The work of Christopher Okigbo, a Nigerian poet, is extremely difficult to approach, because it incorporates both the African and European traditions. This blending is evident in the imagery and allusions that rely interchangeably on the two heritages. It also distinguishes the technique, which not only reflects the indigenous literature and religious incantations of the Igbo people in Nigeria but includes as well the ritualistic language of Roman Catholicism and Western poets ranging from Gerard Manley Hopkins to T. S. Eliot.
The four numbered parts of “Siren” constitute what might be called Okigbo’s artistic credo. Here the poet—noted for his reluctance to discuss his own work—is “Suddenly becoming talkative.” Part 1 of “Siren” employs an essential ingredient of the Igbo religious ceremony, the incantation, as the poet invokes the goddess with her traditional trappings, “A tiger mask and nude spear.” Having undergone his “cleansing” through this quasi-religious ceremony, he is ready to express his Africanness through poetry.
In the second part, Okigbo draws an elaborate metaphor in which he traces the development of a poet’s career, starting as “a shrub among the poplars”—that is, an aspiring writer among those already established. He sees writers as “Horsemen of the apocalypse,” which is a typical reaction in Africa where the writer considers himself and is considered by others to be the conscience and...
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