Professor Pius Adebola Adesanmi belongs to the class of people larger than life and death. When news filtered out that he was one of the 159 casualties of the Sunday, March 10, 2019 Ethiopian Airlines crash near Addis Ababa international airport, lamentation reigned from far and wide and near. Prof Pius Adesanmi, fondly called Payo, was an in-your-face public intellectual, author of the books The Wayfarer and Other Poems, You are not a Country, Africa and Naija No Dey Carry Last.
On my table now is the book Wreaths for a Wayfarer, an Anthology of Poems in Honour of Pius Adesanmi (1972-2019) edited by Nduka Otiono and Uchechukwu Umezurike. The 299-page anthology published by Daraja Press, Ottawa, Canada in 2020 also features selected poems from Pius Adesanmi’s only published collection of poetry The Wayfarer and Other Poems.
One striking thing I have just noticed is that Prof Harry Garuba who wrote one of the blurbs of the book has also passed away. The equally mourned poet and professor, Harry Garuba, wrote: “This historic collection of poems by esteemed and budding writers from across the African continent and beyond seeks to confront the ephemerality of life with the permanence of art; it is a testament to the power of poetry to turn grief into art. As WH Auden would have said, these poems start the healing fountains in the deserts of the mourning heart.”
In his Foreword to Wreaths for a Wayfarer, irrepressible Odia Ofeimun, Poet and former President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), affably depicts Adesanmi as “my personal person”. Ofeimun places the anthology in the realm of other anthologies on dead Nigerian poets and writers such as the one on Christopher Okigbo, Don’t Let Him Die edited by Chinua Achebe and Dubem Okafor, and the other on Ken Saro-Wiwa, For Ken, For Nigeria edited by EC Osondu with Maik Nwosu as editorial consultant. Ofeimun however writes of “For Ken, For Nigeria, edited by Nduka Otiono and Epaphras Osondu…” Be that as it may, Ofeimun goes to the heart of the Adesanmi matter with these words: “The wayfarers and exiles, so admirably represented by Pius Adesanmi and others in this anthology, prove a zealous identification with the nativeland, from far and near. They left but never forgot. They have had an open readiness to acquire new knowledge and to purge moribund ones in pursuit of life-affirming directions.”
One of the editors of the anthology, Nduka Otiono, in his “Introduction: Death and an African Digital Towncrier” counts on “the background of my quarter-of-a-century relationship with Adesanmi as a friend, co-traveller on many social and professional planes, as well as a colleague at Carleton’s Institute of African Studies (IAS).”
When the editors called for original poems for inclusion in Wreaths for a Wayfarer, they “received submissions from 257 writers from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Africa.” It was of course not only an African affair as poets from Canada, Italy, The Netherlands, Sri Lanka, India, United Kingdom and the United States of America also sent in entries. As if to cap it all up, a 10-year-old Nigerian-Canadian boy sent in his submission to be counted amongst the poets. The editors had to eventually select 126 contributors out of the lot.
Even as the anthology is divided into five sections, namely, Wayfarer, Requiems, Homecoming, A Selection from Pius Adesanmi’s “The Wayfarer and Other Poems”, and Postlude, Wreaths for a Wayfarer reads seamlessly.
The master bard Niyi Osundare leads into the corpus with “Introit: Coffin in the Sky”:
What song can one sing
About that fruit
Which came down
Too early, too unripe
Jane Bryce, in her poem “Backing His Daughter: For Pius, on Facebook” asks:
What does it mean when
ties his daughter to his back?
For Unoma Azuah in “Avoiding Sunlight”, “The reign of ashes has infiltrated/every space that breathes.”
Kola Tubosun goes bi-lingual in Yoruba and English through his poem “Akasoleri (Mourners)” wailing: “Perhaps it is our nakedness now exposed/That we wish to cover with our loss.”
Through his stylishly-shaped poem “How to Keep the Wake for a Shooting Star”, Chuma Nwokolo limns: “shooting stars die, to blaze on in men’s hearts.”
Kennedy Emetulu’s lament in “A Pius Flight” rends the heart thusly: “Our words are choked up in mid-sentences.”
For Biko Agozino in “Payo”, the Abiku essence of Adesanmi ruptures principalities and Pentecostalism: “He was born again and again and again!”
In Amatoritsero Ede’s “He left” the suddenness of the departure churns up the mind: “one pius morning/he left/in a hurry.”
Helon Habila’s “Elegy for Pius” gives voice to the cry of home and the Diaspora: “Because we did not feel at home at home/We travelled the world.”
In “where to find you: a requiem”, Echezonachukwu Nduka queries: “did heaven build a new classroom in a hurry?”
Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’s “Light Dims to Shine Forever” bids Adesanmi bye thus: “Farewell, young but wise ancestor.”
According to “on wisdom’s wings” by Jumoke Verissimo, “we cannot speak of grief because death honoured you/we cannot speak of grief because you left us words.”
Uche Nduka in “The Indent (For Pius)” bewails: “The nation sits openmouthed/waiting to gobble up her own.”
Afam Akeh ups the ante of wailing in his poem entitled “Monster” as he asks: “How is a beginning of promise so brutal/at end, all that salah gone to dust?”
The six poems taken from Adesanmi’s The Wayfarer and Other Poems, notably, the title poem “The Wayfarer”, “Ah, Prometheus!”, “Odia Ofeimun: The Brooms Take Flight”, “To the Unfathomable One”, “Message from Aso Rock to a Poet in Exile”, and “Entries” aptly intervolve the departed poet’s idealism, passion, commitment, motivation, courage and fatalism.
The editors of Wreaths for a Wayfarer, Nduka Otiono – Coordinator of the Graduate Program, Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada – and Uchechukwu Umezurike – Vanier doctoral scholar, Department of English and Film Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada – have done a splendid duty. Through their monumental testament to the world class netizen, Professor Pius Adebola Adesanmi cannot die. One waits with bated breath for the release of the Nigerian edition of the anthology to be published by Narrative Landscape Press, Lagos.