A Review of Wild by Ben Okri
This is a collection to stir the mind, fire the heart and energise the jaded soul. Ben Okri writes from the heart, exploring subjects most people can relate to – love, identity, war, conflict, terror, humanity, the universe – that it is impossible not to fall under the spell of his writing. In many ways this book of 47 beautifully resonant poems is a paean to the natural world as indicated by the title, “Wild” – but it is also a song of praise to the natural aspect of mankind – the pure beauty that lies within – which sometimes gets lost in the strife of life and maelstrom of living. There is music to be heard, if we but listen, “a richer music revealing the whole” (The Soul of the Nation) and if we but open our minds and hearts, “the world is rich/with great love unfound” (The World is Rich).
Okri is a writer who not only revels in the musicality of language but in the symbolism that the word can evoke. In many ways, poetry is the most appropriate medium in which the plea for tolerance, beauty and acceptance of the earth’s incredible riches can best be expressed. Like his other poetry collections “An African Elegy” and “Mental Fight”, Okri’s unfettered spirit shines through. Whether describing the vibrancy of Africa or the diversity that surrounds us, these are poems that have been forged with intense wonder, yet acutely aware of the elements that underpin our very existence.
Dylan Thomas once quipped that “poetry is what makes my toenails twinkle”. Well, if that’s the case, then this is poetry that will make your hair flare. Reading these poems encourages the reader to embrace the boundless capacity of the human imagination and the indomitability of the human spirit. Life, at times, can be bewildering, chaotic and incomprehensible but resilience and the possibility of hope is always present, if we see, feel and listen with our heart and senses. This from “Dreams”:
“Today is a new chaos
A new journey. A new city:
Needing new paths. And new standards”
A constant echo that struck me as I read this collection was John Donne’s message that “No Man is an Island”. Nowhere is this made more explicit than in the titular poem, “Wild”, “everything should connect with everything”. It is often stated that poetry can act as a lifeboat for the weary soul; give this book to anyone you know who might have fallen out of love with life, living and giving and their joy may be rekindled. Hope springs eternal, as long as there is life. In the midst of despair – in the dark night of being – there is always some magic to be found, “a melody of light that transforms the night.”
The overriding philosophy that shapes this book is best encapsulated in “I sing a New Freedom”:
“Only those who remain free in spirit
Will find their way out of the maze.
But we are children of the stars,
And we ought to amaze.”
Okri’s ability to impress upon readers is most clearly demonstrated in the powerful and luminous phraseology he deploys. Freedom of self is a constant theme (if one was going to choose a song to accompany the verse, “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley would be the most appropriate), “In our minds we swim or sink” (from “As Clouds Do Drift”).
“Wild” is bookended by poems to his mother and father, which seems entirely in keeping with the message of the poetry – that the cycle of humanity and life lives on, “my turn has come round at last”, the wisdom that is handed on from generation to generation, and which is refashioned in turn, helps give sustenance to this beautiful gift that we have been given:
“Plant the secrets of the way
That I may live
More wisely every day.”
Read this collection, let the words wash over you, absorb the optimistic refrain that permeates the poetry and you – the reader – will feel refreshed, eager to embrace a world, that whilst occasionally baffling, is, most of the time, still beautiful.