On Robin Williams: Farewell, and an Amu Nnadi Poem

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I woke up this morning to the news that American actor, Robin Williams, had died of an apparent suicide. If there is a value to shock, the shock I felt was enough to disrupt any stock exchange of emotions. I doubt I was alone in this. He was an actor funny as hell and full of life. My memory of the late actor is tied to his role in the movie, Dead Poet’s Society, and to my own period of mulling over whether I could write and on what else there was for me apart from being a lawyer–which I was then studying to become.

My long term collaborator and classmate, Elnathan John, together with Musa Ikhilor and I, had set up the Creative Writers Club (CWC) at the Kongo Campus of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in the early 2000s. Kongo Campus is the more dreary of the university’s campuses as it held only the Faculty of Law and the departments of Public Administration, Business Administration and Local Government Studies–“serious” departments. The Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences, teeming with life and lively students, were situated at the Samaru Campus about 10 kilometers away. Interventions like the CWC were meant to add some life to the place and it quickly became a proving ground for our earliest writing.

I do not know when Elnathan watched the movie, Dead Poet’s Society, but he was so moved by it that he suggested we screen it on our campus–as a CWC event. I do not know where he got a projector from either but he did and we ambushed the campus community one Saturday evening by having it set up at the Social Centre quadrangle; it was at that screening that I met Robbin Williams. His role as a college professor, together with Sean Connery’s role in Finding Forrester, are the two most definitive teacher roles in all the movies I’ve watched. Robbin Williams, in his role as John Keating, demonstrated why literature is important. Below is an oft-quoted excerpt from the movie–

John Keating: We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?’

Dear Robbin Williams,
I am sad that you took your own life but thank you, thank you with all my heart, for being John Keating. Rest in Peace. My friend, Chijioke Amu-Nnadi, has written this poem for you. I hope you will enjoy it wherever you are, O Captain!

– Ra.

robin williams
by
amu nnadi

why do crows mock every suicide
with their tormented cry
what point, denied us
in this age of discovery
(not the channel, but the ugly dude
attempting to seduce the moon)
laser (not the fever of madness)
and angelina jolie’s clavicle
do they make with their brutally honest beaks

dawn opens her one good eye
seeking answers from what the night tried to hide
in your crazy funny soul
(crazy… funny… crazier than a ravine)
it turns out too many lies live in the sun
too many secrets in a smile
and neither dawn nor darkness
understands the purity of grief and moonshine

the sad commentary of your laughter
the sad light of your eyes
the misery lurking at the corner of your smile
alas your smile, all different kinds
and too many bends

some days i had thought your laughter too loud
for gaiety
your funny bone too large for anatomy
turns out there were too many skeletons
in the cupboard of your head
turns out we missed your punchlines, seduced
by the boyish twinkle in your eyes
laughing when you knew the joke was on us

asphyxia is such an intellectual word
a metaphysical memoir of trenchant smoke
like an ancient sacrifice
like your many aliases, each hiding
in the webbed vision of a smokescreened life
a torment we were too selfish and blind
to see
asphyxia… a word to choke on

you always would choose a path
covered with fumes, hidden in mist
hidden in the weird laughter of crows
and even your name is metaphor
of something we cannot grasp
of something we will miss with a terrible groan:
a bird who would sing and fly away
a laughter stolen by a raucous derisive cry

Amu Nnadi won the Association of Nigerian Authors Prize for Poetry in 2013 with his collection through the window of a sandcastle (Amazon) .

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