The legendary poet W.H. Auden famously wrote that “poetry makes nothing happen.”.
I beg to differ. Poetry makes everything happen.
A poem is mightier than the bomb for one. Quote me!
Which bomb-maker or thrower is mightier than Yeats, Eliot, Neruda or Okigbo? In killing the poet the bomb explodes the legend of the poem.
Thoughts of death are all the rage in this sad season of the passing of my friend and brother, Ikeogu Oke, winner of the coveted $100,000-worth NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2017 with his poetry volume The Heresiad.
Poets die young, but I have somehow managed to get old. But man has over the years had some hair-raising near-misses with damnation.
I once wrote a poem, “We Shall Vote With Stones (dedicated to Babangida). Here goes the verse:
We shall vote with stones
Now that ballot paper stands annulled.
The comeback mutant courts
A hail of stones cast as votes.
It is incumbent on stones
To vote for our evil genius,
The power incarnate
That turned sap to stone.
Stoned, he engineered
Nomadic transition and annulment.
Stone naked, he fled
From war and history.
The Minna hilltop glasshouse cops
A shower of stones
By the crooked dodge
To diddle massive Lagos votes.
Naked returnee covets civvies on the rock,
And the swansong is put to the vote.
Now that ballot paper stands annulled
We shall vote with stones.
This poem somehow got published in Sahara Reporters when news was rife that Babangida was about to contest to succeed Obasanjo as Nigerian President.
Then the activist Pastor Tunde Bakare read the poem in his church on Sunday. I did not know a thing about the reading.
I was walking leisurely on Monday on the bad roads of Ikeja GRA, Lagos when my phone rang. It was my friend McNezer Fasehun calling.
“Maxim, tell me of your poem that was read in the church,” said McNezer.
“My poem in a church?” I queried, wondering. “I don’t understand what you are saying.”
“They said Pastor Tunde Bakare read your poem in his church…”
“Stop joking, McNezer,” I interjected, but the McNezer I knew then was a serious-minded man of commitment like his much older brother Frederick Fasehun, the founder of the Odua People’s Congress (OPC) who passed away while I wrote this piece.
“The news is published in today’s The Nation newspaper,” McNezer continued, having observed that I knew nothing about the matter.
Before I could get to buy a copy of The Nation my phone rang again with an unmistakable death-threat coming from the other end: “We know you! You are a businessman. We shall deal with you. You are a small fry to us. Remember your master Dele Giwa!”
The air around me suddenly became hot.
The phone thenceforth never stopped ringing. Some of the callers asked me to come to cut deals. Some others told me they knew where to get me. I thought of switching off the phone, but it suddenly came as a flash in my mind that the callers were not worth the trouble. I left my phone on.
Me and my Lagos, we take no prisoners of threats.
I somehow felt that Babangida who could not finish me off when he was a military dictator would not really harm me much now that Nigeria touted a democracy, or is it civil rule?
At any rate, I was quite convinced that Babangida did not send anybody after me. It was just hirelings trying to cry more than the bereaved.
Even so, I had to resort to the protection strategies we deployed in the guerrilla journalism days of the General Sani Abacha dispensation. If anybody called my name in a gathering I refused to answer. It’s the ploy of secret agents to call out the names of their targets to identify them.
I had to lie low for some time for the heat to peter out.
In hindsight, it’s indeed amazing that an ordinary poem could raise so much dust.
But for that fortuitous phone call from McNezer Fasehun I could have walked into real danger without knowing a thing. One could have innocently gone to meet any of the callers that asked to meet me in certain Lagos locations.
Recently a dear friend of mine who has a very diabolical sense of humour said that this poor poet would have walked into butchery like the mourned Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi!
Seriously, I feared the worst especially for my young family then. Just because of a poem of five stanzas in 20 lines.
Don’t ever believe anybody who tells you that poetry makes nothing happen!
The poet is mightier than the cancer that took my friend ikeogu Oke and may his soul rest in peace.