By Anote Ajeluorou
WHEN Bookcraft, publishers and organisers of the unveiling of Prof. Femi Osofisan’s latest book, J.P. Clark: A Voyage, chose to have the presentation on the waterfront at the Lagos Boat Club, Ikoyi, it probably didn't realise it was a sort of metaphorical homecoming for the renowned poet and playwright.
John Pepper Clark Bekederemo’s country home in Kiagbodo, Delta State, where he was born over 70 years ago, has a similar ambience. It also sits on a waterfront overlooking a river.
Moreover, the event had been advertised as a ‘Book Party’, which it turned out to be in every sense of the word.
Tables were festively set to reflect a party atmosphere. With the stretch of water and trees and boats as backdrop, the event became one huge carnival or picnic. Wines and assortment of drinks poured endlessly, typical of the Izon tradition with the famous ogogoro to kill the thirst of a horse.
INDEED, the party was anything but a book event. It also marked the 78th birthday of JP Clark. The all-female choral group did their bit of matronly dance in response to drumming and singing from the all-male band with local instruments. Even though it was late in the day, secondary school students also made the party; they sang a happy birthday song for Clark, who shook their hands in gratitude.
Even the compere, a retired gynaecologist, Dr. Bose Emmanuel, did his best to create atmosphere of fun and conviviality as he repeatedly reached deep into his bag of training to haul banters at the audience.
And as speakers after speaker dredged up past scenes from the life of Clark, a man many have concluded had always been aloof, egoistic and possibly 'a terror', it became clear to all that Clark is just another human after all, although an accomplished person with his own peculiar quirks.
THE ambience was reminiscent of the iconic settings of most of Clark’s famous works ranging from poetry to plays. ‘Night Rain’ is one such poem that calls to mind the feel of a riverrine area. Song of a Goat, The Raft, The Return and Full Circle are Clark’s plays that evoke the waterfront ambience as the water plays a prominent role in the occupation of the Izon or Niger Delta people from where Clark heavily draws ample inspiration for his creations.
THE unveiling of Osofisan’s JP Clark: A Voyage was at once a reunion of a class of the 1960s of Nigeria’s cultural, artistic life, especially as lived in Ibadan long before Lagos took over as centre of artistic endeavours. The list is as impressive as it can be. From the author of ‘Pidgin Stew’ and culture technocrat, Frank Aig-Imoukhuede, the legendary fine artiste and designer, Demas Nwoko, literary scholars and critics, Profs. Dan Izevbaye, Abiola Irele, Olu Obafemi and Akachi Ezeigbo, Prof. (Mrs.) Ebun Clark (JP's wife) to publishers, Sam Amuka, Chief Bode Emmanuel and Bankole Olayebi, they all came to celebrate their own, a man they had known all through the years.
Other guests included former executive governor of Delta State, Chief Felix Ibru; Chief Oscar Ibru; Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, Ambassador Akporode Clark; Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya; Sir Olujimi Jolaosh; Mrs. Koko Kalango; Toyin Akinosho; Sesan Dipeolu, Chief Duig Simound and Mrs. Elizabeth Obi-Obiba. They feted inimitable Clark, the man of elegant poetry.