Original Research

Promoting the poetic cause in Ben Okri’s stokus from Tales of freedom (2009)

Rosemary A. Gray
Literator | Vol 37, No 1 | a1233 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v37i1.1233 | © 2016 Rosemary A. Gray | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 August 2015 | Published: 14 June 2016

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Rosemary A. Gray, Department of English, University of Pretoria, South Africa


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Abstract

This article illustrates the theme of the poetic in Ben Okri’s stokus from his Tales of freedom. It does this principally through an exploration of this new literary mode and its use of serendipity. As a sudden insight, serendipity becomes, in this Nigerian writer’s hands, a poetic device equivalent to illumination or an epiphanic moment. The introduction is an attempt to show the interrelationship between poetry and thought, on the one hand, and poetic experience, creative consciousness and serendipity, on the other. This is followed by a brief digression to outline the paucity of critical reception of this prose anthology, followed by a focused discussion of the storytelling form, in general, and the stoku, in particular. This elliptical form to which Ben Okri gives the name stoku is, as he states in Tales of freedom, ‘an amalgam of short story and haiku’. A comparison between the conventions inherent in the ancient Japanese art of tanka or haiku (short poems), also known as waku and displaying the poet’s imaginative wit (derived from the Anglo-Saxon witan [to know]), and those of Okri’s newer art form, the stoku, follows. The core of the article focuses on a brief analysis of a select number of Okri’s 13 rhapsodies in prose, showing how each stoku serves to illustrate a poetically rendered moment of insight, a vision or a paradox. In Okri’s Tales of freedom, the mythic conjunction between short story and haiku reveals hitherto hidden aspects of life. Through this innovative medium, akin to flash fiction, the subconscious can illuminate unknown worlds. This is akin to experiencing serendipity, linked to interiority, to inner vision. The argument concludes by pointing to the serendipities captured obliquely yet poetically in the stokus selected for discussion.

Die pleidooi vir die digterlike in Ben Okri se stokus uit Tales of freedom (2009). Hierdie artikel illustreer die tema van die poëtiese in Ben Okri se stokus uit sy Tales of freedom. Dit ondersoek hierdie nuwe literêre vorm en die gelukkige (maar onbedoelde) saamval van denke en poësie (serendipiteit) daarin. As ‘n skielike insig, word serendipiteit in die Nigeriese skrywer se hande ‘n digterlike kunsgreep vergelykbaar met illuminasie of epifanie. Die inleiding is ‘n poging om die onderlinge verwantskap aan te dui tussen poësie en denke, enersyds, en digterlike ervaring, kreatiewe bewussyn en serendipiteit, andersyds. Daarna volg ‘n kort uitweiding oor die gebrek aan kritiese reaksie op hierdie prosaversameling, gevolg deur ‘n gefokusde bespreking van die vertelling in die algemeen, en die stoku, in die besonder. Hierdie elliptiese vorm, wat Ben Okri die stoku noem, is, soos hy sê in Tales of freedom sê, ‘n ‘amalgaam van kortverhaal en haikoe’. Daarop volg ‘n vergelyking tussen die konvensies van die antieke Japannese kunsvorm van die tanka of haikoe (kort gedigte), ook bekend as waku, waarin die digter sy kreatiewe geestigheid (Engels wit, afgelei van die Angel-Saksiese witan, ‘weet’) ten toon stel, en Okri se nuwer kunsvorm, die stoku. Die kern van die artikel is ‘n kort analise van ‘n aantal van Okri se 13 rapsodieë in prosa, wat aantoon dat elke stoku ‘n oomblik van insig, visie of ‘n paradoks digterlik vasvang. In Okri se Tales of freedom onthul die mitiese samevloeiing van kortverhaal en haikoe tot nog toe verborge aspekte van die lewe. Deur hierdie innoverende medium, verwant aan blitsstories, kan die onbewuste onbekende wêrelde belig. Dit is soortgelyk aan die ervaring van serendipiteit, verwant aan innerlikheid en innerlike visie. Ten slotte word die digterlike (maar indirekte) serendipiteit in die gekose stoku aangedui.

Keyword: Ben Okri; haiku; literary humanities; new directions in the humanities; stoku; storytelling; Tales of Freedom


Keywords

Ben Okri; haiku; literary humanities; new directions in the humanities; stoku; storytelling; Tales of Freedom

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