth place! :)

Anonymous said...

Crushing night makes me think of death. I hope I wasn't too sentimental writing of the loss of our dog.

Susan said...

(I'm sorry, Heaaven!! I don't know why I wrote Kerry!)