Abiola Irele: Farewell To the Scholar Without Borders By Niyi Osundare

When Serendipity conspires with Fate, the result is almost invariably a combination of astonishment and eye-popping bewilderment. This observation provides a painfully perfect script for my own ‘Irele narrative’, especially with regard to my interactions with this great scholar and generous enabler in what has now turned out to be his last few weeks on earth.

The immediate chapter of this narrative has to do with the dedication of my new book of poems If Only the Road Could Talk, just released in the United States by Africa World Press. In the over 15 years I worked on those poems, it never occurred to me that I was going to dedicate them to anybody. Nor did that thought ever cross my mind in the hectic months leading to the final editing and revision of the galleys. Then, one morning, I woke up with something close to a Eureka feeling: voila, I have found a worthy dedicatee for my new book and that person would be none other than Abiola Irele. That decision itself was both curious and complex; for I already had a piece written in his honour in the book of essays I was readying up for publication – an essay which had missed the chance to appear in The World in Africa & Africa in the World: Essays in Honor of Abiola Irele, a highly valuable festschrift edited with a characteristically comprehensive and provocative introduction by Biodun Jeyifo. In spite of all this, I woke up with that irrepressible urge to put Irele’s name in my new book’s dedication page. When I called Kassahun Checole, my publisher,  and revealed my new decision, I knew the manuscript was set and ready to go to the printer. But the Irele name did the magic. My publisher had the grace to wait for another two days, during which the following was born:
To Abiola Irele
Ageless Humanist
Scholar without borders
These seasoned offspring
Of Songs of the Marketplace