July 15, 2020

I Wanted to Challenge the Pretentious Prudery

By Sule. E. Egya






A poem rescued him.

He could not recall which poem it was. But he remembers how it happened. He lumbered into the bathroom and locked himself in, pen and paper in hand.

Then the poem came, not as a torturer but a redeemer.

Thereafter, some kind of creative sensation came upon him, followed by a few words and lines from the lost poems.

Some of these remembered bits came from a volume of love poems he had almost completed before the storm. Long before he moved to New Orleans, he had desired to publish a volume that would, in his words, “plumb the softer aspects of being and show the other side of the so-called “political poet.”

He wanted to confound those who had “boxed” him into the “political poet” label, and to demonstrate that “the romantic can be political, and the political can be romantic.”

He found it reprising that it was the poems of “the softer aspects of being” that had come to rescue him from those insomniac nights, from that frequent torture by lost poems.

It was providence at work, since, even his survival at that moment depended on acts of softness from people who loved and admired him. Besides recollecting and re-penning old poems, he started writing new ones on the theme of love and of “the softer aspects of being”.

Naturally, Tender Moments: Love Poems was born. Besides the emotional crisis that attended to the volume, Osundare faced technical problems. He recalls:

I found the poems generally challenging to write. For I wanted to be spontaneous without being soppy, dire, without being wayward, sensuous without being sleazy, pragmatic without being pornographic. I wanted to mention certain things without appearing to have mentioned them. I wanted to challenge the pretentious prudery and overwrought hygiene in much of contemporary poetry with poems that challenge the audience to feel and think, and explode the myth the ‘Africans only know how to make love; they do not know how to sing about it.

It took time, dedication, and hard work for Osundare to finish work on this volume which today is being hailed as his most popular book of poetry. The volume may have achieved its aim of bringing out the softer aspect of life in a poet considered by many as uncompromisingly, hermetically political. For those who had thought that he, as a poet, had always been too preoccupied with the grander things of life, not with trivial things such as love and sentiments, the volume was a surprise.

The curiosity of Osundare’s fans was also informed by the thematic and aesthetic dimensions of the volume: it is the sentimental rhetoric of a male lover addressed to a female lover. His fans were curious about the woman or women that had inspired the poems. Unlike his previous volume, Tender Moments is not dedicated to anybody, any group of persons, which is rather strange.

The 102-page volume contains about 77 poems, divided into three sections: “In the Mood”, “Songs of Absence”, and “Metaphor”.

Essentially, the poems are a celebration of love, of the female figure, and of emotional union. The male persona consistently dramatises how the love of his woman has remained fundamental to his survival; how it gives him a renewed sense of sanity, balance, and comportment; how it re-shapes the way he looks at realities around him. The last poem in the volume, “Metaphor” was inspired by a film called II Postino on the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda whom Osundare greatly admires. Neruda, among other ancient poets and their lovers, is invoked in the poem:


Pablo, poet, priest, people’s bard

Lend me metaphors, lend me words

Lend me the magic that wins your women

I want to sing my way to Beatrice’s heart


Teach me Dante’s Nuova Terra, Boccaccio’s banter

Help me wade through my own Sea of Sorrows,

Put a bridge across my Gulf of Sighs

Another Beatrice beckons: I am dumb to her vital demand.


Excerpted from Niyi Osundare: A Literary Biography, by Sule E. Egya. Published in 2017 by SEVHAGE, an imprint of VERSHAGE Enterprises, in collaboration with Whiteline.


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