It is abundantly clear from the title of this post that I’m writing about Ben Okri. Well, you might argue, it could also be Big Ben, because I was in London this long weekend. However, Okri was the gold star in this London visit of mine — the very first one actually.
Ben Okri read from his new poetry book WILD at Foyles book store at Charing Cross Road. The Gallery was the perfect place for a largish yet intimate audience. He read in a thickened-honey-sap voice, a lilt in the gutturals accentuating the highs and lows in his diction. His face was like a movie star, half shaded under a beret. Is he more British, or more Nigerian? That came up just a little bit like tiny crinkles on the elbows of a well-ironed jacket. He diverted us by reading a poem to that effect.
No wonder Okri is lovable as an author. But the poetry made me think of a few things. He seemed overtly prophetic, somewhat Blakean, if at all prone to overtures. He spoke of “energy”, “magic”, and “rituals”. I couldn’t help thinking: now, now; are you trying to be the man on the hill? Then, I’m a bit cynical by disposition, even with my most favorite people. The photo, by the way, is from the Internet. I haven’t yet downloaded my stash. I hear you; will do, will do. Soon.
Typically, I jumped the line and shook Okri’s warm hands, and told him that Prof. David Richards of Stirling University sends a hello to him. He looked perked up and interested. Asked my name and said, “We must continue this.” I’d have loved to, but for the fact that Sabitha, Daniel and I decided to ditch the handsome Okri for a beer. Irmelin Joelson, my art critic and urbanist friend who had joined us for coffee earlier, sadly couldn’t come to the reading.
Sabitha is an Art History PhD candidate at UCL, London, and poet and lecturer. Daniel Wallace is my colleague from Rutgers University-Camden, and fiction writer (with great sense of poetry). We walked around Covent Garden, laughed and talked, and then settled for Malbec and fromage bleu at Cafe Rouge before we all went home by midnight.
The East Coast rails give you awesome views of the cliffs and the sea. I waited for the scenery to emerge on the train car’s window like a fresh painting. Tried clicking a few snaps. But the sea wiped away my vision in it’s grandiosity. Nonetheless, the imagination of a fluttery swoop from these heights was exciting. I could at least trap that feeling in my heart, to be examined later. Stirling was not far off. The gulls sang something meaningless yet familiar outside.
Back in town, my friendly cabbie Mr. Alasdair’s young son Fraser came to drive me to the campus. A BA in Sports Medicine, Fraser is taking some time off earning money so he can pay for his Masters. Golf and rugby are his interests. “One keeps me charged up, the other focused. Guess which does which,” he smiled. “Aye, I like poetry too.” We’ve decided to share notes once I’ve read contemporary Scottish poets better.
This line should come under a sub-P.S. But, whatever. Someone told me that my photographs look as “wonderful as you”. What tautology. Apart from that, it’s wrong anyway. I’m less wonderful, more cynical. A writer can’t survive otherwise. No one pays me to be wonderful.
Oh, another sub-sub-P.S.: Don Paterson, Lavinia Greenshaw, Jo Shapcott and Daljit Nagra are reading at Brighton Festival on May 24. My co-fellow from Chichester asked if I’d come. I want to! Don’t know for sure. What a treat though, those poets.