By Olayinka Oyegbile
(Wreaths for a Wayfarer: An anthology of poems in honour of Pius Adesanmi (1972-2019), 2020)
It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone – John Steinbeck
It was a Sunday. March 10, 2019. A Sunday like no other; a day that was to go down in history as one of Nigeria and the world’s most traumatizing day. The news had gone viral about the air crash involving an Ethiopian Airline when many Nigerians were still in church. But it was not long before many realized that on board the aircraft was one of Nigeria’s most notable young intellectual star – Prof Pius Adesanmi.
It was not a death that would go unnoticed here at home because Adesanmi was more at home than many who even live here physically. He had lived a life that was full of impact and had influenced many younger ones to seize their country back from the claws of the carpetbaggers. His death was painful and shocking. To assuage the pain and shock, his colleague and friend Prof Nduka Otiono and Uchechukwu Umezurike, decided to immortalize him and let people commit down their memories of him for posterity.
The result is the book Wreaths for a Wayfarer: An anthology of poems in honour of Pius Adesanmi (1972-2019), a collection of poems that gave opportunity to all to pen their tributes and paint him in words that could help make the loss and pain lighter to live with. The collection is filled with established and new voices. Prof Niyi Osundare simply Nigeria’s most important public poet captures it all by saying:
“What song can one sing/
About that fruit/
Which came down/
Too early, too unripe”.
How do you write about a young man whose influence on so many lives was impactful in such a short time?
The poems in this volume are categorized into four: Wayfarer, Requiems, Homecoming and the fourth which is a collection of some of the published poems of Adesanmi himself.
This collection is a powerful testament to the power of poetry and words to heal wounds and make one long for immortality. What the assembled poets have done here is to give life and meaning to what Adesanmi stood for. For instance, Iquo Diana Abasi in her poignant When Iroko falls- writes:
“The spear was heavy but/
you wielded it bravely, /
piercing falsehood with precision/
per time, who now will wield this lance?/
whose humour will henceforth dispense/laughter and intent musing? /
But who are we to complain/
when the drumbeats stop/
while the next step is suspended mid-air,/
the next love letter to motherland,/
but a rapidly cascading whorl/
of thought, hopes, dreams.”
The truth about this collection is that it is so rich and diverse that it meets all tastes and the appeal is luring. I have for some years veered off reading poetry as I used to in the past. However, with this collection, Otiono and Umezurike have given me a new glimpse into poetry and have made me have a rethink that I should at least get to reading (poems) again.
The sterling quality of the poems in this collection made the observation of Gerald Moore and Ulli Beier as quoted by Otiono in the introduction that “anthologies based on a sense of duty rather than of pleasure are always unreadable” inapplicable. The respected literary scholar arrived at that conclusion long before this collection. It is highly readable and very touching at the same time. The poets and the editors have really done a great job and service to the memory of Adesanmi.
The assemblage of known and new poets is a salute to the effort of the editors and a demonstration of how strong the name Pius Adesanmi would continue to resonate with us, and as Odia Ofeimun in his Foreword testifies, “It would have been too much a yawn and self-forgetting if, after the worldwide demonstration of shock, grief and anger at the death of the poet/scholar and public intellectual, there was no scribal acknowledgement, such as this anthology, to commemorate it.”
Two years after this unfortunate incident, as Saudat Salawudeen writes in her End of Forever:
“There’s a colour/
that suits every skin-/
it is death/
don’t get sore/
There’s a shelter with a /
single entrance, six feet deep/
everybody must still till the/
end of forever.”
Echoing the words of John Donne that we are all involved in humanity and must go the way of all flesh. Kola Tubosun in his refreshing bilingual (Yoruba and English) entry also asks:
“When we cry around the house/
Aren’t we asking about our own fate?/
It’s our own circumstance we’re pondering./
The son of Adesanmi has prowled the market/
And has now carried his purchased goods homewards/
So why the torrent of tear/
That flood from all our tired eyes?”
If the dead can see and still read as Yoruba believe, Pius Adesanmi wherever he is, would proudly look down and sit in a corner to savour the tributes that have been paid to his memory by these poets and also commend the editor for their soju sehin efforts. This death is still painful and as I wrote in my tribute at the time and as I am sure Payo would have reacted it is Iyalaya iku…
Death, be not proud, Payo still lives.
Title: Wreaths for a Wayfarer: An anthology of poems in honour of Pius Adesanmi (1972-2019)
Editors: Nduka Otiono and Uchechukwu Umezurike
Publisher: Narrative Landscape Press