–Blank NEWS Online (NIGERIA) – By AZUA ALONU:
When we told our English teacher, we were going to put on stage J.P Clark’s Play. Ozidi, he said: You will murder the play. Our dramatic society in our estimation very virile, we were teenagers in our Baptist Secondary School and the level of enthusiasm in our rehearsals was top-notch. No play we could not stage. We were at the verge of completing one play called “Dinner for promotion” in which our English teacher gave us an excellent mark when this Ozidi love caught fire in our bones. We thought we will do a nice job and was looking forward to getting our principal and the teachers to watch us when our English teacher resigned and joined the Nigeria National Shipping line.
We continued amateurishly with our rehearsals. The English teacher that replaced him sneered at our ambitions and did not get close to our rehearsal venue. Then, our resigned English teacher wrote me a letter: How is your dramatic society. How is the Ozidi rehearsal going on. I hope J.P Clark does not sue you for murdering his play. By the time the letter came, we had murdered the play in our rehearsal and left the corpse unburied. I quickly replied that we had discontinued. But I still remember this line after forty years of that dramatic fiasco, it was one of Ozidi’s greetings: Man of Twenty toes/ and Twenty fingers, I greet you, then.
We actually did not know much of his other plays except the three plays: Songs of a goat, the Masquerade and the raft. It was in the university that the rich body of J.P Clark’s poetry was exposed to us after we have read Abiku, the most popular of his poems in our secondary school. Most people know him as a poet and he continued to write poetry until his final departure. There were beautiful poems of his that were not necessarily in the public. I was reading Dr. Newton Jibuno’s Me, My Desert and I, A journey, A mission, A life and I encountered this beautiful poem titled: One Man and the Desert (for newton Jibuno).
I met a man In a glass and marble place At his gates, waves and dunes Of an ocean all set to move in Trucked by satellite He crossed the sahara In five days by sunlight And always ahead of him Day and night Over a lunar landscape At full stretch for a syllable An albatross flew Beating waves and dunes Away from his jeep and tent.
This poem and the poems that talked about his death and “will” ard many private poems that will come out of the crevices of his creative armory have not been extinguished by death. For as we remember him and celebrate him, the spirit of his creativity will be with us. When we recite his poems, we will lit a huge light, the flames flourish.
J.P Clark’s poetry is the channel in his culture, life and vision flow. He was a poet in the market place and his poetry-songs are the ones that awaken in us the spirit of dance. It was this dance that I went with my friend and poet, the secretary of Delta Literary Forum, Albert Ograka to Kiagbodo, J.P. Clark’s home town for one of his birthdays to dance and sing his poetry but the programme became too choked, they murdered our poems. We left the venue happy because there were others who did justice to the occasion. We will not have any alibi for not organizing a festival of his poems when next we do some of our events in Asaba. At that time we will write some of his children to tell of the endless stories he told them full of colourful humor, myth and poetry. And then we will retaliate with his poem Olokun.
I love to pass my fingers (As tide thro weeds of the sea And wind the tall fern-fronts) Thro the stands of your hair Dark as night that screen the naked moon
J.P. Clark did not concern himself with his arts alone. He intervened in the politics of our country. I cannot forget the trip of himself, Soyinka and Achebe to see General Ibrahim Babangida our head of state when Manman Vatsa, a fellow poet and soldier was implicated in a coup and how their plea fell on deaf ears. Of course he talked about the crisis in the Niger Delta and I remember his article “Armistice” in which he offered solution to the deep crisis in the Niger Delta. He continued to offer opinion both publicly and privately on the way our nation should go.
Even though he continued to offer opinion and continued to write until he left this our mortal world, his rewards in monetary terms was not as big and appreciable. And like most writers in this part of the world, it is not to be said of him that he was rich. I think he was comfortable.
J.P. Clark achieved much in literary success and has become a model for most young people.
And we do know that he asked the question that has been bothering the minds of young people in the poem “ Where do they all go” He was asking of where the politicians will go when they leave office. Are they going to go to board rooms or thrones termites dispute.
J.P. Clark did not talk of life after this earth. Certainly, he would not go to the throne that termites dispute. Would he go to the Palace angels’ guard. Maybe he will be reading his poem “Abiku” among children in heaven who come to earth and return to heaven several seasons. Let us end this piece with this now popular poem “ My Last Testament” from his book Full Tide (Collected Poems) Page 385.
This is to my family
Do not take me to a mortuary,
Do not take me to a church,
Whether I die in or out of town,
But take me home to my own, and
To lines and tunes, tested on the waves
Of time, let me lie in my place
On the Kiagbodo River.
If Moslems do it in a day,
You certainly can do it in three,
Avoiding blood and waste,
And whatever you do after,
My three daughters and my son
By the only wife I have,
Do not fight over anything
I may be pleased to leave behind
- AZUA ALONU, Writes from Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria.