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Kanyinsola Olorunisola Wins Anarchi Contest | Read Analysis And Details

Preservation of Individual Freedom or the Proclivity for Anarchist Conceit: An Analysis of Kanyinsola Olorunisola’s “ME, FELA AND THE DIRTY SKULL (OR THE SOUND OF A REVOLUTION SO THREATENING YOU JUST MIGHT KILL ME BEFORE I BRING IT TO PASS, BECAUSE YOU LOWLY NIGGERS HAVE BECOME THE WHITE MAN’S LITTLE, SILENT BITCH, HAVEN’T YOU?)” – Winner of Anarchi Poetry Contest

Art is more of an expression of the idiosyncrasies of time, season and context. The artist creates the artistic space as a reflection of the realities existing within the artist’s sociocultural space. It is also more than a reflection; true art is a deliberate response to issues consciously or subconsciously created by social suasions, influences and impositions. It is the theme of impositions that often engages the artist in an iconoclastic feat, almost becoming self-serving and socially critical, caustically critical too. In true to a postmodernist inclination – the eventual glorification of breakdown of rules, order, and any form of institutionalized norms – an artist who rises above the norm, the slavish veneration of standards and conformance to established perfection by others whose perfection is entirely self-serving, is a liberator for his or her generation. The argument is that standards and rules and social expectations are created to serve the interest of few against others. It is a cultic mentality popularized by the gullible.

In contrast, there are those who are quick to argue that standards exist to prevent chaos. Laws and orders are created to establish a fair context for heterogeneity to function cohesively in a society that is driven by homogeneous desires and suasions. This assertion is very true, albeit subjectively. George Orwell’s Animal Farm has successfully demonstrated how those who preserve rules do so to exclude others and arrogate power and authority to themselves. In fact, I argue that the reason why there are standards and laws and mores is to keep others outside the circle of influence. I am not unaware of the consequences of disorder or chaos. Chinua Achebe’s epic novel, Things Fall Apart, paints a dialectical picture of the consequences of challenging established norms: the Europeans come to disrupt Okonkwo’s world and he fights back to his own detriment. In real life, the daily experiences of terrorism, oppression, and psychological deterioration of a generation of people beg for the imposition of order and conformity. 

It is the conflict between individual freedom and expected conformity to social values that motivated the Anarchi Poetry Contest. The denotative intent is to pitch individual freedom against social conformance. Connotatively, the focus is to show the chaos that occurs when the norm is challenged, when individuals or group of individuals make efforts to upset the status quo. This feat is not new in the literary world. Every poetic movement is a disruption of a previous standard. Every philosophical disruption has been a reaction to its predecessor. Even feminism and its many shades, including lesbianism, is a reactionary challenge against the mainstream masculine domination. But the uniqueness of this contest lies in the ability of 27 poets to chaotically challenge the status quo through impressive poetic mastery. 

For the purpose of emphasis, the themes and issues discussed in the poems are not out of this world. A few clicks on the internet will transform a Facebook page to a gallery of nudity or a wall full of destructive rants. A look at the street corner glamorizes moral decadence, while institutions identified with moral sanctity are the very enabler of decay. There is disruption to the family structure, increase in clamor for feminism and sexual preferences, popularization of atheism among one-time theists, rebellion against artistic standards, ethnic insurgence and domestic terrorism, redefinition of moral values, proliferation of pornography, celebration of drug addiction, modification of the body, glorification of sexual orgies and beatification of profanity. The list of anarchic disruption of values and social expectation is endless. It is the responsibility of the informed creative writer to delve into these social transformations and impose his/her individualistic conceit. 

Kanyinsola Olorunisola’s approach to exploring the conflict between individual freedom and social obeisance is worthy of critical appraisal. The other five shortlisted poems are bold and offer daring perspectives into why individual freedom should be preferred to social entrapment; however, what Kanyinsola has done sets his artistic acuity apart and engages the context and content behind the contest. He demonstrates a clear understanding of what is at stake: to confront society with its stringent control of the mind and will of individuals, aggression is inevitable. Violence often is instrumental to change – and violence takes different shapes. Kanyinsola’s version of violence is a beautiful fusion of artistic, emotional and psychological assault on his target audience – the “bleached bodies”, “lowly niggers” and “the white man’s little silent bitch”.

A masterpiece such as this defies a singular poetic analysis. Perhaps, at the end, preference for Anarchist Perspective of Literary Analysis will be born as a result of this brilliant work. A formalist approach will help the reader understand the form used in this poem. Formalism adheres to rules about the form a poem takes. Here, Kanyinsola has decided to ditch formalism by creating his own form, thus showing that the poem is an entity on its own, without allegiance to any existing style. The title of the poem sets off the tone – aggression, ridicule and chaos. While modern poets often suggest alternatives in their title with the use of the logical operator “or”, this poet deconstructs the trend by inserting a parenthesis “( )” to shift focus to the bracketed information. Typically, parenthetical information is less important; however, in this poem, it forms the focus of the intent of the poet. And throughout the poem, the poet uses the square bracket “[ ]”, indicating where the core of the poem lies. As seen in the title, the import of the titular message lies not in the first part, but in this “(OR THE SOUND OF A REVOLUTION SO THREATENING YOU JUST MIGHT KILL ME BEFORE I BRING IT TO PASS, BECAUSE YOU LOWLY NIGGERS HAVE BECOME THE WHITE MAN’S LITTLE, SILENT BITCH, HAVEN’T YOU?)” – the poet is deliberate about his intent and aggressive in its delivery. 

Another important formalist element is the language use. The author does not make any pretense about his intent, his language is deliberately vulgar, brute and derogatory. Its intensity does not spare religious or ancestral decorum. An irreverent reference to the Christian faith by the use of “fucking messiah”, serves two purposes – one, that the poet has little regard for the sacred symbol of the Christian faith (a foreign religion), and two, that the kind of salvation the clan needs is from a savior who should be ready to damn anything and everything unlike the Christian messiah who allowed himself to be crucified. In a way, the poet is suggesting that revolution should be as damning as possible. This clearly underscores a poetic feat that celebrates personal freedom over docile acceptance of imposed social values. The poet mocks traditional ways of life, “Oodua’s drity skull”, even though he prefers it to the “white gods with a fetish for black bodies.” While it is argued that the use of “dirty” literally may suggest that Oodua’s skull has been relegated to the relics of antiquity where it has gathered dust as shown in its use “for the sacrifice”, the very use of “dirty” shows a mockery of ancestral values. As a matter of intentionality, the choice of language is revolutionary as well as provocative. It is not shocking therefore to see the poet turn to his immediate society in his diatribes. The use of “lowly niggers” and “the white man’s little silent bitch” foregrounds the disdain the poet has for anything that tilts towards presumptive superiority – religion, tradition and civilization. 
It is legitimate to ask why the poet is so frustrated with his society that he threatens a revolution which glorifies gory and nihilation. The poem is not just about the conflict between a man seeking revolution and a society that does everything to infringe on such sacred freedom; it is also a cultural revolution – a revolution against the gullible acceptance of an erroneously presumed superior civilization. A postmodernist reading of this poem hints at an attack against the grand narrative that what is Western or “White” is better off – hence the anger against “lowly niggers” and “bleached bodies” who have become the fetish for “white gods”. Postmodernism deconstructs any sense of meaning and ideal, and this is the core mission of the poet. The poet’s reference to Fela, a symbol of Afrocentric cultural superiority and an iconoclast who used his music to show that African values are valid in the comity of civilizations further solidifies the mission of the poet: Africans should celebrate their identity and humanity and reclaim their glory. This contrasts with the use of “niggers”, a white man’s derogatory nomenclature for anything African; however, the preference for such derogatory referent is intended to make “niggers become their own gods, with such sweet haloes”. Nihilistic tendency is an important tenet of postmodernist writing. The poet achieves this by evoking strong emotions of anger, frustration and chaotic appetite for damnation – “i’d like to set my people aflame someday”, such emotions reach orgasmic crescendo as the smell of the “bleached bodies” of his people “turns” him “on”. This subtle connotation of violence and sexual pleasure unveils the pleasure derived from destroying any semblance of rationality, morality or grand referentiality. 
Kanyinsola’s preoccupation in this poem is to attack how Africans have built a society of slavery to foreign civilizations. A worthy poet rises above the docility and gullibility of his/her immediate society to sensate, sensitize and sanitize. In situations where lullabies cannot do the job, a clarion call for war and revolution is imminent. This is what the poet has done here. In creating a poem that attacks standards and norms, the poet has explored anarchist conceit to achieve his goal. More importantly, the poet’s hope that “niggers become their own gods” is a declaration for a psychological, sociocultural and spiritual emancipation from neocolonialism entrenched by the privileged few in African society. While this poem has shown the importance of preserving individual will and betraying proclivity for anarchy, the poet is also aware of the impact of chaos on society. As a realist who has seen his society resist progressive change, he is very aware that his provocative call for revolution may be short-lived: “only then [if all goes right] /­…thISisThe’song-of’a[­d]ead_man .make of that what you will”. This confession of gloom even as indicated in the title of the poem – “you might just kill me before I bring it to pass”, is a realization of what befalls iconoclasts who challenge the status quo. It is more saddening that those the poet fears are not foreigners, but his own people who have become the custodians of exalted foreign values. Is this not true that those who attack African values, who promote foreign religions and civilization, are Africans? While this conclusion is true in this context, it is also true that those enlightened minds who advocate for new “isms”, “rights” and “expressions” – the core of the white man’s ways of life – are doing so at the detriment of their own traditional ways of life (well, even traditional values are not spared by this poet). Tragically, do we conclude therefore that there is no resolution in sight in whatever direction we tend to turn. While Kanyinsola has not offered all the answers, he has shown us how anarchy may be helpful in redeeming our humanity, even if it will cost that very humanity. This is a beautiful poem, a winning poem that has addressed an ancient theme with an insight of a revolutionary, an anarchist.