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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Lenrie Peters’s world


 A study of Lenrie Peter’s published writings reveals an astute poet, who was always detached, yet conscious about what he does and why he was always waxing philosophically-infused lines.  For Peters, like other successful writers, had an inclination to embark on artistic work, and produce things that are essentially the by-product of his sometimes imaginative society.  In Selected Poetry (1981), Peters is deeply and philosophically engrossed, just listen to him: ‘The children wonder why I will not give them lifts to school; all the seats are taken by the jealous muse who will not have the chatter and display – when engaged on some public service or the daily chores of life, she throws you the hint of an idea which when composed, has gone.’

Through creative writing, one has to learn and appreciate the beauty and artistic imagination of the writer in his or her hermit, at the appropriate moment; the lines are carefully chosen and directed at the audience in a rhythmic style. However, Peters speaks to us as if he has to explain his unpredictable way of life: ‘So I become miserly of time, snatching at minutes here, seconds there; leaving the show before the end for fear she will turn off the light’.

Sometimes, there is this distinctive mindset that leaves the reader wondering what or who is this poet referring to? Is the writer speaking to him or herself? Perhaps, one should further ask why Dr Lenrie Peters who was a medical surgeon, a guitarist, a writer, and a poet was most of time a detached observer. Let’s go back to Peters’s musings: ‘When others are dissolved in convivial hilarity, she recounts the disciplines of my Order, the search for the silvery vein of truth, essential and chides me for not holding firm. So every now and then, I dish her out a plateful of deceit with raw victuals and scamper down the far end of the street, and when I think I’m safe, in sound retreat, lo and behold, she’s there; tugging at my feet.

The poet is usually preoccupied with what happens around him, or what had happened to others or what is likely going to happen in the future. Peters is raising rhetorically-infused questions about bread and butter issues, more or less, he’s asking pertinent questions: ‘I am asking about the way ahead, the course road, the Avenue autumnal with dust erotic flashes of sunlight snares in the forests’ womb the women pounding at evening and the beating of breasts. I am asking about times ahead, the crude times, times rancid and rough; gunplay at the Bantaba intimidations in the park, heads floating down the river human regatta in the dark. I am asking about the price of rice tomatoes, peppers, okras, spice, the four day week half a meal a day, the unemployed and unemployable with PhDs  for breakfast and the sad sleek Mercedes in the closet.’

As an accomplished poet, his mind was universal. Perhaps it may be difficult to appreciate or connect with his articles, however, if you are lucky to visit some of the places he writes about, it’s an unforgettable experience. Two years back, I travelled to Futa Djalon, and visited the headwaters of the river that supplies water to the Gambia, Senegal and Niger. I am yet to write about my experience, however, when I stumbled on Dr Peters’s lines, alas, his poem became a symbolic example: ‘Sanguine river, chaste river from finger-pricking your deep recesses in Futa Jalong among great sisters, towards the tidal ebb and flow, ebb and flow, taking crushed hopes in tow, granite slow into the opaque turbulence

Great poets and writers like Peters devote their time and energy to worthy ventures. It is important to reflect on the significance of some of their musings on national events that are now given prominence. A classic example is the international Roots Homecoming Festival, and Juffureh, the ancestral village of Kunta Kinteh, who, like thousands of able-bodied Africans were carted off into slavery. Here is Peters on the return of Africans in the diaspora to their native Gambia.

‘Juffure, your years of violence

 return, your years of grief

after three centuries of sleep.

In your old age,

lost children return to you

from a different world.

The usual razzmatazz that typifies such events have been captured in Peters’s poem. Here, one can see the festive mood of the celebrants and the visitors bonded by a compelling reason to rise up to the occasion. For Peters, this calls for poetical exploits, thus describing the scene in Juffure graphically in the following lines:

Welcome them warmly

with singing and dancing

let the griots wail  the ancient songs

and the drums, drum, drum, drum,

young people dance, dance, dance, dance

(even if the cataracts of age)

But the children are burdensome in old age

who would drag you here and there

when you would rather sleep,

build concrete monuments

on your vegetable patch

Just because, a writer, writes it, it does not mean, it is true or he or she is right. Sometimes, there is a gulf between what the writer states and the reality on the ground. For me, one thing is certain, Peters’s world is akin to Soyinka, Okigbo, Gibran et al. What they have in common is the bond that binds all writers, thinkers and poets. In their moments of solitude, they try to invoke their minds into some sobre activities. And on some days, they are at liberty to drive or navigate around and give us a good dose of literary prolixity. Let us return to Peters on his musings of a certain day:

On this public day of rest,

here I am, sitting at my desk

trying to string words together

Had I not assumed this burden,

I might be walking on the cliffs, or reading

Rather than invoke the muse

Who perhaps has deserted me

Like Rosemary and the rest.

But she pursues on cliff tops

between the pages of a book

between the bedclothes; and 

She nags but offers little reward,

Only the catharsis of accomplishment.

Only few poets or writers can match his high sense of thinking in the art of being cryptic, his pen was mostly directed at the voiceless. This is why Peters empties his mind on the long hand of history, and the thorny issue of racism.

‘Some think the past

must live again,

haul out the facts,

confirm remarks

about identity 

and let the passions roll

the first Africa

the early dawn

of ancestral Gods

and naming ceremonies 

of ritual sacrifices

and burial rites 

are lost even to me for good


My two faces 

Move sideways

groping for identity

or re-identify

with group or tribe

from tribe to tribe 

nation to nation

continent to continent

world among worlds.


Dr Peters did not only carve in niche for himself in his area of specialsation, for him, the critic is going to absolutely find it difficult to ascribe any specialty to; he was a renowned professional medical practitioner, a guitarist, a poet cum philosopher, a novelist. Indeed, the world of Peters is locked up there in that obscure mountain, stuffy and surrounded by a mirage and myriad of imaginations. One can hardly unlock the vast abyss of literary sensibilities that constitute Peters’s cosmos. 


Ebrima Baldeh is studying literature at the University of The Gambia. He works at the Gambia Television.


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