If Only the Road Could Talk by Niyi Osundare, Africa World Press (AWP), New Jersey, USA, 2017, 128pp
It takes a poet of the first rank to make the roads talk. It is noteworthy that this most recent volume of poetry from Niyi Osundare is subtitled “Poetic Peregrinations in Africa, Asia, and Europe”. Osundare is a poet of the wide world who remains rooted at home, bringing back universal truths to the homestead. The poet travels to all the cardinal points and dutifully ensures that all the vast roads of his adventure talk back to us in sublime words of wisdom, style and depth.
In the Preface which he aptly titles “The Road Never Forgets”, Osundare makes this momentous recall: “I have never forgotten what my mother said that afternoon in September 1973 as I was about to leave home for my first long journey to ‘the land beyond the seas’ (the one to Leeds University, UK), when she looked up at the sky, then at the road ahead before clearing my path with a string of prayers, which ended in a confident, self-assuring pronouncement: The road which is taking you away from me will also bring you back to me. The road did. And kept doing so until four decades later when she too picked up the horsetail and danced to the other side of the Great River.”
If Only the Road Could Talk can be read as a blend of crossroads on the long road that Osundare has trodden ever since he published his first volume, Songs of the Marketplace, in 1983. From the auspicious debut Osundare upped the ante as arguably Africa’s most prolific serious poet by publishing critically acclaimed collections such as Village Voices (1984), A Nib in the Pond (1986), The Eye of the Earth (1986), Moonsongs (1988), Songs of the Season (1990), Waiting Laughters (1990), Midlife (1993), Seize the Day (1995), Horses of Memory (1998), The Word is an Egg (2000), Tender Moments: Love Poems (2006), Days (2007), Random Blues (2011), City Without People: The Katrina Poems (2011) etc. There is no letting-up of the lyrical poet as the latest offering eloquently evinces.
Although the poems collected here are divided into four sections – Feathered Heels, Ex Africa, Pacific Peregrinations, and Europe’s Large Foot – there exists a seamlessness that the metaphor of the road prefigures. The road is the agency that connects and separates as the poet journeys forth from the local to the global, deepening and broadening complementary humanity.
The musicality of the archetypal Osundare poem is a given. Across the vast panorama of Osundare’s multiform renditions there is the notification of background tunes as per highlife, juju, makosa, cha-cha-cha, reggae, calypso, soft melodic flute, distant drumtaps, classical, contemporary, folk/indigenous music and so on in regard to the content and context of the variety of poems.
From the first lines of the first poem “Feathered Heels”, to wit, “Feathered heels/Of the Bird of Passage/Whose nest boasts of a straw/From every land” to the last lines of the last poem “The Mountain’s Large Foot”, that is, “I smell the Mountain’s footsteps/In the rustle of fallen leaves”, If Only the Road Could Talk depicts Osundare’s profound probing of roads, places and people. The road tells the listening poet many stories which are retold to the wide world by the contemporary bard.
Osundare as it were sets forth at dawn from his native Ikere-Ekiti to “Eko”, the indigenous Yoruba name for Lagos, where “The sea dances around your feet,/nestles in the plural nationality/between your fractious sands/your text a boatload of blue tropes…” Osundare memorializes Kwame Nkrumah in the poem “Accra” and moves on to “Johannesburg” where “Gold dances beneath your feet…” In “Cairo” of Osundare’s rendition “The city swirls/like the skirt/of a dancing dervish…”
The poem “Alexandria” re-invents the burnt Library of Alexandria that was restored through the bequeathal of the United Nations. Osundare dedicates the poem “Assilah” to Mohammed Banaissa & the Assilah Foundation of the eponymous “beautiful seaside town in Morocco where the poet was presented the Tchicaya U Tam’si African Poetry Prize in 2008.”