Informative World

Christopher Okigbo – Looking Back at His Short-lived Life and Taking Stock of His Poetic Legacy

Christopher Ifekandu Okigbo one of the earliest Nigerian poets, who within his short lifetime, for he died fighting for the independence of Biafra, established himself as a central figure in the development of modern African poetry,has remained one of the most important African poets to write in English. Generally acknowledged as a master poet in spite of a complexity drawn from obscure allusions and symbolism, he has even been named Africa’s finest poet and one of the major modernist writers of the twentieth century. “For while other poets wrote good poems,” Chinua Achebe observed.”Okigbo conjured up for us an amazing, haunting poetic firmament of a wild and violent beauty how to write a cause and effect essay..”

His birth and early life

Okigbo was born on August 16, 1932, in the town of Ojolo, about ten miles from the city of Onitsha in Anambra State, to a father who was a teacher in Catholic missionary schools during the height of British colonial rule in Nigeria, Okigbo spent his early years moving from station to station along with his father. Despite the fact that his father was a devout Christian, Okigbo felt a special affinity to his maternal grandfather, Ijejiofor of the Oto family, who has always provided the priesthood to the shrine of the deity Idoto personified in the river Idoto that flowed through his village. Later in life, Okigbo came to believe that his grandfather’s soul was reincarnated in him.

His Educatiiobn at Umuahia and Ibadan

Okigbo graduated from Government College Umuahia two years after the noted Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, having earned himself a reputation as a voracious reader and a versatile athlete. The following year, he entered the University of Ibadan to study Medicine, but switching to Classics in his second year.. He also earned himself a reputation as a gifted pianist, accompanying Wole Soyinka in his first public appearance as a singer. It is believed that he wrote original music at that time, though none has survived.

His initial literary work and art

After graduating in 1956, he held a succession of jobs throughout the country. He worked at the Nigerian Tobacco Company, United Africa Company, the Fiditi Grammar School (where he taught Latin), and was Assistant Librarian at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, where he helped found the African Authors Association.

In 1958 his life came to a turning point as he sought to know himself better.He began publishing his works in various journals, notably Black Orpheus a literary journal that was bringing together the best works of African and African American writers. While his poetry was in part a powerful expression of African nationalism, he was adamantly opposed to Negritude, which he denounced as a romantic pursuit of the “mystique of blackness” for its own sake. He also rejected the conception of a commonality of experience between Africans and black Americans, even though it contravened the editorial policy of Black Orpheus. For Okigbo, poetry was a highly personal endeavor. Even though he embraced African culture he rejected the literary concept of Negritude, for he thinks he was just a poet.” A poet writes poetry and once a work is published it becomes public property. It’s left to whoever reads it to decide whether it’s African poetry or English.” He therefore said that there was not any such thing as a poet trying to express African-ness as such a thing doesn’t exist. A poet just simply expresses himself. On precisely these grounds he rejected the first prize in African poetry awarded to him at the 1965 Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar.

In 1963 he became West African Representative of Cambridge University Press at Ibadan, a position which enabled hiim to travel frequently to the United Kingdom, where he attracted further attention. At Ibadan, he became an active member of the Mbari literary club.For he was among the many young artists who were looking for a platform to exchange their views and share their various talents. He and Soyinka, were also musicians, performing in jazz clubs. Consequently in 1961 the Mbari Writers and Artists Club was born in Ibadan founded by the German writer and critic Ulli Beier. who invited Okigbo to be one of the original Mbari committee members together with: Georgina Beier, Wole Soyinka, J. P.Clark, Chinua Achebe, Ezekiel Mphahlele, Amos Tutuola, D. O.

Fagunwa, Dennis Williams, Demas Nwoko, Uche Okeke, Frances Ademola and Janheinz Jahn, the ethnologist. The Mbari Club incooperated various activities as visual arts exhibitions, theatre, creative workshops and a publishing house.in which Okigbo eventually became an editor. It played a decisive role in the birth of modern African literature,. publishing not only the writings of its members and adherents but those of the South African writers Dennis Brutus and Alex La Guma. For the visual arts, it presented the pioneers, such as the painters Uche Okeke and Yusuf Grillo, the sculptor and painter Demas Nwoko, and the silk-screen artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya. The Mbari Club promoted the creation of a true movement of contemporary African artists, who were poised to generate a new artistic culture reconciling the continent’s cultural traditions and the technical language imposition.

Okigbo published his first poems in the student literary journal Horn, edited by J.P. Clark. though his works also appeared in the more significant literary magazine Black Orpheus. In the same year he also published as a pamphlet, Heavensgate, and a long poem in the Ugandan cultural magazine Transition, published in Kampala.. Okigbo’s early poems reflected the divided cultural heritage of his country, although it had influences from Virgil, Ovid, Eliot, and Pound which seem to be stronger than the oral literature of the Igbo.

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