Can Christopher Okigbo Be Considered An African Modernist?

3073 words - 12 pages

Should Okigbo be described as an African modernist poet? <2,800 words +- 10 per cent tolerance>THERE are many factors to be taken into account when discussing Christopher Okigo and if he should be considered an African modernist.It is important to look at the socio-political climate - the war across the continent which was happening - and the link between his words, the sound of his poetry and the relationship between tribalism and his intended audiences.Okigbo's influences are not limited to Africa, he borrows from Gerard Manley Hopkins as well as a mix of European, Asian, and African influences. He takes from African and western religion and, from his time studying classics, takes influence from romantic, pastoral and classical Greek and Latin influences.At the beginning of his poetic career Okigbo was eurocentric and modernist in his approach to poetry and this drew criticism."Heavensgate is a dressed up Christian ritual... The invocation of an indigenous deity is patently insincere." (Chinweizu, Jemie and Madubuike, P163)In examining the transformations in its formal properties and thematic content that African poetry had undergone since its evolution, Ken Goodwin observed in Understanding African Poetry early forms of African poetry were "derived from English models", "naïve" and "sometimes pathetic in their acceptance, or partial acceptance of the white man's values".Gerald Moore and Ulli Beier also concluded much African poetry of the early 1960s suffered "from an overdose of [Ezra] Pound, [Gerard Manley] Hopkins or [T. S.] Eliot" (p. 23).But Okigbo wanted to become the preacher, town crier and profit, warning his countrymen about war and the abuse of power and so he adopted more traditional modes, infusing tribal song and proverb into his work.He made a conscious effort to speak in a more African voice and although his poetry is complex and contains a rich weave of intertextualities, Okigbo is said to be the poet whose work exemplifies the evolution of African poetry from a European modernist perspective towards more identifiable African concerns and that his historical and cultural location "cannot be separated from his poetic innovations". (Brown and Gupta, p399)His work bears hallmarks of European modernism - fragmentation, juxtaposition and defamiliarization and his style imitated modernist artists, such as Picasso, with the "cutting and gluing" of different pieces an "appropriate description of his poetic technique" and offers a "paradigm for a postcolonial culture of displacement where meanings can associate, proliferate, collide, disintegrate and reform (p393)"Okigbo's poetry has been called "prophetic, menacing, terrorist, violent and protesting," and by that description we can start to see similarities between his work and those of the European modernist poets. (Anozie p172)Okigbo blends European and African into a new form and this accounts for the jarring, apocalyptic tone of poems like Come Thunder, Hurrah for...

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