West African Poetry: A Critical History

Previous studies of African poetry have tended to concentrate either on its political content or on its relationship to various European schools. This book examines for the first time West African poetry in English and French against the background of oral poetry in the vernacular. Do the roots of such poetry lie in Africa or in Europe? In committing their work to writing, do poets lose more than they gain? Can the immediacy of oral performance ever be recovered? Robert Fraser’s account of two centuries of West African verse examines its subjugation to a succession of international styles: from the heroic couplet to the austerity of experimental Modernism. Successive chapters take us through the Négritude movement and the emergence of anglophone free verse in the 1950s to the rediscovery in recent years of the neglected springs of orality, which is the subject of the concluding chapter.


Introduction; 1. From oral to written verse: development or depletion?; 2. Ladies and gentlemen; 3. The Négritude movement; 4. Poetry and the university, 1957–63; 5. The achievement of Christopher Okigbo; 6. Continuity and adaptation in Ghanaian verse, 1952–71; 7. Two Ijo poets; 8. ‘Psalmody of sunsets’: the career of Lenrie Peters; 9. The road to Idanre, 1959–67; 10. The poet and war, 1966–70; 11. The poetry of dissent, 1970–80; 12. The return to orality; A guide to availability; Index.