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A Poet's Guide to Mandeland
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Your bounty threatens me, Mandela, that taut
Drum skin of your heart on which our millions
When he lay ill, battling mortality, his life-long friend and comrade, pleaded with his countrymen and women, and indeed, the world: ‘it is time to let him go’.
How wrong he was! The world is in no hurry to let Mandela go. And so we hoist him suspended across that invisible realm where avatars reside. Some have even named him a Messiah come through the prison gates—no, the world does not need a Messiah and, in any case, the very notion was anathema to him. Let it suffice to think of him as something of a miracle, add him to a modest pantheon of rare species, makers of new histories, bearers of new visions. Mandela was a pointer to possibilities of a transformed humanity, one of a sparse breed who offer a glimpse of the depthless fount of universal compassion.
That is more than sufficient to celebrate, more than sufficient to keep alive, refreshing his unique, boundless presence in unknown places—across race, faith, and politics. It is that Nature preserve of his passage, stretching now into the ancestral realm, that I have designated—Mandeland—a vast, accommodating parkland for all seasons. There, all the songs and dances of the world congregate.
The poems in this recording--a personal choice—attempt to explore the contours of that estateóperhaps I have taken refuge in the safety of ‘landscape’ as opposed to the being himself, to avoid attracting the umbrage of a friend and young confidant of Madiba, whose letter complained:
In the tedious and unimaginative narrative of an “icon” (urgh) the human being has been lost.
If this effort is still guilty of the charge, I know we can count of Mandelaís own magnanimity and understanding. The compilation is from a reading that I did, not long after Mandela took his final leave. Hundreds have traced the geography of that giant presence in their own lyrical modes, so this is just another tribute, a private message, shared by a few guests. I was not present at his funeral, so it serves as a farewell to a cherished elder, and pointer. The last word should not belong to my instinctive lament that was provoked by news of his departure, though of course those (adapted) words remain sadly true, and reproachful:
“The soul of Africa has departed, and there is nothing left miraculous in the whole, wide, world.”
1. Like Rudolph Hess, the Man Said! - Wole Soyinka
2. Birthday in the Dust - Houston A. Baker, Jr.
3. Abafazi (Women) - Dennis Brutus
4. Excerpt from Mandela — Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac ‘Gaarriye’
5. Word and World — Abena P. A. Busia
6. You Die in Pieces — Sharon Cumberland
7. Birthday Haiku Blessing — Nkosi Sikelela
8. Correctus Historum — Rashidah Ismaili
9. Tribute to Nelson Mandela — Rebecca
10. Mandela — Tijan M. Sallah
11. Our Army — M. Schoon
12. Places of Stone — Poet Of The People
13. Funeral Sermon, Soweto — Wole Soyinka
1. And I Watch it in Mandela — John Matshikiza
2. Your Logic Frightens Me, Mandela — Wole Soyinka
3. From the Cape to Rio — Breyten Bretenbach
4. Like a Field of Love — Adonis
5. Letter to a Political Prisoner — Patrick Galvin
6. Small Passing — Ingrid de Kok
7. To Mandela — Andries Walter Oliphant
8. The Ballad of Robben Island Gaol — Nancy Morejón
9. No! He Said — Wole Soyinka
10. Release, February 1990 — Lynne Bryer
11. from The Cure at Troy — Seamus Heaney
12. haiku 112 (For Mandela) — Kalamu ya Salaam
13. Nelson — Roger Brirley
14. Departure from the Isle of Torments (Mandela’s musings) — Mazisi Kunene
15. Macbeth — Liz Cashdan
16. To Nelson Mandela: A Tribute — Andrew Motion
17. Mandela’s Cell — Chris Mann
18. When Mandela Goes — Sandile Ngidi
19. Aprés La Guerre — Wole Soyinka
20. Journey — Wole Soyinka
Wole Soyinka was born on 13 July 1934 at Abeokuta, near Ibadan in western Nigeria. After preparatory university studies in 1954 at Government College in Ibadan, he continued at the University of Leeds, where, later in 1973, he took his doctorate. During the six years spent in England, he was a dramaturgist at the Royal Court Theatre in London 1958-1959. In 1960, he was awarded a Rockefeller bursary and returned to Nigeria to study African drama. At the same time, he taught drama and literature at various universities in Ibadan, Lagos, and Ife, where, since 1975, he has been a Professor of Comparative Literature. In 1960, he founded the theatre group, "The 1960 Masks" and in 1964, the "Orisun Theatre Company", in which he has produced his own plays and taken part as actor. He has periodically been visiting professor at the Universities of Cambridge, Sheffield, and Yale. During the civil war in Nigeria, Soyinka appealed in an article for cease-fire. He was arrested for this in 1967, accused of conspiring with the Biafra rebels, and was held as a political prisoner for 22 months until 1969. Soyinka has published about 20 works in drama, novels and poetry. He writes in English and his literary language is marked by great scope and richness of words.
As dramatist, Soyinka has been influenced by, among others, the Irish writer, J.M. Synge, but links up with the traditional popular African theatre with its combination of dance, music, and action. He bases his writing on the mythology of his own tribe, the Yoruba, and Ogun, the god of iron and war, at the centre. He wrote his first plays during his time in London, The Swamp Dwellers and The Lion and the Jewel (a light comedy), which were performed at Ibadan in 1958 and 1959 and were published in 1963. Later, satirical comedies are The Trial of Brother Jero (performed in 1960, publ. 1963) with its sequel, Jero's Metamorphosis (performed 1974, publ. 1973), A Dance of the Forests (performed 1960, publ.1963), Kongi's Harvest (performed 1965, publ. 1967) and Madmen and Specialists (performed 1970, publ. 1971). Among Soyinka's serious philosophic plays are (apart from The Swamp Dwellers) The Strong Breed (performed 1966, publ. 1963), The Road ( 1965) and Death and the King's Horseman (performed 1976, publ. 1975). In The Bacchae of Euripides (1973), he has rewritten the Bacchae for the African stage and in Opera Wonyosi (performed 1977, publ. 1981), bases himself on John Gay's Beggar's Opera and Brecht's The Threepenny Opera. Soyinka's latest dramatic works are A Play of Giants (1984) and Requiem for a Futurologist (1985). Soyinka has written two novels, The Interpreters (1965), narratively, a complicated work which has been compared to Joyce's and Faulkner's, in which six Nigerian intellectuals discuss and interpret their African experiences, and Season of Anomy (1973) which is based on the writer's thoughts during his imprisonment and confronts the Orpheus and Euridice myth with the mythology of the Yoruba. Purely autobiographical are The Man Died: Prison Notes (1972) and the account of his childhood, Aké ( 1981), in which the parents' warmth and interest in their son are prominent. Literary essays are collected in, among others, Myth, Literature and the African World (1975). Soyinka's poems, which show a close connection to his plays, are collected in Idanre, and Other Poems (1967), Poems from Prison (1969), A Shuttle in the Crypt (1972), the long poem Ogun Abibiman (1976), and Mandela's Earth and Other Poems (1988).
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