The 80 -year old poet was at the bank of the Kiagbodo River to receive us to his magnificent one -man Island in the middle of the Kiagbodo River that sunny morning.
As we alighted one by one from the canoes that had brought us from the other side of the bluish green river, John Pepper Clark- Bekerederemo (J P Clark) had kind words of welcome for every one of us.
We had come to Kiagbodo, the country home of the literary icon located in Delta state, Nigeria as part of the ‘three-legged’ celebrations to mark his 80th birthday ceremony.
With the theme; ‘’50 Years of the Writings of J.P. Clark: Casualties, Innovations and Perspectives’’ the Association Of Nigerian Authors under the then President, Jerry Agada had commenced the celebration with a symposium at the University Of Lagos where Clark was an Emeritus Professor.
Another symposium followed at his alma mater, the University of Ibadan before we all moved to his ancestral home in Kiagbodo.
Although I had met the late renowned Poet several times before at Literary events, it was in the serene and sedate environment of Kiagbodo that we finally bonded.
I was immediately mesmerized by the aura and quiet dignity around the 80- year old literary figure. In spite of the years, he was in good health and his lucidity was intact. And although he appeared very humble and quiet, his brown limpid eyes that danced with excitement at the sight of his fellow writers gave him away as a man who had not only experienced life in all its ramifications, but has also endured in order to tell the tale.
As we disembarked from our canoes, we were welcomed by the magnificent sight of his beautiful country home. Built in a colonial style of two stories, the large white stucco house was set on large grounds that kissed the banks of the glistening Kiagbolo River.
As he welcomed us, he spoke of his experience as a school teacher and poet. I was impressed by the naturalness with which he interacted with us.
His speech was deliberate, understanding and witty. It seemed to tally with all that Adewale Maja-Pearce had written in; ‘A Peculiar Tragedy’ his critical biography of J.P. Clark, one of the foremost of Nigeria’s first- generation writers that include the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and famous novelist Chinua Achebe. In the book, Maja-Pearce elucidated the relationships that developed among the three, starting from their days in the 1950s at the University College, Ibadan.
The book is considered as a critical analysis of the quantum of work Clark produced over time against the social and political circumstances of the ‘Three Musketeers.’
Twilight was setting when we finally took our leave of the remarkable and respected literary icon.
And as our canoes glided on the smooth Kiagbodo river en-route our hotel in Asaba, I looked back to see J P Clark standing and waving to us. He stood there in the last glows of the fast receding daylight, slim and distant like a famous statue with all the aura of a man who had lived to tell his tale.
Five years later, his body was brought back to his country home in a canoe on the same Kiagbodo river on which we had rowed many years before.
On his request, as stated in one of his poems, titled ‘’My Last Testament,” from his collection, Full Tide, J P Clark was buried within three days of his demise.
May his departed soul rest in perfect peace.
Wale Okediran is the Secretary General of Pan African Writers Association (PAWA).