October 1, 1960, Nigeria shook off the tyranny of colonialism
from Britain to become an independent nation.
Many Nigerians across the world celebrate this today.
October 1, 1960, a poet and playwright, Esiaba Irobi was born,
in Biafra. He lived in exile all his life in Nigeria,
Britain, the United States and Germany.
Of all the places he lived in exile, he loved Nigeria the most,
fondly referring to his host as “My own fucked-up cuntry”
We celebrate the birthday of Esiaba Irobi today.
May 3, 2010, a mischievous rumour spread across the world;
DR ESIABA IROBI IS DEAD. THE MINSTREL HAS DIED IN BERLIN.
How does somebody who wrote Nwokedi, The Colour of Rusting Gold,
Hangmen Also Die, The Other Side Of The Mask, Cotyledons, The Fronded Circle, Inflorescence: Selected poems, 1977-1988, Cemetery Road
and Why I Don’t Like Philip Larkin & Other Poems get to die?
Many of us, Esiaba’s friends, don’t even believe he is dead.
Maybe we are mad, yes, like those nuts out there who don’t buy
the deaths of Tupac, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, the last superstar.
Esiaba is one of those people that defy death.
I even wrote a play, Funeral of the Minstrel, a rite,
to process this, and it still does not add up, so I will just say,
and I hope you all join me in saying, as loud as possible:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ESIABA IROBI.
I am not a major poet? But Philip is? What makes Philip
a better poet than me? Because he wrote, “they fuck you
up your mum and dad, they may not mean to, but they do…?”
Who, in England, from a middle class family, was not
fucked up by his mum and dad? Who?
– (excerpt from ‘Why I Don’t Like Philip Larkin’ by Esiaba Irobi)
Seven Stations of The Cross
(For Esiaba Irobi)
From Leeds to Liverpool,
Liverpool to London,
London to New York,
New York to Towson,
Towson to Athens;
The beaconer takes his bow in Berlin
And the exile becomes Myth:
Seven stations of the Cross.
I leave to live, said he
I exit to exist.
“When man waits and waits for God to act and God does not act, he takes on the role of God and acts. That’s why He made us in his own image.”
– Esiaba Irobi
Elegy for The Minstrel: Esiaba Irobi (after Neruda)
Through the drag of workdays, with your
Starburst smile and your flash of light,
With your syncopated rhythm,
Over piles of fractured bureaucratic language
From marking cover sheets, from tedious evaluations
Of quality, I hear you faintly, so distant now,
But the volume builds as you pound the big
Drum between your legs, call out for a response,
Over years, over continents, over the debris of
Our prime – you come drumming,
Banging through the buzz of humbug,
Silencing the moronic harpies of political correctness,
Shutting up the shrivelled whine of dry balled academics,
Calling forth a dance of resistance and orgasmic joy,
You come drumming,
Over ruined dreams of independence,
Over fields of civil war dead,
Over the hidden corpses soaked in oil
And covered up by shells full of dollars,
You come drumming,
In your fine robes with your pounding feet
With your thrusting hips
With your raucous laugh and righteous howl of laughter
You come drumming
Beating out a warning to the Beasts of Sandhurst,
Dragging into the light the secret police with their
Cowardly meals of ground glass in mashed potato,
Their Columbian neck ties,
Reducing the roar of tyrants into the buzz of
Dirty little mosquitos,
Composing your dance of rebellion and unstoppable human joy,
You come drumming,
Over the fields of middle age, over the fearful desert,
Over unspeakable silence of loss,
Over the graves of poor mothers,
And poverty emasculated fathers
Over the stilled rivers of molten steel,
Over the waters of the Tees, the Thames, the Mersey,
The Niger, all the world’s rivers, over pipelines greased with
Sweat and human blood,
You come drumming, and singing
Of revolution, of love, of sexual joy,
Of the pleasure and fires in great poetry
Of early Walcott and Neruda, of Soyinka,
Of Guevara, of Brecht’s first anarchic ballads,
Of Oxtail soup and the best kind of chilli
Of Goat curry with Rice and peas
Drowning out the drone of the conformists,
The vicious rumble of the bigots,
Cancelling out the hum of the vacuum of infinite space,
Demanding a place at all the parties to celebrate freedom
You will never be able to attend with us in person again,
Ensuring we will sing your songs and dance with your
Smile exploding within us,
Old friend, you come DRUMMING.
excerpt from ‘King James Version’ by Esiaba Irobi in Why I Don’t Like Philip Larkin & Other Poems
I KNOW A FUCKED UP ENGLISHMAN as clever as a fox
who does the mischief that is done in everybody’s heart
anywhere we gather to celebrate the festival of Ogun.
No one ever sees blood on his fangs but we all know,
deja vu, that everytime Ogun is rimmed or nibbled in the arse,
it, most certainly, is by his imperial majesty, King James IV.
(To Esiaba Irobi)
Buried behind blinking seas
Is a glance that beckons,
Death-cries of a Lion
Teasing the hyena’s gut
Yet retreat in a twirl
A giggling seduction
Seeds of your sowing
Sprung from my soil, questions
The sort of a setting sun
Turning her back, returning
Of my speechlessness
Hearts must be brave in wars
Of life, I know; but glints
Of bow’d arrows reveal
My feet remember
Another law of war
The lore of Gomorrah’n
Candle sticks that dared trap
Quills of wind in their eyes
So I flee, a free man
With slave chains to cotton
Fields; the cracking whips of
Who are we but as errant ships
Sailed from the ports of mercy
Calling onto the other
As to a mother, and you are
The rain that relieves the cloud
The howl of the moon that excites the sea
Sequestered in questions,
Conundrums burst open
Coconut water of undiscovered selves
Penning shadows on pale pages by day
Pilfering snatches into
Drooping eyes of your night
Are you all one, cocooned
In this caves of wonder, teeth
Of the same slanted smile?
You smile as though
It was you who first discovered wine
Cast away in the corner rooms
Of maybes, struck in mid-speech
Like eyes caught in the fishing nets
Of Calliope’s bust
Your genius illumines the shadowed
Places of my heart
Reeking of inchoate
Desires and shameless thirsts
For the punch of your gin
To which no throat replies
The caress of vines that stable
Drunken tremors of a life without
When all that remains is
Tar stains on Life’s aged lips
When all left behind is
Ashy tendrils rippling
Through the desert dunes of Heaven’s gates
Who. Will. Tell. Your. Story?
excerpt from ‘Why I Don’t Like Philip Larkin’ by Esiaba Irobi
NOT BECAUSE he wrote obnoxious verses such as
‘Prison for the strikers, bring back the cat.
Kick out the niggers, how about that?’
‘Who is that feeling for my prick
Is it Tom, Harry or Dick?’
afterall we all wrote such doggerels at Oxford
just to amuse ourselves while listening to Louis
Armstrong’s ‘When the saints go marching in’
on Philip’s gramophone: His master’s voice.
It was the age of jazz. in those days it was fun
to jazz things up a bit. Just a bit. A little bit…
From W.H. Auden we learnt jazzing things up.
Jeering, we learnt from T.S. Eliot, that erudite,
anti-semitic arsehole, whose surname and initials
are an anagram for ‘toilets’, who mangled verse
like an idiot, an art perfected in Gerontion:
‘My house is a decayed house. The Jew
squats on the window sill, the owner…’
‘Full fathom five your Bleinstein lies
Grave’s disease in a dead jew’s eyes…’
I forget the rest of his seductive, scintillating shit.
You see, Philip, was sometimes, like T.S. Eliot,
a political blockhead but, always, a marvelous craftsman.