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Ibadan - J. P. Clark

There is something moving in this cinematic flash of a portrait of a city. 19 words carve a still but “running" image of a place (one of the larger cities of West Africa). I have not seen this city myself, but this poem makes me want to fly there, catch that aerial view, see the rusted roofs, perhaps, and blink at the “broken china in the sun”.


Rita Dove, the Pulitzer prize winning poet when talking of Lucille Clifton’s poetry says “It is so much more difficult to write simply than it is to write in a complex manner …What she did, to pare it down to the essential and still have it sing, that is hard." Such simplicity is rare. To pare an idea down to the essential - not one word more, not one word less. Clark achieves this in his poem about the city, and I’m positive that critics have and will continue to find a million interpretations of this sparse verse - the unplanned metropolitan circus, Ibadan’s history etc.


For me, today, this fleeting sprawl reminds me of Bombay. of Queen’s necklace in the night. and also of Pound’s faces in a metro. I often think of how many imagists actually came before, or outside the close-knit circle of the canonised “imagists” - like the Japanese masters of Haiku, the Prakrit poets, the Sangam poets and many Latin American poets. The Kiriostamis, the Kolatkars… and this.

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