Preface and Acknowledgements for Afro Rococo (Light Verses)

As it is with most scholarly finds, I discovered Rococo arts and poetry while reading for other things. And when I began writing the kind of poetry that one finds in this anthology, I remembered that the poems could be theorised as post/postcolonial and post/postmodern rococo. This preface is a distillation of all my readings on the subject of rococo arts and poetry, as well as my humble theorisation on what an Afro Rococo poetry should embody.

Rococo poetry mimics the formal and existential structures of the rococo art which was popular in the late 17th and all through the 18th centuries in Europe. Rococo arts existed in architecture, painting and music, among others, and was characterised by excessive decoration and furnishing to create wonder and awe, illusion of movement as well as imbuing the art object with elements of the dramatic and theatrics.  

Rococo poetry has undergone several transformations since its inception in the 18th century and has adapted itself to the ethos of each age in which it has been practised. However, the poetry has largely maintained its basic feature which is the combination of lightness and beauty wrapped up in witty expressions that keep the reader thinking long after the first read has been concluded. The lightness of rococo poetry is not only reflected in its form, but also in content. The genre’s thematic concerns usually border on the banal and the badinage; jokes, wine, women, romantic love and the affective manners of the time, creatively packaged in decoratively pleasing and pleasant verses.

I have observed the rococo possibilities in some of the post/postcolonial and post/postmodern poems in recent times, especially given the fleeting nature of these poems. However, my theorisation on the post/postcolonial and post/postmodern rococo is based on the poems I have in this collection. Afro rococo implies the rococo poetry practices in post/postcolonial and post/postmodern African contexts. In the first instance, it should be understood that both the post/postcolonial and the post/postmodern are at once temporal and stylistic gestures that could collide, collapse and condense in a globalised discoursal space.

The terms ‘post/postcolonial’ and ‘post/postmodern’ designate the growing understanding that both the postcolonial and the postmodern should/have been exceeded or should be seen to be co-existing in a warped temporality with their new ‘post’ where there first exists hesitation and moments of historical overlaps between and among epochs before everyone and everything moves on. Thus, while the post/postmodern is marked by how sophisticated technologies have transformed human realities and the arts in the 21st century, the post/postcolonial mirrors the subalterns’ response to such hyper-alterations of human realities in the face of unemployment, poverty, hunger, among other social maladies, occasioned by failed leadership in the post/postcolony. The rococo poetry is seen to be well and better equipped, formally and otherwise, to grapple with the complexities associated with such cross-theoretical and cross-epochal representation of realities.

In formalistic terms, the afro rococo poetry is denoted by stanzaic brevity; an epigrammatic feature that is not begging in wit, but rather is thoughtful in what it says. Thus, the lightness of the verse is not only seen in its characteristic shortness, humour and wit, but is also observed in how it deftly renders its subject matter in playful, conversational and memorable ways.

How can we play with pain and suffering, one might ask? The answer is dark humour, a timeless device in drama and fiction, a post/postmodern trope that uses laughter to heighten and deepen the tragic human condition. By this singular trope, the post/postcolonial intermingles with the post/postmodern which in itself is also capable of laughing at the ridiculous human situation where man, who still retains his pre-historic instincts and qualities, is trapped in a hyper-realistic post-human world, where man is gradually becoming part animal, part human and part machine (robot). 

The content of afro rococo remains the dramatisation of human frailty characterised by ironies and paradoxes of a civilisation that prides itself on epochal milestones which have largely been seen as a failure; of a race advanced in science but backward in virtues, wealthy in riches but lacking in charity, educated but behaving like primates. Yet if our condition is so dire, why even consider the route of laughter and play for its re/presentation? The answer is that there are largely no solutions, as all the prognoses, diagnoses and therapies over the ages have come to naught. Hence the need for us to cope with our condition with laughter, sarcastic laughter, laughter imbued with innuendoes, lampoons and meiosis. Perhaps, it is through this route that change might come about, for laughter has always altered the human situation. It is a healthy antidote for a life full of pains, a most recommended therapy for the troubled soul.

Rococo poetry in our age and time should also mimic contemporary arts especially as inspired by the social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram, among others, well known for their fleeting ephemerality, flirting and flattering in beauty, fragility of form, brevity of content and mimicry of the absurd and fast-changing moments of human life. In afro rococo, poetry becomes a meme of human realities. Poems in this collection are meant to be read like scrolling through a social media page; they are to be read, given a thought for a moment and then passed on to the next poem and forgotten in the moment. Their recollection or re/memory can equally take the same process through mental or memory associations that bring the poem/s back to the scenes of the mind, where they are reconsidered for a moment and then forgotten again, lodged back in the memory bank of the unconscious so that the mind could attend to other fleeting matters of urgent currency. In rococo poetry, therefore, art does not pretend to be a classic anymore, it does not aspire to be timeless, earth-shaking and original. Rather it glories itself in post/postmodern parody and pastiche, paradox and play. The irony of the verse equally lies in using a light form to treat a heavy and hefty subject matter, almost like a post/postmodern mock-heroic poetry.

Rococo poetry should equally be implicated in the postproverbialisation of discourses in our time. Postproverbials have all the qualities of rococo poetry; brevity, creativity and creative revisionism, wit, pastiche, parody, deconstruction of thoughts, as well as all the qualities of poetic imagination. Sometimes the meaning of a poem hangs on just one word, as in the youth are the leaders of today, which is a form of emphatic stress, where the author registers his protest of the youth being the leaders of tomorrow by substituting the offensive lexis with the ideal one. Or the poet might also rephrase the expression to obviously state its thesis, which is that the elders are the leaders of today since youthful leadership is mostly a thing of the future.  Rococo poetry then becomes a re/writing, a paraphrase, of existing signs, signifiers and their discourses.

My appreciation is in the rococo mode and reads as follows:

To God, my Muse, the source of my poetic inspiration,

The life-giving fountain, my refuge and my shield when battling life’s challenges,

The one who has been with me right from the beginning

And who is still with me and will be my God till the end,

I am grateful O Lord.

To my parents, Mr Asuquo Etim Effiong and Deaconess Ekaette Asuquo Etim, who nurtured me in kindness and in love, raised me with enduring human virtues, taught me the principles of patience and hard work, supported my life goals, sacrificed for my growth, blessed my life with lifting words and prayed constantly for my success in life, I am eternally grateful.

To my siblings, Angela, Enomfon, Ette Asuquo, Effiong, Essien, for the love and understanding, for looking beyond the faults to the virtues, for standing by me in time of need, I really appreciate.

To my mentors, Prof Emmanuel Omobowale, Prof Luke Eyoh, Prof Joseph Ushie, Dr Friday Okon, Dr Ima Emmanuel, Dr Aniekan Nyarks, Mr and Mrs Mercy Okon David and Elder N. J. Udoeyop, I am eternally grateful.

To Dr Martin Akpan, Dr Ofonime Inyang and Pastor Robert Udoikpa, thank you for the life-saving pieces of advice and for all the support over the years.

To my bosses and colleagues at work, Prof Nse U. Essien, Vice Chancellor, Akwa Ibom State University, Dr Iniobong Umotong, Dean Faculty of Arts, Akwa Ibom State University, Professors Inyang Udofot and Imoh Emenyi, Dr Susanna Udoka, Head of English, AKSU, Mrs Monica Lewis, Head of Schools, Pegasus Schools, Eket, Mrs Emily Jackson, Principal of Pegasus High School, Eket, Mrs Offiong Inyang, Mr John Adeyemi, Mr John Oyobio, Mr Edwin Aghedo, Dr Monica Udoette, Dr David Udoinwang, Dr Eventus Edem, Dr Kufre Akpan, Mr Kenneth Ifang, Mr Isaac Essien, Dr Iniobong Utin, Dr E. E. Maples, Mrs Esther Eneyo, Dr Jackson Etuk, Deborah Obot, Mr Paschal Eneota, Dr Iniobong Utin, Dr Edenowo Enang, Mrs E. O. Bassey, Mr P. S. Peter, Mr S. N. Abdul and Mr Micah Asukwo, I remain ever grateful.

To my ever-supportive students, Nsikak Akpan, Peace Mboro, Sediong Ekeruke, Esther Eyo, Victoria Ezekiel Okon, Shadai Nse, Emediong Philip, Abasifreke Uyanga, Grace Ekott, Hetty Collins, Mfoniso Etop, Joy Inyang, Victoria Elijah, Aniekeme Willie, Esther Anaele, Chidinma Ajayi, Edidiong Nsudoh, Elizabeth Nkanga, Goodness Essien, Blessing Itaketo, Ufuoma Olomuyouvbe, Deborah Imaha, Favour Egrinya, Mkpouto-abasi Gabriel and Utenge Ibokette, I am most grateful.

Eyoh Etim, PhD

Department of English,

Akwa Ibom State University,

Obio Akpa, Nigeria.

March, 2022

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