Christopher Ifekandu Okigbo Paul Theroux - Essay

Paul Theroux

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There is no question about it: Okigbo is an obscure poet, possibly the most difficult poet in Africa. There are two ways of approaching him; one is to look at his poems, the other is to listen to his music.

By 'looking' I mean examining each word he uses, each echo from another poet (for there are many echoes; he was an extremely well-read person). To do this one would have to make a long list which would include such strange words as kepkanly, anagnorisis, Yunice, Upandru, enki. Flannagan and perhaps a hundred others. The meaning of these words would have to be found, and then it would be necessary to fit this meaning into the line, ignoring the word for the time being.

I tried this once and I was fortunate in having Okigbo a few feet away to correct my mistakes in interpretation. I was especially disturbed by 'Flannagan'; I could not find a reference to it. I asked Okigbo to tell me what it meant.

'Flannagan,' said Okigbo, 'was a priest that used to teach me in Primary School. He ran the Mission near my village.' (p. 135)

Many people have criticized Okigbo for writing as he did, and some of this criticism is well-founded. How can the average reader know that Flannagan is a priest?… A poet may present us with a mysterious little poem and teachers and critics may make a name for themselves by unravelling the mystery and showing us what exactly the poet meant to say or what he was getting at. It is possible that, in this exercise of interpretation, the critic may find more in the poem than the writer put in. This happens all the time, and it happens with Okigbo's critics more than others because there is often a smokescreen of obscurity thrown up which hides the meaning of the poem....

(The entire section is 728 words.)