Ikeogu Oke, author of The Heresiad wins the $100,000 NLNG Prize for literature!


Ikeogu Oke is a Nigerian poet, writer and journalist. His poetry and short fiction have been published in the United States, the UK, Nigeria and India since 1988. In 2010 the Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer selected Salutes without Guns, his second collection of poems, as one of her two Books of the Year for The Times Literary Supplement (TLS), describing him as “a writer who finds the metaphor … as perhaps only a poet can.”

The Heresiad (KraftGriots, 2017) by Ikeogu Oke is, in my opinion, the most ambitious of the books on the prize shortlist this year. It is a book of what the author called “operatic poetry” (another way to put this would be “poetry in drama and song”) featuring one poem extended over a hundred pages. Yes, one poem. It is epic in its scale, ambition, and character (and even in the words of one of the blurbs. See it:

“It is powerful, and brilliantly composed – a true epic!” – Lyn Innes (Professor Emerita, School of English. University of Kent, Canterbury))

But seriously, the work packs within it a lot of history, philosophy, narrative, culture, allegory, politics, and tradition, rather unapologetically. Without the author’s name, one might confuse it for a work by Shakespeare of any of the writers of the old traditions defined by form, rhyme, and musicality. Only slightly, of course. References intrude from Nigerian (and African) socio-political issues enough to define the work as one addressed to a specific, even if global, audience. And to that idea of musicality, the author graciously provided musical notes with which the poem can be sung.

The name Heresiad, is derived from “heresy” just as the Iliad was derived from “Ilium” or Aeneid from “Aeneas”, as the author explains in the preface. But what needed defending, even more, was the style, operatic poetry, which Oke described as being deliberately crafted as “an art form that transcends verse and goes on to embrace song, music, and drama.” Previous works of this nature which have misled readers into expecting musicality through the use of “Songs of–” in their titles were singled out, from Turold’s The Song of Roland to Vyasa’s The Lord Song to Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino. (He couldn’t have called out Tanure Ojaide’s Songs of Myself, the other book on the shortlist, because this serendipity of both their presence on the shortlist couldn’t have been predicted. But the juxtaposition of this factor in defining Heresiad as unique and better realized as practical literature does appear significant). By discounting the need for a titular nod to musicality and instead embracing it in true form, Oke admits to pursuing a grander ambition: to make written words sing, a homage to Ngugi wa Thiong’o, whose words to that effect was quoted as an epigraph.

To read more about THE HERESIAD click here .

 Find a link to the previous reviews here.

To purchase The Heresiad click here.

Other works by Ikeogu Oke:



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