Monday, October 30, 2006

How to write a poem

I have never really given much thoughts to having to explain the process of writing a poem to anyone. I never even believed it is possible to do so, not having taken any such lesson myself anytime before I wrote the first line of what I chose to show the world. But here I was online last week when someone - a user called Basic - stalked me (and not me alone) successfully on Nairaland for days in an attempt to get me read a poem he wrote. Honestly, it is always very hard to comment on another person's poem, and I often find myself having to explain that, for one with very eccentric taste in poetry, it leaves me in a very tight spot. I do not like all I read. And I do not think all words written in lines are good poetry. But it is hard to make this point to the author without unnecessarily pissing him off or sound too rude. Luckily for me, he displayed some thick-skinned tenacity and a disposition to hear whatever I had to say, so I proceeded. His work was one very hopeful start. A good attempt, but not good enough for the public. We could tear it off, or write it again. I decided it was worth rewriting, and I proceeded to do so myself. This writing is a record of the procedure.

Note, these are my opinions/craft. In the end, it is still up to the author to decide what he wants to say, and how he wishes to say it. Read other user comments on The Rudderless Ship at I recommend the process for reading, especially for anyone interested in developing their craft of writing poetry. The only original parts of my post are my suggestions and advice. The rest are links which would help whoever considers poetry a sea good enough to swim in. At the end of a honing excersice, a tirade against man in the least attractive words ended as a cinquain. Look below.

The Rudderless Ship by Basic (Unedited)

What a huge success man had recorded
In mastering the material world
A success achieved at the expense of failure!
The failure of man to disciplione himself
On the moral and spiritual planes

Indeed founded is Western Civilisation
On a materialistic philosophy of life
Which like a vanquished soccer coach at his boys
Frowns upon all that is spiritual
And against all moral and spiritual values revolt

Like as a prayer warrior in supplication
So had man become engrossed
In this materialistic world
Of disillusionment and frustration
Of many problems by man caused

The pursuit of carnal pleasures
And the gratificatification of his sensual desires
Are what man had made his goals in life
Totally had he forsaken the spirituals
And the morals he had eschewed

Man's existence may now be likened
To that of a rudderless ship
Drifting aimlessly in a vast and stormy sea
The sea of the unknown


First thoughts were that the lines were too winding in expressing a simple opinion, so let us replace each verse with a line.

First verse
Man, to change the world, has often failed to change himself

The West spits on all we hold hallowed

Like in a trance, man rolls in the mire of waste his own hands have wrought

he now runs to lick the lust of his rebel heart

He floats, drifts, now on a vast stormy sea of the unknown

Next Step

Now, with five lines that makes some sense, I thought to include rhymes. Afterall, why not?

Here's what we came up with, finally

The Rudderless Ship (Final Version, by Gwatala)

Man, to change the world, has failed to change himself
The West he blames who spits on him with fangs wide apart.
Like in a trance, he rolls in his mire of waste like a drunken elf,
and he runs with glee to lick the lust of his rebel heart
He floats, drifts, now on a vast stormy sea from where he can't depart.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Writing (Poetry, and pretty much everything else) is beautiful.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Books I have lost

By lending, I have lost contact with the following books. Have you seen them?

1. DR. ZHIVAGO, by Boris Pasternak.

I saw the film much later after I lost the book. How I missed those so called "Poems for Lara". What a shame Pasternak had to decline the Nobel Prize! In losing the book, I lost a chance to compare the work with its portrayal in the Hollywood flick of the same name. Something still tells me the book is with Sola Olorunyomi, and he'll actually return it... someday! On the bright side, I still have his film, EVITA with me.

2. SATANIC VERSES, by Salman Rushdie.

Bought in the UK, (since the ban/fatwa prevents it from being sold here in Nigeria) I lost this one too in the University of Ibadan, loaned out to a friend who refused to return it :(. I had read it halfway and gave it out only because I was busy with other issues. I'm on my way to getting another one. Rushdie is a genius with prose-poetry.

3. MY UNCLE OSWALD, by Roald Dahl.

My first encounter with Dahl, I found this one of the best sex writings that is not only clean, but enchanting and with sustained humour. I only wonder what he wrote in his children's books. I'll miss this book more because it is signed. No, not by the author but by the German friend who gave it to me. :(

4. HOUSE OF WAR, by Dare Babarinsa.

Signed this time by the author when I met him during my tenure as president of UCJ (,, he was always staying late at his office in Ikeja so I got some time to conduct an interview and secure a promise from him to come to the University to contribute his quota to campus journalism. A promise which he kept. I carried his comprehensive first-hand narration of the Nigerian crises of the early eighties with much jealousy, until it moved by itself out of my room at A52, Mellamby Hall, UI, not to be found anymore.


For all who are interested in the life and times of the curious character that was Richard Feynman, the 1965 Nobel Prize-winning Physicist, famous for his practical jokes and off-handedness with serious issues of physics, this is the book to read. Written in his own words. If you think scientists do not have fun, you'd be surprised and have a change of mind. He died, I think, in 1998. I bought this at a "bend-down-bookstore" at Dugbe for 100naira from someone who apparently didn't know what it was worth, and now I'll have to pay a fortune to get it at Amazon. I know who this book is with, but I doubt she'd give it back, having got a taste of its contents. :((


I'll buy another one.


I have another copy.

8. OEDIPUS ON THE ROAD by Henry Bauchau

A prose work that continued the Oedipus story with much imagination. It's quite moving, and recommended for reading, to anyone interested in a well written sequel to the Sophoclean trilogy.

9. PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS, by Sanya Onabamiro.

I got this one, and another one of the same title by Tam David West as a gift/inheritance from my father and now, my friend who took it without my permission will no more return it.

10. TIMELESS TAI, a collection of Tai Solarin's articles on education.

It's red, it's laminated. Now it's lost. There you'll read why nSolarin was called a thinker. Or a "confused" one, as Soyinka said in The Man Died.

11. THE MAN DIED, by Wole Soyinka

The black edition. I heard that this one I now have - the brown one is an edited one, with original parts deleted. Worse are the errors! Too many typos to count in a work of an accomplished writer. One of the ills of publishing in Nigeria, I would say.


Ah, I almost forgot how an authographed copy of a friend's work went mysteriously. If you read this Tolu, you may wanna ask for my postal address...!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I shall not change the world

Today I finally realized that I will not change the world. Not that the feeling is new, but now it has dawned on me afresh: I do not have the faintest idea of what will save the world.

I have been out of the house since morning, went round town in search of one thing or another, and all I got is the same feeling that there really is no change. The world will go on to justify the doom already fortold. If there is hope, I can't see it. And my little ideas - no matter how I try, as I will try - will not save anyone. We will go and we will return to see that there really is nothing new under the sun.


This too shall pass, a drape across the sky
of the mind, what is seen is a repressed swirl.
This rote shall fade, a foot chiseled as a pearl
and the ground will shine to melt this steadied lie.

Around the pole of fate this stump will turn
And we, at last to glimpse a trace, will then be born.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Another Graffiti

I saw the following today at a cybercafe in Ibadan:

"Roam was not built in a day"

Definitely Hilarious, a timeless graffiti!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Self Immolation and Co

Dear ABC,

Today, much of my past and recent memory flashed across my mind like from a fast moving car. Actually it's not unlike before. I have been here many times over and over, turning in a doorless quandary. What however flashed repeatedly is my image as Johnny Cash, or Capote. I read that article again today in Ibadan, I wondered if I have not laboured tirelessly these past years in a vain exercise to prove one point, to defy a recurring dark blanket on my mind that taunts that I cannot do this, do that. I have done many things that now I feel were just to prove that they were not after all impossible: UCJ, Okigbo, University of Ibadan, University of London, writing poetry, writing prose, making a mark, LinguaBoard and the distant contacts made there, WALC2004, MacArthur Scholarship, Kenya, Census, translations. etc. If I do not attribute the extraordinary efforts I spent doing these to some defiant repressed memory, I would have said that I was not a human being, but a freak spirit who only missed his way to earth on his way from Creation. But I digress. There must really have been something I have tried to make the world see in those instances, something seemingly opposed by an ubiquitous force - or maybe not.


Mother will attribute this to having read too much books and having finally got lost in the quandary of my own creation...


Maybe life is short. Maybe it's long. What I am sure of is now, and the realities are as dizzying as equally unsure. Have I lost a step? Have I lost it? Let me say that for now, I am still locked in the great struggle of understanding current reality, and if you don't understand, I will not take it against you. Below is part of my most recent self-assessment:

I do not blame you for a life badly spent, badly lent. No I dont.
I only worry, for me. The map is lost which brought me here.
Time will tell, maybe to slit the dream and show what's hidden there.
A rolling stone will always fall while climbing a winding mount.

Be well.