October 22, 2020

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Foremost poet, J.P. Clark is dead

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Foremost Nigerian poet, John Pepper Clark, popularly called J.P. Clark, is dead. He was 85.

The poet, who has been ill for a while, died on Tuesday, PREMIUM TIMES learnt from a close associate, Jahman Anikulapo.

Mr Clark, who studied at the University of Ibadan, was a professor of English at the University of Lagos, from where he retired.

The poet, born on December 6, 1933, was the younger brother of a former federal commissioner for information and South-South leader, Edwin Clark.

Mr Clark, who is famous for his much-eulogised poem “Ibadan”, drew on aesthetic and cultural autonomy in his earliest poems as a form of protest against colonial hegemony.

His poetry, which is highly regarded as one of the finest African pieces, often treats heterogeneous themes, such as in Poems and sometimes focuses on Clark’s background and his travel experience in America and other places such as in A Reed in the Tide.

Others hint at the horrendous events of the Nigeria-Biafra war—for instance, Casualties: Poems, and A Decade of Tongues, a collection of 74 poems.

Asides poetry, Mr Clark was also reputable for great theatrical works including Song of a Goat – which premiered at the Mbari Club in 1961, a tragedy cast in the Greek classical mode in which the impotence of Zifa, the protagonist, causes his wife Ebiere and his brother Tonye to indulge in an illicit relationship that resulted in suicide.

The play was followed by a sequel, The Masquerade, in which Dibiri’s rage culminates in the death of his suitor Tufa.

Other dramatic works include: The Raft (1964), in which four men drifted helplessly down the Niger aboard a log raft; Ozidi (1966), a transcription of a performance of an epic drama of the Ijaw people and The Boat (1981), a prose drama that documents Ngbilebiri history.

The poet, the Ibadan beginning

He began his literary journey at the University of Ibadan as a student of English, where he founded and edited various magazines, including The Beacon and The Horn.

Upon graduation in 1960, he worked as an information officer in the Ministry of Information, in the old Western Region of Nigeria, as features editor of the Daily Express, and later as a research fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan.

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Before retiring as a professor of English at the University of Lagos in 1980, he was co-editor of the literary magazine, Black Orpheus.

J.P. Clark (PHOTO CREDIT: Twitter)
J.P. Clark (PHOTO CREDIT: Twitter)

In 1982, Mr Clark founded the PEC Repertory Theatre in Lagos, alongside with his wife Ebun Odutola, a professor and former director of the Centre for Cultural Studies at the University of Lagos.

Since his retirement from the Nigerian academia, he has held visiting professorial appointments at several institutions abroad, including Yale and Wesleyan University in the United States.

“Prof. J. P. Clark has paddled on to the great beyond in comfort of his wife, children and siblings, around him,” a family statement signed by C. C. Clark and Ilaye Clark said on Tuesday.



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