Writings of the general word's body

Monday, February 12, 2007

Ogunlesi's Poetry Prize

Congratulations to Tolu Ogunlesi, who has won a $1,000 award in the 2006 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize. The prize awards 1,000-25,000 USD annually to poets under 40 judged to have written the finest lyric poems celebrating the spirit of life.

Ogunlesi is one of 12 winners in the $1,000 category, and he did it with his poem, Visiting the Yellow River - below.

Visiting the Yellow River

How can you (without a pang of conscience) my host
And guide, say that you have suddenly fallen short
Of enthusiasm? What will happen to my dreams
Of seeing the Olumo Rock; and to the beating heart
Trapped in my feet, waiting to drown
Itself in the muddy waters of the Yellow River?

From far, far away, beyond the eye of the river
Have I come, possessed with the spirit of one held host-
Age, that I might in oceans of chivalry plunge and drown;
Knowing how blest it is to be short
On fear and long on the courage that steels the heart.
For what is fear if not a song trapped eternally in a cage of bad dreams?

Perhaps you have never numbered your dreams
Nor marvelled at the joys that spring like a river
Therefrom. The overall effect is like an upgrade of the heart
Or like sanctifying yourself with the host
That proceeds from the blessed hand of a priest. Cut short
At once your song of fear. You can learn to drown

Your doubts, just as the wine that fills your cellar learns to drown
Your sorrows. It is a shame when a man has no living dreams
Left to fatten. We shall cut his silken hair short
And leave him to gnash his teeth by the rivers
Of Babylon. Do you want us to sing for you, beloved host,
That the pillars of your manhood are weak of heart?

And it is no use pleading with me to take heart,
And to give you another chance, another time. I’d rather drown
In the lake of fire than pass up this chance to join the Heavenly host
(The roll call of souls who have chosen to die dreaming big dreams).
And don’t even think of warning me that the Yellow River
Is haunted by spirits. To accept anything short

Of a pilgrimage in the Yellow River will be to short
Change myself. I will not relent. Even if my heart
Ceases to beat, my blood will continue to be a river
That never grows silent, never ceasing to drown
Cowardice. For what could be worse than a dream
Visited by slumber, but too spent to play the sprightly host?

The heart beat of the gods still animates the Yellow River
Which is why my favourite dream is of me learning to drown.
Alas, I have a host who is a bad talisman, and my time is now very short …

  • Poem reproduced with permission.
  • Images of Olumo Rock and River Ogun - taken in Abeokuta on 22 August 2004 © M.Wood