Waiting Laughters: A Long Song in Many Voices is a collection of poems by Niyi Osundare, published in 1990 by Malthouse Press. The anthology received the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa in 1991. The poems explore themes such as hope, resistance, oppression, and laughter, set against the backdrop of postcolonial Nigeria and Africa. The collection is divided into four sections, each with a subtitle reflecting the socio-political context. The poems incorporate elements of visual poetry, dramatic dialogue, and folklore references.

Waiting Laughters: A Long Song in Many Voices
AuthorNiyi Osundare
PublisherMalthouse Press
Publication date
Publication placeNigeria
Media typePrint
Preceded byMoonsongs (1988) 
Followed bySelected Poems (1992) 



Niyi Osundare, born in 1947 in Ikere-Ekiti, a town in southwestern Nigeria, is a contemporary poet from Nigeria.[1] His upbringing in a rural environment, where oral tradition and Yoruba culture were common, influenced his approach to poetry.[2] He studied at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and the University of Leeds, England, earning his PhD in 1979.[3] He is currently a professor of English at the University of New Orleans.[4]

Osundare has written on social equity and critiqued political corruption and oppression in Nigeria and Africa.[5] His work includes elements of popular culture and uses native languages and forms in poetry.[6] He has published over a dozen poetry collections, as well as essays, critiques, and drama.[7] His works include Songs of the Marketplace (1983), The Eye of the Earth (1986), Village Voices (1984), Moonsongs (1988), and The Word is an Egg (2000).[8] He has received the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (1988), the Folio Prize (1998), the Tchicaya U Tam'si Prize (2008), and the Fonlon-Nichols Award (2010).[4]

Waiting Laughters, published in 1990 by Malthouse Press, a Nigerian publisher, received the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa in 1991.[9][10][11]



Waiting Laughters is a collection of 97 poems, divided into four sections, each with a subtitle.[12] The subtitles are: "Some laughters are very significant", "The freedom of any society varies proportionately with the volume of its laughter", "Lofty sorrows cast shadows of lengthy laughters", and "Correct your laughter".[13] The poems, which range from short aphorisms to long narratives, use various poetic devices such as repetition, rhyme, rhythm, imagery, symbolism, and graphic presentation.[12] The poems draw on oral tradition, folklore, mythology, history, and contemporary events to create a dialogue between the poet, the audience, and society.[14] While the poems are primarily in English, they occasionally incorporate words and phrases from Yoruba and other African languages.[15]

The first section introduces the theme of waiting and laughter, presented as a common symbol of hope and resilience in challenging circumstances.[12] The poet reflects on a past when laughter was abundant and nature was in sync with human happiness.[16] A shift is introduced that hints at a change of mood in the following sections, as words are extracted from the "lips" of the wind, which later become "murmurs".[16] The poet presents visual scenes that depict the patience and endurance of his people, who are waiting for various forms of fulfilment, such as birth, justice, rain, and freedom.[17] The poet criticises the corruption and tyranny of the Nigerian government, and the effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism.[18] The section concludes with images that suggest the potential for joy and resistance.[19]

The second section portrays the current state of Nigerian society, where laughter is scarce and sorrow is common.[20] The poet uses binary opposites, such as truth and falsehood, life and death, hunger and abundance, to contrast the situation of the oppressed and the oppressor.[20] Graphic presentations are used to emphasise the monotonous and dreary atmosphere of waiting.[21] The poet criticises the inefficiency and arrogance of public officials.[22] He alludes to historical and mythological examples of resistance and revolt to encourage his people to learn from the past and act against tyranny.[23] The section concludes with the line "Time amble in diverse paces", indicating the lack of change and progress.[24]

The third section merges the present and the future to question the duration and outcome of waiting.[24] The motif of waiting is repeated, but with more intensity and urgency, as people are waiting for expected sorrow and suffering.[25] The poet employs dramatic dialogues, using folkloric tales and aphorisms to illustrate the relationship between the ruler and the ruled.[26] He uses examples of animals to convey his message of social criticism and resistance.[26] He invokes the Yoruba tradition and language.[27] The section concludes with the line "The stammerer will one day call his/ Fa-fa-father-ther's na-na-na-me", suggesting the possibility of reunion and redemption.[28]

The final section provides a resolution, where the poet discusses the role of laughter as a survival tool.[28] He revisits the theme of waiting and laughter, adjusting the purpose and tone, as people anticipate the "laughing rainbow" and the "colour-ful suns".[28] He uses a range of colours, instead of shades of grey, to represent joy and laughter.[28] He uses graphic presentations, not to show the monotony of waiting, but to illustrate the clarity and attainability of the purpose.[29] He mentions "joy-killers" who try to suppress laughter, but also states that laughter will return.[30] He refers to the song of Hugh Masekela, a South African musician, as a symbol of hope and celebration.[30] He asks a rhetorical question about the fate of laughter that waits too long, and answers it by stating that laughter will overcome sorrow.[30] He concludes the collection by repeating the first line of the first section, but changes it from "I pluck these words from the lips of the wind" to "I pluck these words from the laughter of the wind", to indicate the completion of the collection.[31]



Waiting Laughters received feedback from critics and readers, who commented on the poet's language, humour, humanity, and political commitment.[32] Tanure Ojaide, a Nigerian poet and scholar, reviewing the book in World Literature Today stated that Waiting Laughters is a poetry book that one reads from start to finish.[6] He also commented on Osundare's use of visual poetry, dramatic dialogue, and folkloric allusions.[6]

Aderemi Bamikunle, in his essay The Development of Niyi Osundare's Poetry: A Survey of Themes and Technique, described Waiting Laughters as a poem that unfolds gradually, exploring various aspects of the same or related themes. He further mentioned that the book represents a culmination of poetic developments seen in earlier works by the same author.[33]

Amani Wagih, an Egyptian scholar, in her article "The Dramatic Structure of Niyi Osundare's Waiting Laughters" in Cairo Studies in English, described Waiting Laughters as a form of poetry that uses dramatic techniques.[34]




  1. ^ Carmel, Aseer Igba Luga (16 June 2014). "NIYI OSUNDARE AND THE TRADITION OF MODERN NIGERIAN POETRY". DSpace Angular. Retrieved 28 January 2024.
  2. ^ Odinye 2017, p. 1.
  3. ^ "Osundare, Niyi". The University of New Orleans. Retrieved 28 January 2024.
  4. ^ a b "1998: Niyi Osundare -". - Nkyin Kyin: changing oneself: playing many roles. 16 September 2014. Retrieved 28 January 2024.
  5. ^ Tobalase 2014, p. 2.
  6. ^ a b c Ojaide & Osundare 1992, p. 192.
  7. ^ "Niyi Osundare's latest poetry collection features in reading, signing session by CORA-Roving Heights". Premium Times Nigeria. Retrieved 28 January 2024.
  8. ^ "African Writing Online; Niyi Osundare;". African Writing Magazine; Many Literatures, One Voice; Home page, Issue No 11. Retrieved 28 January 2024.
  9. ^ Wagih 2017, p. 4.
  10. ^ Osundare, Niyi. "African Books Collective: Waiting Laughters". africanbookscollective.com. Retrieved 28 January 2024.
  11. ^ "Noma Award for Publishing in Africa". LibraryThing.com. Retrieved 28 January 2024.
  12. ^ a b c Wagih 2017, p. 5.
  13. ^ Wagih 2017, p. 6–19.
  14. ^ Akingbe 2016, pp. 240–245.
  15. ^ Akingbe 2017, pp. 36.
  16. ^ a b Wagih 2017, p. 6.
  17. ^ Wagih 2017, p. 7.
  18. ^ Wagih 2017, pp. 4, 8.
  19. ^ Wagih 2017, p. 9.
  20. ^ a b Wagih 2017, p. 10.
  21. ^ Wagih 2017, pp. 10, 11.
  22. ^ Wagih 2017, p. 7, 14.
  23. ^ Wagih 2017, p. 8.
  24. ^ a b Wagih 2017, p. 13.
  25. ^ Wagih 2017, p. 11, 14.
  26. ^ a b Wagih 2017, p. 15.
  27. ^ Wagih 2017, p. 14.
  28. ^ a b c d Wagih 2017, p. 16.
  29. ^ Wagih 2017, p. 17.
  30. ^ a b c Wagih 2017, p. 18.
  31. ^ Wagih 2017, p. 18–19.
  32. ^ Alu 2008, p. 79–81.
  33. ^ Bamikunle 1995, pp. 135.
  34. ^ Wagih 2017, p. 19.