The thematic concern of Chinua Achebe’s life and writing is to articulate the meaning of what it is to be African from the perspective of one who is authentically African. Critic Nahem Yousaf has said that Achebe’s intent as a writer is to “challenge the insidious stories in which the colonized and dispossessed are rendered inhuman and inept in order to make heroes of the ’hunter’ colonialists, and to shore up the memoirs of colonial apologists.” Achebe expresses his love for and critique of Africa, specifically Nigeria, in all of his writing. Achebe’s political and social critique of his country comes out of his love for the people and the place that he identifies as home.
Christmas in Biafra
Christmas in Biafra is a poetic response to the Biafran War (1967-1970; also known as the Nigerian Civil War). In this collection, Achebe relates the stories of the people who suffered during the war. The images created, as in “Benin Road,” are portraits of a country tortured by the reality that on a highway sometimes, “Speed is violence/ Power is violence/ Weight violence.”
The book is divided into five sections: “Prologue,” “Poems About War,” “Poems Not About War,” “Gods, Men, and Others,” and “Epilogue.” Although the main theme of the book is war, the book has a religious tone. Poems such as “Lazarus” suggest that this collection is a spiritual polemic grounded in the complex depictions of war and its aftermath. Achebe helps the reader realize that when a war is over, a country—and all that is associated with it—must regroup, writing that “life catches desperately at passing hints of normalcy.”
Collected Poems is a broad representation of Achebe’s poetry, with its themes of the cultural effects of imperialism and colonialism. In its introductory “parable,” Achebe details the need for this collection, which was published because the author received an “urgent call from a lady who identified herself as Curator of Another Africa,” an exhibition that included his work. In the postmodern sense, Achebe’s Collected Poems was called into being because of the synergistic relationship between an author and his prospective audience.