Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ant as "father forager" in Wole Soyinka's prison cell

For the Poetry Scores Art Invitational we are hosting next Friday, May 18 at Mad Art, 2727 So. 12th St., a number of our contributing artists are working to some of the more disturbing images in Wole Soyinka's poem Ever-Ready Bank Accounts. Soyinka attacks the problem of child hunger aggressively, unforgettably:

Children slay the cockroach for a meal
Awaiting father-forager’s return
The mind of hungered innocence must turn
To strange cuisine – kebab of houseflies
On a broomstick prong; beetles broiled in carapace
Slugs are scientific stores of high protein –
They tell me – I never tried it yet. 

These seven lines have inspired pieces by 12 artists with titles like “Children slay the cockroach for a meal,” “Awaiting father-forager’s return with empty sack,” "The mind of hungered innocence turns to strange cuisine,” “Kebab of houseflies,” “Slugs” and "Scientific stores of high protein."

It's important that the poet says of this strange cuisine, "I never tried it yet." He is an angry observer, rather than a raw sufferer. His point of view in the poem is the self-mocking, salaried intellectual who whines about a royalty check being late while children in his country are eating slugs for food.

“I take a mordant look at the huge gap between what one longs to do for the less privileged, and one’s material capacity to do so,” Soyinka told The Alton Telegraph in an interview about our project. “Self-mockery is part of it.

Soyinka wrote Ever-Ready Bank Accounts in prison, where he was detained in solitary confinement for 18 months during the Nigeria Civil War. In his prison notes The Man Died, we see where this vermin imagery may have been inspired: his flying cellmates.

The predatory rounds begin with the rains. ... From a long hibernation they emerge, beetles, flying-ants, sausage flies, moths, a violent flock of fragile wings battling the lone bulb on the pole. It is a blind and fierce riotous whirr from the long silent sleep.

Inter-species predatory warfare occupies long stretches of Soyinka's prison notes. In this case, the "father forager" is an ant carrying insect prey home to the nest.

Finally the last corpse is borne away on invisible shoulders to unseen larders, a lone wing is dropped on the doorway pile for later building schemes.


Image is "Scientific stores of high protein" by Michael Marshall, a silverpoint drawing (color-corrected badly by me to be visible in this post)

No comments: