Exile, exilic consciousness and the poetic imagination in Tanure Ojaide’s poetry

James Tar Tsaaior


As a thematic trajectory, exile constitutes a visible presence in the Nigerian poetic afflatus and imagination. This is sometimes not
adequately or sufficiently acknowledged. Increasingly, however, exile and exilic consciousness have continued to occupy a
contested and contestable site in literature especially Nigerian poetry. This is essentially because of the multiple and shifting
networks of significations that undergird the very constitution and definition of home, exile and the exiled. While exile could signify
absence from one’s homeland and hence register an erasure of physical presence from a particular landscape, other interpretive
grids that negotiate exile refract it as a spiritual and psychological state that does not necessarily translate to physical absence
from home. The essay contends that both modes of epistemology and hermeneutic insights are tenable. Its framing and defining
concern is the negotiation of the theme of exile in Nigerian poetry especially the poetry of Tanure Ojaide. The paper’s sustained
argument is that Ojaide’s poetic imagination and sensibility have generously benefited from the trope of exile which has been
conditioned by the reality of living and working away from home in the United States of America even as the poet himself
problematises this reality with his frequent visits home and the construction of a hybrid identity as a cosmopolitan citizen of the
world. The paper uses Ojaide’s When It No Longer Matters Where You Live as a paradigm of textual representation to underscore
the exilic consciousness in Nigerian poetry. It concludes that Ojaide’s volume contributes significantly to the work on the theme
of exile in world literature and reflexively foregrounds the currency of the theme of exile in Nigerian poetry and, indeed, literature.
Key words: exilic consciousness; Nigerian poetry; poetic imagination; Tanure Ojaide.

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