Promoting the poetic cause in Ben Okri’s stokus from Tales of freedom (2009)

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This article illustrates the theme of the poetic in Ben Okri’s stokus from his Tales of freedom. It does this principally through an exploration of this new literary mode and its use of serendipity. As a sudden insight, serendipity becomes, in this Nigerian writer’s hands, a poetic device equivalent to illumination or an epiphanic moment. The introduction is an attempt to show the interrelationship between poetry and thought, on the one hand, and poetic experience, creative consciousness and serendipity, on the other. This is followed by a brief digression to outline the paucity of critical reception of this prose anthology, followed by a focused discussion of the storytelling form, in general, and the stoku, in particular. This elliptical form to which Ben Okri gives the name stoku is, as he states in Tales of freedom, ‘an amalgam of short story and haiku’. A comparison between the conventions inherent in the ancient Japanese art of tanka or haiku (short poems), also known as waku and displaying the poet’s imaginative wit (derived from the Anglo-Saxon witan [to know]), and those of Okri’s newer art form, the stoku, follows. The core of the article focuses on a brief analysis of a select number of Okri’s 13 rhapsodies in prose, showing how each stoku serves to illustrate a poetically rendered moment of insight, a vision or a paradox. In Okri’s Tales of freedom, the mythic conjunction between short story and haiku reveals hitherto hidden aspects of life. Through this innovative medium, akin to flash fiction, the subconscious can illuminate unknown worlds. This is akin to experiencing serendipity, linked to interiority, to inner vision. The argument concludes by pointing to the serendipities captured obliquely yet poetically in the stokus selected for discussion.