Title: The Sky is our Earth (An Anthology of 50 Young Nigerian Poets)
Editors: Abasi Torty Tortivie, Senator Ihenyen & Emmanuel Dairo
Extent: 185 pages
Publisher: WriteHouse Collective
“… I hear a tongue shriller than all the music…” Julius Ceaser.
The INTRODUCTION is merely stating the obvious when it says that “the current landscape of Nigerian poetry is such that there are more male than female voices.” It doesn’t clarify though whether this is because the female is not drawn to this genre of literature as to the other genres, or whether it is because the male enjoys more access to platforms that grants them both voice and audience. Whichever way, what matters is that the female voice (16% of 50 contributors) in this anthology got the ticket based on merit and not because there were leftover pages to be filled up by all means.
Not knowing about most of these female poets until now makes me feel quite ignorant. It begins to dawn on me how enriched my mind and soul would have been if I had been sipping their brew all this while. And for that I am compelled to pray that a day would come when there would be as much female poets as their male counterpart.
Iquo Dianaabasi Eke opens the floor with CHOSEN. The poem is a clarion call to all predestined messiahs. I like the profuseness of powerful verbs in this poem, verbs like: approach; arise; walk; uproot; increase; refill; break; unfetter. Clearly, this poem is calling for the end of inertia. It is a call to duty.
You are called upon
To re-write the elegy that entangles
To rewrite the elegy that entangles” pp 11
Doesn’t the repetition produce a musical effect? And doesn’t the “Again” suggest there may have been several calls before now which went unheeded?
“You are the chosen one to break forth…
The one in whose vein flows the blood
Of valiant warriors and resilient amazons
Approach your destiny with fearless intent
For your cause is unchangeable
Though it be pickled in the womb of becoming…”
What does this remind me of? Macbeth! In Act 4, Scene 1, the Second Apparition says to Macbeth:
“Be bloody, bold and resolute: laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.”
But CHOSEN is not urging us to become another Macbeth. Rather, we are called upon to uphold honour and to accept the past even if it is unpleasant as we chart a new part for the future.
The seventh stanza reassures us that even though the road is not a smooth one, many others have walked “these stony paths” before. In other words, others have done it before you. In other words, the task is doable.
Recall the ordeal Frodo goes through in Lord of the Rings. Recall Joan of Arc. Recall the biblical Samson. Wouldn’t you conclude that every true hero ought to know that on the way to the crown lay the agonal goblet? And the mere contemplation of this price can be so horrifying that not a few would pray to drop from the race and be spared this cup even if that means being jeered at and being labeled ‘faint-hearted.’ Perhaps that’s why, in a way to reassure you, the poet keeps repeating that:
“you are the one in whose vein flows
The blood of valiant warriors and resilient amazons.”
Ucheoma Onwutuebe’ A FIRE PAST PUTTING OUT trims the yellow tongue of fire ignited by the previous poem to a cool blue flame. It is about an incursion by a foreign body into one’s personal space. It is about domination by a stronger force. And this encroachment is not a one-off incidence. The persona has learnt to not only look forward to the next round but to also relish every bit of it.
“…when I first saw you across the busy street,
jutting out like a rock in sea… unruffled by the chaos
Perhaps it is this order in the midst of chaos, this imposing figure (not necessarily of stature than of personality) that captivates the persona in the first place. But then, who wouldn’t be captivated by such a thing?
“…you walk towards me…exciting a flurry
of activities. Papers swirl in the wind…beasts
leave their lairs to watch, eagles fly from their aeries to peep.”
Some circumstances blur boundary between reality and the surreal. It is just like the bullet in Tobias Wolff’s Bullet in the Brain which “first appearance … in the cerebellum set off a crackling chain of ion transports and neurotransmissions.”
There is no talk of being taken advantage of, since even though “years have crawled past”, the persona still “burns for” the charmer.
“… Let your warmth spread a covering over
me. Let me love you without skimping…”
Which is what sex is actually: a total bodily surrender to a more powerful force.
The beauty of this poem is that like a freely soaring kite it is unhampered by the urge to don certain conventional literary devices yet it remains complex in a simplistic way. You can call it a prose poem or whatever else you prefer, as longer as it doesn’t diminish its sexiness (which I believe is a beautiful thing).
Lydia Abiodun’s AN ODE TO MY BLACK HERO is more than just a love song. On one plain it reads like an article of surrender, yet on another plain it is no less a tool for seductive hypnosis. It doesn’t require magnifying glass to notice that the persona utters “I want to” ten times. The persona issues commands in a pleading voice so that at the end nobody’s ego is bruised. The man doesn’t feel ordered about yet the woman gets everything she wants from him. The man thinks he is the conqueror but he is the conquered.
“I want to feel comforted
in the safety and strength
of your strong arms around me.
I want to lay my head
on the shallow slopes
of your ebony breasts…
let me sit on the muscled
cushion of your lap
and enjoy the steady strength of your legs”
Those that are quick to tag women ‘fragile’ and ‘weaker vessel’ will also be quick to conclude from this poem that a woman craves a pillar to lean on rather than be the pillar to be leaned on. But it is those that underestimate the strength of a woman that gets to feel the impact the most. The great Samson who killed a lion with his bare hands and slayed hundreds of soldiers with a mere jawbone of a donkey eventually becomes a corn grinder. What could be more helpless? Without his knowing it, this “black hero”, this “virile African hunter”, is being tamed into a pet.
MY COLOURED IMPACT by Nkemjika Christien Akudo Okeke is an action painting; a childlike experimentation with colours which ends up leaving a picturesque mosaic. In this poem, broad enough a palette to accommodate all colours, Nkemjika defies the ‘normal’ order of colours. Here, YELLOW + BLUE is not necessarily = GREEN.
“My black develops a white
that brushes purple in blue shades
producing a green
that forms red
in lilac’s pink
that orange has turned
of gold’s brown in
Even though it is the colour BLACK that sets off the chain reaction, no particular colour (or a group of colours) is given preeminence over the others. The ease and flexibility with which the individual colours appear on the canvas leaves you guessing (most times, inaccurately) which one will follow next. And this unpredictability also adds colour to the poem.
“The assurance of ebony
has sent indigo on an expedition
the glamour of violet
while sitting comfortably
in chats with peach…”
Moyosola Tugbobo’s GONE WITH THE WIND changes the beat to a somber note. This poem also touches on an aspect of dominance, a negative form of it which tilts to the point of parasitism and scavenging.
“With greed on their smoke-coloured lips
They a-starving desperately, suck
The sour milk of those dying clans
Till in hunger’s cave they limp and crawl…
Men, with claws in bins, stay a-searching
For life, for hope, and the women’s claims…”
Juxtapose this with William Butler Yeats’ SECOND COMING:
“… Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned…”
I wonder what Tugbobo is trying to achieve with this work. Is she trying to disillusion her readers? To reinforce pessimism? To what end, then? Or maybe she is merely stating the obvious, as Bob Marley would say: “Think you’re in heaven/ But you’re living in hell/ Oh, time will tell. But then, what should be the duty/function of the artist (the poet, in this case)? Is it to diplomatically avert panic in a chaotic world, or to acquaint worldlings with the true state of affairs not minding the consequences of such revelations? The persona in this poem tends to opt for the latter.
It is curious that while “Churches pant, graveyard sings/ Of fear, of death, and hellish floods” the persona can afford to remain indifferent to the point of observing “the wailing earth” “with arms akimbo”. However, in the last stanza the poet admits to “watch with pain”
“the greeneries turn brown
And, from a distance, the cloud turns black!”
The cynic would still question this “pain” felt “from a distance”.
Another thing worthy of note is that there is no mention of tomorrow in this poem. At least Yeats leaves us a bleak future but Tugbobo has left us no future at all.
Chinonyelum Ibe’s STARRY NIGHT is a short poem (12 lines) about attraction, enchantment, communion, intercourse and fusion of body and soul. Just like haiku, it drops short phrases which say volumes.
“Twinkling like stars,
Winking like diamonds,
Her eyes bewitch my throbbing heart.”
This poem is like plain diamond which takes on different colours depending on the colour of light you point at it. For example these two oxymoronic lines
“Velvet and Steel
Soft and firm”
could be interpreted to mean many things among which are phallus and breast at their stages of excitation.
Bodies become amorphous as two become “clasped in this dance of intricate rhythm”.
Chizu Ogbonna’s THIS WORM is a beautiful three-stanza poem about the worm, the canary and the bard which I suspect are all referring to one and the same entity.
Is the poem trying to validate the saying that while all writers are readers, not all readers are writers? In the first stanza, we see the persona as a (book)worm labourously journeying through leaves, (whether of books or of deciduous trees carpeting the forest floor) devour stacks of books, even “savouring the taste of words.” But switching to play the role of the bard, the persona develops cold feet. What (performance) poet has not feared that their words might not be accepted as “lines and stanzas” of a poem? It takes courage:
“Doubts, yet speaks.
Fears, yet stands.
Till muses turn to lines and stanzas.”
Toluwanimi Adeniyi completes the team of eight with her poem titled CONFIDENCE which until the last stanza, is rife with the notion of absurdism, surrender and the futility of action:
“Standing up against my fears like a magnificent hill
Seems nothing like the answer. What more to do?…”
Breaking the walls of fear with its chains shredded,
Opens a fresh wound of fear that overwhelms the victory
Every feat accomplished only opens up a new frontier. Read the second stanza of A. G. Herbertson’s THERE’S NO SANCTUARY FOR BRAVE MEN:
“There’s no satiation of brave deeds,
one draws another as wit ever heeds
the hour’s necessity and springs to it”
“Why strive to make a change!” the persona in CONFIDENCE despairs if “It only takes me back to the origin”?
In the last stanza the persona has learnt that it is fear that incapacitates the magic which makes things work. The persona learns that the secret to success is to be “Hopeful! Fear not! Be courageous!”
By now it should be clear enough that the Amazons 8 have made their voices heard loud and clear even when you fear that they would be swallowed in the roars of forty-two other rushing waters.
Few of the very many things these eight female poets’ works have in common are superhumanness, love, bravery, surrender and fusion. It only goes on to prove the power and ingenuity of the Muse which holds and guides multiple hands into penning lines and stanzas that end up saying almost the same thing.
The Sky is our Earth is an inexhaustible goldmine. Every piece is a still of the poet’s world, a world so rich that it leaves the reader caked with gold dust. The compilers and editors of this anthology- Abasi Torty Tortivie, Senator Ihenyen and Emmanuel Dairo have done remarkably well in bringing together these fifty (both established and emerging) voices in one food basket. That is how classic mix tapes are made which we don’t get tired of playing decades after the first time.