The Sail, 2015
The significance of art consists in the power it always had to shape the human heart, and the community, and the world until everything comes to right relations with truth and beauty. This is another way of saying that the artist can move the center of things to where they should be with a grace that only art possesses. Which is another way of saying that once we allow ourselves to be immersed in art, our universe expands to accommodate all the milestones that we missed in the spectacular journeys of our lives.
These were epiphanies I received wile reviewing The Sail, a powerful statement of the dynamic imagination of young students of Whitesands School, Lagos. Consisting of visual arts, prose fiction, essays, poetry and drama, all made by students of the school, the result is a stunningly precocious and riveting collection of art. I must confess my bias for the poetry in the anthology early on for I had a hard time making a choice amongst the rich offerings available.
The fiction section of the anthology opens with the winning story, Berserk, by Elton Odoemenam and thus the discoveries begin. The quality of writing actually dazzles and makes the reader pause. Tribute to a Jew by Joseph Agbu, Pure Heroine by Imeobong Udoetuk, My Honey Bee by Anthony Azekwoh and Nigeriancracy by David-Praise Ebiringa do not disappoint. Did high school students actually write these things? One would argue but the occasional juvenile turn of phrase betray the true age of the writers. The quirky piece of writing titled The Sail, by Fikayomi Olagbami is a piece anyone interested in psychoanalyzing the young Nigerian mind should read. Otherwise, the fiction is of very high quality indeed and the writers should be commended.
The essays in the book similarly display s sense of logic and a disposition towards close observation that would make Sonala Olumense chuckle and relax. Style and a flair for inventive quirks are to be found in all the entries but most especially in the winning entries.
The lone drama in the anthology does not disappoint. Again, traces of the juvenile give the young playwright away but the work is to be commended for devoting the energy and thought it does to making us suspend reality while we watch the play in our mind’s eye.
The poems in The Sail vary in intensity and concern, written, as they are, by young people who are getting to grips with life and the challenges ahead. The poems reflect a healthy if sometimes troubling precociousness and they help us, in the final analysis, towards solving the mystery of human consciousness.
A poet once observed that if it were at all possible to erase all the poetry that mankind ever created since man came to be on this earth, poetry will resurrect the very next day in new poems. It is human nature to work in this mode, to test oneself against the verities of life in this way, to arrive at conclusions for oneself through one’s own consciousness working with the collective human consciousness.
Quoting randomly, now, from three poets in The Sail, observe the manifestation of these human tendencies at work:
“How will I survive? /In this world, where apathy is accepted, / And love is rejected, / Where selfishness is the theme of the day, / And emotions begin to decay…”
– Eniafe Savage, Freedom
“Nothing like dark clouds before it rains, / Casting shadows over lonely plains. / You want to speak but you’ve lost your voice. / Want all to be well but it’s not your choice.”
– Chinedu Odibeli, Promise
“And all was revealed / I lay bare for the all of the world / And I was seen for what I was.”
– Tamilore Ogunbanjo, The Mask
We know we are safe when we read these lines because they disclose the human capacity for questioning, even interrogating, the world around them. They disclose the rationality that differentiates man from beast and they reveal, literally, the human consciousness arriving at a terminus in which the consciousness of others count as much as the individual consciousness.
Young people are always striving to make meaning and with varying degrees of success. The new poets here are continuing that tradition of meaning-making, they will not be the first to do this, their foray into their projects however certainly become crucial and vintage because, instead of the impulse most young people have to write and put into their diaries their profound musings, these poems share the thoughts and musings of their makers with the world. The poems reveal important perspectives of the poets writing as young Africans. They write of their private universes and of the world around them, Africa a recurring decimal.
I am confident that these young poets have what it takes, if they keep writing, to make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of their communities. That these poems came my way is a blessing.
It is said, correctly, that during a test, the teacher is silent. These poems are a testament of the quality of mind the poets have acquired in their course of receiving instruction in the school. The teachers and indeed the school should be proud that their labours now speak for them in these questioning but confident young writers.
We live in a contemporary reality that is part-led, part-driven by the 24-hour news cycle. It is a vicious but ubiquitous reality. Nothing is sacred, everything is passed through that crushing crucible of time and necessity. We are struggling, all of us, to cope with what we have become. We do not like it, we feel deep down inside us that it isn’t quite right to become the cogs we have become to this machine. We got here in a hazy dream, most of us arrived where we are on a nightmare, our horizons devoid of that significance we recognize as essential only when the artist arrives.
The ship that weighed anchor at Whitesands has many artists in it and we should all heave a sigh of relief at that piece of good news.
Tade Ipadeola is the winner of the Nigeria Prize for Literature 2013.
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