A poem by Nigeria’s Niyi Osundare, “Raindrum” has been selected amongst the poems that will be recited throughout the forthcoming Olympic Games in London at diverse public spaces.
“Raindrum” was selected as part of Poetry 2012: The Written World, a programme organised by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Creative Scotland, which wants to use poems to capture the spirit of every nation at the 2012 Games.
The poem which is about celebrating the arrival of the rainy season is amongst the 205 poems selected for the games, that will be on display in major public centres in the United Kingdom (UK).
Osundare’s poem and others from every country participating in the games would be showcased during the games. There will be one poem from each country.
Niyi Osundare-a Professor of English Language, formerly with the University of Ibadan and now University of New Orleans in the United States, is a literary giant of repute.
In a letter to Professor Osundare, the organisers disclosed that his poem will be on display in the country and aired in a special broadcast series by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to celebrate the hosting of the 2012 Olympics by the City of London.
Responding to the selection, Prof Osundare expressed happiness that the selection of poems from around the world is part of the celebration of the Olympics. “It is a lesson for the rest of the world. While it is important to run and jump, things related to the mind and culture are also important,” he said.
Besides the BBC, the poems will be broadcasted in major city centres in London, including on the London tube, the underground trains during the games.
Osundare’s poem selected is “Raindrum”, which was published in Selected Poems (Heinemann, 1992) and both its English and Yoruba versions would be aired. The Yoruba version, translated by the author himself, is entitled “Gbedu Ojo”. Another U.S.-based Nigerian professor, Akintunde Akinyemi, from the University of Florida, helped Osundare with the Yoruba tone marks for the translation.
The selected poems from around the world were not entered in any competition by the poets. They were all chosen by the organisers of the event, confirming the international recognition and honour that the selections entail.
According to the letter announcing this selection to the former University of Ibadan professor of English Language, the broadcast of the “Raindrum” across BBC’s Public Services “will include, but not limited to, the poem text being made available online, as audio downloads, and supported with visual content where required. In addition, the texts and translations of the poems may be reproduced as postcards or posters…”
The organisers noted that the project, which will include Osundare’s poem, “is educational in the widest sense”, while its “online resources will ensure that we leave a legacy of truly global scope.”
Besides, the organisers stated that they regard the broadcast of the poets from 205 countries of the world during and beyond the period of the London Olympics as a “vast and ambitious project” which will provide an “opportunity to bond poetry from many nations into the lives of people who might not ordinarily be interested in it, giving them a reason to enjoy and explore a great art form.”
According to Osundare, the people who started the Olympics, the Greeks, had always noted the importance of a sound mind in a sound body, which is what the selection of poems around the celebration of the Olympics now promotes. He called it “a cultural Olympics.”
“I am particularly happy that my poem was not only selected but also its Yoruba translation” he said. Incidentally, Osundare who was a victim of the Katrina Hurricane attack in the U.S. in 2005 disclosed that the Yoruba version of the poem has been lost to the disaster, but he managed to rewrite it.
He added that, four years ago, his poem I Sing of Change was also on display in over 2,000 places around the world as part of an international programme.
Osundare, former Head of Department of English Language at the University of Ibadan, is a playwright, linguist, critic, essayist, media columnist and public intellectual. He has published over 15 books of poetry, including Songs of the Market place, The Eye of the Earth, Songs of the Season, and Waiting Laughter’s, two books of selected poems, four plays, two books of essays and numerous scholarly works and reviews.
His latest work, City without a People: The Katrina Poems (2011), based on personal and collective experiences during the Hurricane Katrina devastations in New Orleans, U.S., where he teaches, has been gathering rave reviews around the world.
The poet has won numerous prizes, including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, the Noma Award, the Tchicaya U Tam’si Award for African Poetry, the Fonlon/Nichols Award for “excellence in literary creativity combined with significant contributions to Human Rights in Africa” and the Association of Nigerian Authors Poetry Prize.
By Professor Niyi Osundare
The roof sizzles at the waking touch
Talkative like kettle drums
Tightened by the iron fingers of drought
Streets break into liquid dance
Gathering legs in the orchestra of the road
Streets break into liquid dance
Gliding eloquently down the apron of the sky
A stray drop saunters down the touch of my remembrance
Waking memories long dormant under the dry leaves of time
Of caked riverbeds and browned pasture
Of baking noons and grilling nights
Of airless cornfield and tired tubers
Then lightning strikes its match of rain
Barefoot, we thread the throbbing earth,