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Poetics of Landscape: Representation of Lagos as a ‘Modernizing’ City in Nigerian Poetry

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 November 2020

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Summary

INTRODUCTION

Lagos, as a modern city, has remained significant in the real and in the imaginary. It is perhaps the most commercially and culturally strategic city in Nigeria. It is home to the headquarters of many industries, the largest international airport in Nigeria, many electronic and print media houses, and, above all, Nigeria's biggest coastal gateway for importation and exportation. Until the early 1990s, when the seat of federal government moved to Abuja, it was Nigeria's political capital city. Besides housing the National Theatre complex, the city is known for its literary and book festivals, literary and cultural organizations and events, and indigenous publishers. In the imaginary, Lagos is the most thematised city in the Nigerian literary imagination, its character framed in diverse tenors as a city of life, of chaos, of survival, one that best exemplifies Nigerian modern life. In this essay, I am interested in how Lagos as a modern city is framed in Nigerian poetry. How do poets, one might ask, in their formation of literary alterity, contemplate the many attributes of Lagos, some of which are its disorderliness, environmental pollution, and displacement? My question is ecocritical, as my emphasis is on how the city, its landscape, and modern pressures on its environment influence the habits of its inhabitants, and how it is, in turn, influenced by their habits. Modern pressures refer to negative fallouts of urban development after colonialism. In its drive to be modern in the European sense, the city becomes vulnerable to urban political realities that shape its landscape. Nigerian poets have been keen in representing these realities – and most of the poets are anthologized in Lagos of the Poets, edited by Odia Ofeimun, a poet known for his passion for the city of Lagos. Ofeimun brings together previously published poems from collections, his main aim being to present Lagos as imagined by poets across Nigeria. The diversity of the poems is such that the anthology, in the words of the editor, ‘seeks to provide a broad mirror of the city’ (xlv). With a theoretical framework based on ideas from postcolonial ecocriticism and urban political ecology, this study reads selected poems from the anthology.

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ALT 38 Environmental Transformations
African Literature Today
, pp. 37 - 49
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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