A Review of Nwachukwu Egbunike’s BLAZING MOON.

In a world where very few are increasingly being looked upon to set the pace for the rest to follow, Blazing Moon jumps onto the stage with the intention of doing the very opposite. From the moment the curtains part and light comes up on stage, we are ushered into a strange world altogether. In this surreal world, imagination is unfettered. Nothing is impossible.
One could rightly guess that the poet deliberately placed MY WORLD as the first poem in this collection in order to clear any misconception that the reader might be tempted to entertain. And as such, one only has oneself to blame if one comes out of Blazing Moon feeling disappointed in any way. The first two lines make that point as clear as day: “Let me take you to my world/ My own creation.” It is important to get one thing clear from the very beginning. At best it is paradisiacal, at worse it is fantastical. But either way, Blazing Moon is worth the time.
A discerning mind wouldn’t miss the politeness in the first line, a politeness which is by no means patronizing nor persuasive. Suffice it to say that this first poem, MY WORLD, is the border at which the reader must pause and decide whether or not he or she really wishes to take that dive into the poet’s world:
“Where the sea washes the streets
And little ones swim in the sands
Where mothers wash on sand banks
and fathers till the seas…”

Moreover, the warning comes early enough as the poet reminds us it is his “own creation”. Perhaps sensing that a few would still be disappointed with this book in one way or another, the poet forewarns us to not expect something of the extraordinary. Simply put, this world of his is one where:

“… so much is unknown, unsaid
where there are no mysteries
no boring into the skies
no flight into the earth.”

And to buttress that fact, the poem, Paint Yours, reminds us that the creator is at liberty to use paint on his canvas according to his discretion. If you are dissatisfied with the end product, instead of “staring and moping” and loving neither “the brush nor canvas”, there is only one thing you can do:
“Paint yours.” (Pp 14)

MY WEAPON is a plot to do mischief; a deliberate scheme to undo certain persons by simply drowning them in their vanities. This poem reminds me of Decius, one of the murderers of Julius Ceaser. At the peak of their plot, the schemers begin to fear that their target might not show up at the Capitol on the ‘D’ day. Decius steps in claiming to know just how to lure Ceaser to the Capitol, assuring his colleagues that he can

“… o’ersway him; for he loves to hear
That unicorns may be betray’d with trees,
And bears with glasses, elephants with holes;
But when I tell him he hates flatterers,
He says he does, being the most flattered.
Let me work;
For I can give his humour the true bent,
And I will bring him to the Capitol…”

The schemer in MY WEAPON is as much a gamesman as Decius. He will
“make them think:
They do better
They say better
They are the best

I’ll make them:
Want their way
Seek their way
Get their way…

Argue when they’re wrong
Argue when they’re right
Argue when they’re neither right nor wrong…”

He intends to fly them too close to the sun until their wings of wax melts and send them crashing down on hard rocks after which he will

“…make news of their failure
I’ll be the megaphone of their defects…
I’ll enslave them with my lies.” (Pp 41)

SMOTHERED TO ASHES is a requiem specifically for Baga but also for all the other war ravaged towns that don’t make it to the news as would Boston or Paris or London. The poem shines light on human (and media) hypocrisy of treating “third world” tragedies differently from that of the “first world”.

“When news broke in Boston
Theirs was an instant reprisal
No speeches made…
Justice was served with no appetizer

Yours was otherwise
Lost in the Savannah of Borno
None to sing of you…”

And while both government and rebel forces keep trading blames and claiming victimhood, Baga is “…Tossed in the middle/ as the sacrifice to the gory god of blood.” We learn that even when it makes the news, it is only for a day before some other news upturns it. But it is the resignation to fate, the learned helplessness in the last stanza that shatters the heart:

“One more
Who cares?
Numbers only create numbness.”

As Joseph Stalin would say: the death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.

THE TWEET OVERLORD is a beautiful poem. It is a mockery of blind worship and followership; the deification of the 1% by the 99%. The poem mirrors the asymmetrical relationship between idols of the social realm and their fanatical worshipers. This poem makes you wonder: what makes one a god? Is it the ability to stand apart out of the sea of humans? Is it the ability to acquire certain degree of notoriety irrespective of whether it is in a good or a bad way? Otherwise, why would these blind followers be

Amplifying my uncommon sense
Applauding my gaffes
Admiring my imprudence”? (Pp 99)

That has become the trend in this age of hero-worship. I am reminded of Edgar Allan Poe who holds that “No hero-worshiper can possess anything within himself; that man is no man who stands in awe of his fellow-man… In general, the very smallest of mankind are the class of men worshipers. Not one out of this class has ever accomplished anything beyond a very contemptible mediocrity.”
In another way, THE TWEET OVERLORD touches the core of human nature. The unanimous majority who lacks the courage to differ cannot help but notice and even revere whichever individual that has the effrontery to upset the norm. But why admire someone else’s imprudence if not that we are implicitly imprudent despite society’s continuous efforts to ensure we don’t fall out of line? Understand this, and you will no longer wonder why good girls fall for bad guys. Might it be more prudent if “followers” took up their own voice rather than wanting to hop on their idols’ wings even to the irritation of the latter? Maybe, maybe not.

“I tweet
They retweet

I tweet
They follow…

I tweet
They hashtag…

I tweet
They tweetfight

I eat
They starve”

Perhaps it is necessary to make it clear that the persona in Blazing Moon is not a total sadist who is only bent on shaming and ridiculing others. As a matter of fact, it might be more accurate to speak of “personas” rather than a “persona” since the voice in Blazing Moon switches between that of a male and a female’s and between the first person and second person. These personas are also interested in the environment, the society, geopolitics, ethics and religion.
Blazing Moon looks like a mural with motifs drawn from the ordinary to the extraordinary; from the natural to the supernatural. With hardly any room for frivolity, the world it intends to depict is so orderly it seems dangerous. And that, for me, is a cause for concern.

FAITH vs. FATE: A REVIEW OF SU’EDDIE VERSHIMA AGEMA’S THE BOTTOM OF ANOTHER TALE

 

 

Title:The Bottom of Another Tale
Author:Su’eddie Vershima Agema
Genre:Short Stories
Format: Paperback
Extent: 142 pages
ISBN: 978-978-525-95-6-8
Publisher:SEVHAGE Publishers

 

 

THE BOTTOM OF ANOTHER TALE is a collection of short stories over 98% of which is told in the past tense. They are about disillusionment. They are about loss: loss of hope, loss of life and loss of the mind.

In this book, life is lived in retrospect. Many of the characters yearn for the lives long lost. Not that the past is paradisiacal, but it somehow has something the present hasn’t. Perhaps, it is sheer nostalgia. Besides, time has a way of romanticizing the past.

The most striking, for me, of the themes in this collection is that of faith. In The River’s Testament, we meet the educated Tombo who has become so westernized to the extent that he no longer considers himself the “sort of African who believed in such nonsense” as traditions. To him, “Traditions were old pieces of caution and action that had been created for specific events. Ignorant people continued them even when the importance had long faded.”

Tombo will easily represent all the National Youth Service Corps members who don’t pay attention at the Orientation Camp when they are being told to respect the cultures and traditions of the host community they are deployed to. Being a teacher of English Language and Literature, it is most probable he has read Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God and has been impressed by the colonialist who pulls over by the highway to pick out British currency from a pot of sacrifice.

From the very beginning, Tombo doesn’t plan to stoop low to the lesser civilization he has been involuntarily thrust into. We learn that he “exchanged the hell he found for a bit of bliss provided in the opportunity to learn more of the language and traditions of the people- more for literary material to aid his writing than for acculturation.”

Even though Bantaje is “a peaceful village with good people”, Tombo cannot stop reminiscing about South Africa where he had spent his formative years; a place he likes to think of as “the lands of better thinking people”.

“You don’t believe in our traditions?” Rekia, the local beauty that has charmed his heart asks him one night.

“Not at all,” our enlightened Tombo grins. “I think they make for good humour, great laughter and all but that is it…”

The local belief he finds most amusing is that the river has the power to kill on nights of full moon. Of course, Tombo doesn’t doubt that someone can drown and die in the river. That is natural enough and has scientific explanation. But the problem arises when the villagers try to ascribe supernatural tendencies to the river. And to prove them wrong, Tombo runs to the river for a swim in one of the nights of full moon.

Humans have rebelled against God and laws. Humans have always wanted to be master of both their lives and universe. Adam and Eve ate the fruit they were forbidden to touch. Drunken with success, Odyssey declared his autonomy from Posidon the god of the sea who reminds him that “man is nothing without the gods.”

Barely twenty four hours after his challenge to the gods and rites of the land, Tombo is revisits the riverside once more this time around to search for the lump of money he is sure he must have dropped the previous night. Only, he ends up running mad. And by the end of the story, he has become a convert.

While The River’s Testament is about an enlightened soul being converted into a believer of superstitions, Luashie’s Doctrine is of a believer becoming disillusioned. Lushie has seen it all, from the bizarre miracles in Pentecostal churches to the calmness and serenity of mass and communion in the Roman Catholic Church. Attending early morning mass becomes his escape from the harsh realities of (family) life and a bullying wife. He feels so fulfilled in this faith that “there was no way he was ever going to even think about changing his faith.” But he returns home that same day and engages in a fight with his wife, an incidence that leaves him hospitalized and shakes his faith to the point that he becomes sure he’s not going to stay with the church much longer.

In A Lust Intervention, Amina fails to entrap Tarlumun with food and sex in order to steal his prosperity and his luck. She first makes his acquaintance at a construction site which he is supervising, where she approaches him ostensibly to “inquire if she could get a contract to supply some building materials”. Eventually, she sets a perfect scene and mood for seduction and only fails because Tarlumun’s fiancé, Nnenna, is busy that same night in intercessory prayers on behalf of her man.

The Gaping Void takes it a notch higher. It proves faith can reverse fate and that all things are possible if only one believes. I have hardly read through the first two paragraphs when these lines from J. P. Clark’s Abiku ran through my mind:

“Coming and going these several seasons

Do stay out on the baobab tree

Follow where you please your kindred spirits

If indoors is not enough for you…”

 

You cannot but feel sorry for the family of Ebuka and Adaora who keeps having Ogbanje babies that die only to be reborn eventually. The sestet embedded in the story says it all:

“Ogbanjes die

They will delight you with a cry

Then, in early childhood die

Locate your tear bank, prepare your cry

They might deceive you a few years but by and by

Ogbanjes die”

 

Like Tombo in The River’s Testament, Ebuka has little or no regard for customs and tradition. We are told that he views “custom as simply a course to which people willed that which would befall them.”

According to Cacious in Julius Ceaser, neither “stony tower, nor walls of beaten brass/ nor airless dungeon, nor strong links of iron/ can be retentive to the strength of spirit…”

Ebuka goes on to name the baby Victor, insisting that the child will live despite that the others are clamouring to scar the baby in order to identify him in his next coming. By the time the boy Victor is old enough to go play football in the street, his father is unexplainably absent. Adaora has given birth to another repeater child, a baby girl. Adaora proves to be the antithesis of her husband. Rather than replicate what Ebuka did in the past, she resigns to fate and says to Victor: “Your sister has decided to leave us. There is nothing we can do.”

But Victor, the redeemed Ogbanje, refuses to give up without a fight. He picks up the baby and does to her what his father had done to him in his own time.

While a mere phrase can hardly be said to be devoid of message in whatever way, some of the stories in this collection doesn’t seem to merit their place. You either find them too short for a quickie, or quite fleshy but tasteless. The reader comes out from them suspecting that they were just used to make up the pages. The Pen and Sword, which is approximately 223 words, is still vague even as a facebook status update.

Su’eddie Vershima Agema does something remarkable in THE BOTTOM OF ANOTHER TALE. Faith and fate are ascribed equal powers, the only determining factor being the individual for whom it is left to either let the former overrule the latter or vice versa. Things aren’t necessarily what we think they are. Everything is what we make of them.