I have been, at best, ambivalent about Ojaide's poetry, at least from my encounters with his earlier works (as published). But I have always really enjoyed his readings, his performances, and the cover of this one was so appealing that I picked it up (and he quite graciously inscribed it to me as well).
I am not sure I would have picked up on the pose that the back cover blurb presents -- "Tanure Ojaide adopts the persona of a homeboy griot returning from travels" -- though perhaps I ought to have connected the poet with the cyclic return of the harmattan. No never-mind.
There are striking lines and some very evocative, almost heartbreaking passages:
At the wobbling Kaiama Bridge that holds the DeltaIt is a little disconcerting to read what amounts to a paean "For the Egbesu Boys" though perhaps not surprising considering the horrors wrought on the Niger Delta and its people.
together, I see a procession of oil-soaked water spirits
wailing their way out. No boats of fishermen plying
the waterways; no regatta and no swimmers in sight."At the Kaiama Bridge" (34)
It is to the Delta that Ojaide returns, time and again. There is little abject nostalgia (Ojaide is far too adept a thinker, let alone poet, for that); and though not every verse works -- the call and response of "Dialogue" (43-4) just never snaps, for instance -- and there are pages where the relentless and sometimes far too repetitive imagery and cadence of corruption and abstracted oppression threaten to swamp all else, the collection as a whole holds up the promise of the cover: a minimalist, striking, stripped down poetic portrayal of a largely denuded landscape.
Harmattan is a strong collection, and one that will bring me back more readily to Ojaide's extensive offerings ( though I do wish his website were up-to-date and the links all functioning as they ought).