Cultural Poetics, African Diaspora, and the Global World: Tanure Ojaide’s I Want to Dance and Other Poems
Tanure Ojaide (2003) is without doubt among the most prolifi c modern African poets, and his collection, I Want to Dance and Other Poems, is the 13th of his poetry volumes. Ojaide has discussed in several places his life history and his experience as a writer. His autobiography, Great Boys: an African childhood (1998), and his scholarly book, Poetic Imagination in Black Africa (especially Chapter 9) (1996), present very rich information about his birth, childhood, youth, and community upbringing. Ojaide was born on April 24, 1948, in a rural area called Okpara, in present-day Delta State of Nigeria. He became a Catholic as an elementary school boy: “. . . went to a Catholic school, was baptized and later confi rmed in the Roman Catholic Church, but returned to serve as a priest or acolyte at the native shrine” (Ojaide 1996, 121). As if he knew he had to prepare to become a major poet of modern Africa, he grew up imbibing very deeply the two worlds of Western/Christian education and culture and the African native education and religion. Ojaide: states that “I think my poetry began from those days of going to school and learning to tell stories and going home to listen to my grandmother sing songs and tell folktales, myths, and legends of the Urhobo people” (121). In his 2005 book, A Creative Writing Handbook for African Writers and Students, Ojaide declares:
To be a poet is to live life to the full. Have my relationships with my grandmother, father, and “Ita” not been the source of so many poems? Friendship with Joe and Ezekiel has been the harbinger of many poems. When Ezekiel died, I wrote many poems in his honour; some appear in Delta Blues & Home Songs. (53)
Each one of his poetry volumes carries a powerful evocation of Ojaide’s personal and community experiences, and he speaks the voices of the common person of his Delta community of Nigeria. Even when he moved from home to study and later to live and teach in the United States, Ojaide remained closer to his grandmother and his people’s traditional art and performances. Some of his poetry collections include Children of Iroko & Other Poems (1973), Labyrinths of the Delta (1986), The Eagle’s Vision (1987), Endless
Song (1989), The Fate of Vultures (1990), The Blood of Peace (1991), Cannons for the Brave (1996), Daydreams of Ants and Other Poems (1997), Invoking the Warrior Spirit: New and Selected Poems (1999), and In the Kingdom of Songs: A Trilogy of Poems, 1995-2000 (2002).