THE Olympics scheduled for London are 129 days away but Nigeria has already picked her first Gold Medal. Literarily. As part of the highlights of the Olympics games, the work of Nigeria’s award-winning poet and U.S.-based distinguished professor of English, Niyi Osundare, will be on display in major public centres in the United Kingdom (UK), organisers of the games and their partners have announced.
In a letter to Osundare, the organisers disclosed that one of his poems would be on display in the country and aired in a special broadcast series by the British Broadcasting Service (BBC) to celebrate the hosting of the 2012 Olympics by the City of London.
Speaking yesterday in the U.S., Osundare expressed happiness that the selection of poems from around the world is part of the celebration of the Olympics.
“It is a lesson for the rest of the world. While it is important to run and jump, things related to the mind and culture are also important,” he stated.
Besides the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) broadcast in major city centres in London, including on the London Tube, the Underground train that transports Londoners, Osundare’s poem and others from every country participating in the games would be showcased. There will be one poem from each country.
The BBC broadcast series, tagged “The Written Word”, which is a joint venture between the BBC and Creative Scotland, a Scottish organisation, will include poems selected from each of the 205 countries competing at this year’s Olympics.
Osundare’s poem selected is “Raindrum”, which was published in Selected Poems (Heinemann, 1992) and both its English and Yoruba versions would be aired. The Yoruba version, translated by the author himself, is entitled “Gbedu Ojo”. Another U.S.-based Nigerian professor, Akintunde Akinyemi, from the University of Florida, helped Osundare with the Yoruba tone marks for the translation.
The selected poems from around the world were not entered in any competition by the poets. They were all chosen by the organisers of the event, confirming the international recognition and honour that the selections entail.
According to the letter announcing this selection to the former University of Ibadan professor of English Language, the broadcast of the “Raindrum” across BBC’s Public Services “will include, but not limited to, the poem text being made available online, as audio downloads, and supported with visual content where required. In addition, the texts and translations of the poems may be reproduced as postcards or posters…”
The organisers added that the project, which will include Osundare’s poem, “is educational in the widest sense”, while its “online resources will ensure that we leave a legacy of truly global scope.”
Besides, the organisers stated that they regard the broadcast of the poets from 205 countries of the world during and beyond the period of the London Olympics as a “vast and ambitious project” which will provide an “opportunity to bond poetry from many nations into the lives of people who might not ordinarily be interested in it, giving them a reason to enjoy and explore a great art form.”
According to Osundare, the people who started the Olympics, the Greeks, had always noted the importance of a sound mind in a sound body, which is what the selection of poems around the celebration of the Olympics now promotes. He called it “a cultural olympics.”
Said he: “I am particularly happy that my poem was not only selected but also its Yoruba translation.” Incidentally, Osundare who was a victim of the Katrina Hurricane attack in the U.S. in 2005, disclosed that the Yoruba version of the poem has been lost to the disaster, but he managed to rewrite it.
He added that four years ago, his poem I Sing of Change was also on display in over 2,000 places around the world as part of an international programme.
Osundare, former Head of Department of English Language at the University of Ibadan, is a playwright, linguist, critic, essayist, media columnist and public intellectual. He has published over 15 books of poetry, including Songs of the Market place, The Eye of the Earth, Songs of the Season, and Waiting Laughters, two books of selected poems, four plays, two books of essays and numerous scholarly works and reviews.
His latest work, City Without a People: The Katrina Poems (2011), based on personal and collective experiences during the Hurricane Katrina devastations in New Orleans, U.S., where he teaches, has been gathering rave reviews around the world.
Osundare has won numerous prizes, including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, the Noma Award, the Tchicaya U Tam’si Award for African Poetry, the Fonlon/Nichols Award for “excellence in literary creativity combined with significant contributions to Human Rights in Africa” and the Association of Nigerian Authors Poetry Prize.
A critic lauded Osundare’s poetry for the “synthesis of Western and African/Yoruba oral literary techniques” and the “adaptation of local language and traditional speech pattern”, while another, Megan Gribble, writing on Osundare poems on the rain, states that the poet “presents rain as a living thing that interacts with and affects the rest of the world around it.”
The author of The Word Is an Egg has also been praised for his socially-sensitive and “people-centred” poetry. In response to this, Osundare stated that “when you have a country and a continent and a world where … politics is being used to entrench poverty and enrich a few, then problems are bound to (a)rise. Poetry has become a tool for setting things right, for praising virtue… Genuine poetry raises political songs; political songs directly and indirectly. It tells kings about the corpses, which line their way to the throne. It tells the rich ones the skulls in their cupboards.”