By Yusuf Adua
One thing is to live, the other is to live an enviable life that will forever be remembered. In all honesty, many have come and gone but creative wordsmiths who left legacies for coming generations would still live after they’ve passed on; one of them is J.P. CLARK.
John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo was a Nigerian poet and playwright who used his writing prowess to create a world of his own, touching humanity, causality, sociopolitical events in Nigeria as a developing nation, and a host of other baffling topics making the rounds during his time.
John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo was born in Kiagbodo town in the present Delta state of Nigeria to an Ijaw father and Urhobo mother on the 6th of April 1935. He was also an Indigeneof Edo state.
J.P. Clark began his education which later brought bountiful rewards at the Native Authority School, Okrika (Ofinibenya-Ama), in Burutu LGA (then Western Ijaw), and the prestigious Government College in Ughelli. He proceeded to bag his BA degree in English at the University of Ibadan.
J.P. Clark commenced his long adventurous trek to prominence when he was still a student of the Premier University; the University of Ibadan where he edited various magazines, including the Beacon and The Horn. So, after graduation from Ibadan in 1960, he continued to soar higher.
He served as information officer for the Ministry of Information, in the old Western Region of Nigeria. He was also featured editor of the Daily Express, a research fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan. He also founded the PEC Repertory Theatre in Lagos.
He was for several years a professor of English at the University of Lagos, a position from which he retired in 1980. During his time at the University of Lagos, he was co-editor of the literary magazine “Black Orpheus in 1982 along with his wife.
Modern critics have noted three main stages in Clark’s poetic career: the apprenticeship stage of trial and experimentation, exemplified by such juvenilia as “Darkness and Light” and “Iddo Bridge”. Second is the imitative stage, in which he appropriates such Western poetic conventions as the couplet measure and the sonnet sequence, exemplified in such lyrics as “To a Fallen Soldier” and “Of Faith”. Last but not least is the individualized stage where he begets the maturity and originality of form of such poems as “Night Rain”, “Out of the Tower”.
In the same vein, Clark’s dramatic prowess was also enjoyment to behold. His reflexive descriptive style was also foremost and formidable to compete with which surely made his artworks stand the test of time.
NOTABLE WORKS OF J.P. CLARK
The man from Kiagbodo made an enviable mark in the writing industry, these are some of his drama works; Song of a Goat – premiered at the Mbari Club in 1961, a tragedy cast in the Greek classical mode in which the impotence of Zifa, the protagonist, causes his wife Ebiere and his brother Tonye to indulge in an illicit love relationship that results in suicide. This play was followed by a sequel, The Masquerade (1964), in which Dibiri’s rage culminates in the death of his suitor Tufa.
John Pepper Clark who wrote A Decade of Tongues, Clark also contributed to other genres some of them which include his translation of the Ozidi Saga (1977), Heinemann African Writers Series No. 50, 1969), Their America, and so on.
His plays have been said to lean too much on the Greek classical mode (especially the early ones), for their thinness of structure and for unrealistic stage devices (such as the disintegration of the raft on the stage in The Raft) but his supporters made the point that his plays challenge and engage the audience with their poetic quality and their uniting of the foreign and the local through graphic imagery.
Clark’s wit of knowing how best to carve out fascinating poems is indisputable but Violence and protest, as in Casualties, Institutional corruption, as in State of the Union, the beauty of nature stood to be the themes of most of his poems. Some of his poems include a group of 40 lyrics that treat heterogeneous themes; A Reed in the Tide (Longmans, 1965); State of the Union (1981); The Raft (1964) and a host of others.
J.P. Clark made a very suave and purposeful catch. He walked down the aisle with Mrs. Ebun Odutola. Professor Ebun Odutola is a former director of the Centre for Cultural Studies at the University of Lagos.
J.P. Clark was a widely travelled man, he held visiting professorial appointments at several institutions of higher learning, including Yale and Wesleyan University in the United States.
On 6 December 2011, to honour the life and career of Professor John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo, a celebration was held at Lagos Motor Boat Club, Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, for the publication of J. P. Clark: A Voyage, The definitive biography of the main animating force of African poetry, written by playwright Femi Osofisan. The launch was attended by “what could be described as the who is who in the literary community”, including Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka.
Similarly, In 2015 the Society of Young Nigerian Writers under the leadership of Wole Adedoyin founded the JP Clark Literary Society.
His death was announced on 13 October 2020 meaning that the scrivener spent 85 years on this planet earth.
No doubt that J.P. Clark was one of Africa’s pre-eminent and distinguished authors, he continued to play an active role in literary affairs, a role for which he increasingly gained international recognition. In 1991, for example, he received the Nigerian National Order of Merit Award for literary excellence and saw publication, by Howard University, of his two definitive volumes, The Ozidi Saga and Collected Plays and Poems 1958-1988.
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