Ben Okri : Intense Writer And Poet


When it comes to poetry , one name that readily comes to mind is Ben Okri . This poet and novelist was born on March 15 , 1959 , in Minna, Niger State, to an Igbo mother , Grace and an Urhobo father , Silver Okri . Silver moved his family to London when Ben was less than two years old. While there , he studied law at London while his son, Ben attended primary school in Peckham . In 1968 , he (Silver ) and his family returned to Nigeria where he practiced law in Lagos , providing free or discounted services for those who could not afford legal fees .
Ben started writing at the age of 14 . This was after he was denied admission to do a short university programme in physics because of his age and lack of qualifications . He came to realise that poetry was his chosen calling . How?
It was a rainy day . Everyone was outside and he was alone . This day changed his life . While sitting in the living room , he took out a piece of paper and drew what was on the mantelpiece . That took him about an hour . Again, he took another piece of paper and wrote a poem. This took him about 10 minutes . He took a look at both pieces , the drawing was dreadful , and the poem? It was tolerable . It then became clear to him that , that was his area . It was something in his nature, something he could do with ease. He was naturally a story teller .
Ben began writing articles on social and political issues but these articles never found a publisher . He could have given up but he did not allow this deter him . He rather went on converting these articles to short stories, some of which were eventually published in women ’s journals and evening papers . He got inspiration for his fiction from his exposure to the Nigerian civil war and a culture in which some of his peers at the time , claimed to have seen visions of spirits . The oral tradition of his people and particularly his mother ’s storytelling also influenced his writing . According to him , “ if my mother wanted to make a point, she would not correct me; she ’d tell me a story . ”
Some of his early work criticised the government . This criticism, Ben claims , led to his name being placed on a death list , necessitating his departure from the country .
In 1978 , he moved back to England where he studied comparative literature at the University of Essex . When funding for his scholarship fell through , he found himself homeless . Sometimes he lived in parks while at other times , with friends . This was the period he described as being “very, very important ” to his work. He added that he “ wrote and wrote ” in that period and that his desire to write intensified.
Okri ’ s success as a writer began when he published his first novel , ‘ Flowers and Shadows, ’ at the age of 21 . He became a regular contributor to the BBC World Service between 1983 and 1985 and continued to publish throughout this period. He also served ‘ West Africa Magazine ’ as poetry editor from 1983 to 1986 . However, his reputation as an author was secured when his novel , ‘ The Famished Road,’ won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1991 , making him the youngest winner of the prize ever .
Okri ’ s work is particularly difficult to categorise . Although it has been broadly categorised as post- modern, other categorisations of his work suggest an allegiance to Yoruba folklore, magical realism , visionary materialism , existentialism , etc. Of all these analysis , Okri has always rejected the categorisation of his work as magical realism – a genre of narrative fiction and more broadly , art , that while encompassing a range of subtly different concepts , expresses a primarily realistic view of the real world while also adding or revealing magical elements .
He claims that this categorisation is the result of laziness on the part of critics . He likened this categorisation to the observation that a horse has four legs and a tail , adding that this does not describe it . He instead describes his fiction as obeying a kind of “ dream logic . ”
For Okri , there is nothing like absolute reality . “ I grew up in a tradition where there are simply more dimensions to reality ; legends and myths , ancestors and spirits and death… which brings the question : what is reality ? Everyone ’s reality is different . For different perceptions of reality , we need a different language . We like to think that the world is rational and precise and exactly how we see it . But something erupts in our reality which makes us sense that there ’s more to the fabric of life . I ’m fascinated by the mysterious element that runs through our lives. Everyone is looking out of the world through their emotion and history . Nobody has an absolute reality . ”
He therefore warns when it comes to personal choices “ beware of the stories you read or tell ; subtly , at night , beneath the waters of consciousness , they are altering your world .
Ben Okri : Intense Writer And Poet Ben Okri : Intense Writer And Poet Reviewed by Youngblogger on 08 September Rating: 5

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