Decaying Romance: A Review of Jumoke Verissimo’s The Birth of Illusion


Title: The Birth of Illusion
Author: Jumoke Verissimo
Publisher: Fullpoint Publications And Communications
Number of pages: 83
Year of publication: 2015
Category: Poetry
ISBN: 978-978-946-697-9


“Let there be spaces in our togetherness”. Khalil Gibran

Love, attraction, cohabitation and marriage are few of the dozen topics that have intrigued individuals, cultures and civilizations. Psychologists, sociologists, philosophers and poets have already written and sang volumes on those subjects yet every new generation takes it upon itself to explore them and try to understand them. The third part of The Birth of Illusion, which starts from the 52nd page, revisits those age-old subjects. Continue reading “Decaying Romance: A Review of Jumoke Verissimo’s The Birth of Illusion”

The Burden of Poetizing: Review of Paul Liam’s Indefinite Cravings

 

 

 

Says Benjamin Whorf, the famous linguistic anthropologist: ‘Language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas rather is itself the shaper of ideas, the program and guide for the individual’s mental activity.’
Having the ability to think, imagine and reason without the means to represent them in sounds and/or in symbols reduces a person to a eunuch who can only fantasize sleeping with the princess under his care. Perhaps it is the horror of imagining a world devoid of the means of communication that makes a lot of persons to classify language as the greatest of human inventions. Continue reading “The Burden of Poetizing: Review of Paul Liam’s Indefinite Cravings”

ON SODIQ ALABI’S TEXTURE OF AIR

THE TEXTURE OF AIR, a slim volume of 45 poems, is Sodiq Alabi’s debut collection. Apart from that the poetry in this book starts from the cover where the eye is greeted by a whirlwind of brilliant colours, I also like how the quality of the binding re-assures me that our printing/publishing houses are not resting on their oars in the race to perfection. Continue reading “ON SODIQ ALABI’S TEXTURE OF AIR”

A PIERCED HEART: Tunji Olalere‘s Poetry Chapbook (VELVET- BLUE & OTHER UNCERTAINTIES)

If indeed love is that powerful to turn a person into a poet, then lovesickness can turn that person into a sick poet, which I wager is the more dangerous. The persona in this chapbook is lovesick. You should know what to expect. Continue reading “A PIERCED HEART: Tunji Olalere‘s Poetry Chapbook (VELVET- BLUE & OTHER UNCERTAINTIES)”

LOSS, GRIEF AND IDENTITY CRISES IN IKEOGU OKE’S SALUTES WITHOUT GUNS.

Title: Salute Without Guns
Author: Ikeogu Oke
Genre: Poetry
Format: Paperback
Extent: 130 pages
ISBN: 978-2436-57-7
Publisher: Hybun Publications International

 

“The memory came faint and cold of the story I might have told, a story in the likeness of my life, I mean without the courage to end or the strength to go on.” Samuel Beckett.
“Strange fits of passion have I known
And I will dare to tell…” William Wordsworth.

My first encounter with Salutes Without Guns was back in 2012, when Ikeogu Oke visited Kaduna to read at a joint session of the Association of Nigerian Authors/ Kaduna Writers’ League. He read and also sang a lot of the poems from the collection in a perfect rapture, voicing his regrets of not bringing a piano along. And even though the end of the session left the house divided as to whether Ikeoku Oke was not more of a musician than a poet, nobody doubted his mastery of the craft (whether as a singer or a poet). I still remember how we trudged homewards- Emmanuel Abdalmasih Samson, Babs Iwalewa and I- chorusing the last line from The Palmwine Ode in the very tune the poet had sang it that evening.
Salutes Without Guns is that kind of strong drink you administer to the grief-stricken until their senses are numbed and they remember their sorrows no more. The reader is exposed to a special type of grief which “no voice can speak”; which “cuts deeper than the quick,/And drips pain even after the end.” The first of the five segments into which the book is broken, drenches even the most hard-hearted reader in gloom. Not a few would pause and wonder why the poet chooses to first satiate the reader with this gourd of vinegar before bringing out the keg of sweet palmwine. Some would have preferred the elegies to come last or at some point within the pleasant session.
“Memories are killing,” according to Samuel Beckett. “So you must not think of those that are dear to you…” But because these thoughts have a way of sneaking into our minds on their own, “you must think of them… every day several times a day, until they sink forever in the mud…”
If that is what the persona is trying to achieve in the first segment of SALUTES WITHOUT GUNS, I strongly doubt that he succeeds. It seems that the pain keeps rising rather than sinking “forever in the mud”. Hear him:
“… In vain have memories
Tried to feel
The gulf
Of your presence
Or bridge
The gap
Of your absence…”
(Away But Not Gone, Pp 27)

And then:

“They come
In long caravans,
Laden with bouquets
And fragrances…
They come with smiles
And eyes that gleam
With hope,
But sigh to see
An ever widening gulf.”
(Away But Not Gone, Pp 27)

It remains unclear whether his temporary or total loss of faith is occasioned by his loss of a loved one. He bombards the departed with a dozen questions reminiscent of A. E. Housman’s Is My Team Ploughing.

Are there nights
That walk on tiptoe
On the grounds
Of the great beyond?
(Nights and Days, Pp 28)

Is there heaven? Hell?
Limbo? Purgatory? – Where are you, my dove?…
Are there truly
Elysian fields? – Have you seen father?
(Above As Below, Pp 29)

Have you found the job
You needed
But could not find here?…
Are there Nigerian
Sores to a blighted Africa
In the new world
To which you might
Have departed?
(The Job You Needed, Pp 31)

Are there hordes
Of listless youths
Whose future
Has been squandered
By misrule?
(Calluses And Power, Pp 34)

He questions the authenticity of the afterlife to which his loved one MIGHT HAVE DEPARTED. He doubts the established religions which insist on the existence of heaven and hell and limbo and purgatory and such other destinations. Rather, he keeps wanting to know “… what say/ our ancestors/ to such things?” He defies the Apostle Paul who warns that we don’t “sorrow as those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4: 13). He only stops short of speaking ill of the dead, or ‘cursing God and dying’ as Job’s wife would have him do.

“… Tell the Apostle that I – even I –
Now hum the victory song of the grave
That hides your easy charms from earth and sky
As though in a deep, sand-stuffed, impenetrable cave…”
(The Sting of Death, Pp 36)

The third segment of Salutes Without Guns comes as a relief after the bitter pills of loss and strife. It opens with a beautiful poem, A Prayer for My Daughter, which is similar to Polonius’ parting prayers to his son in Hamlet (Act One Scene Three).

“May your road not be smooth
With the smoothness
That slackens the limbs of the mind
Or rough with the roughness
That inclines the soul to despair…
May you not know valleys
Without mountains,
Or fortune without labour,
Or forget that life is a gift
To be earned with service…”
(A Prayer for My Daughter, Pp. 67).

This beautiful prayer is continued, perhaps for someone else, in Benediction (To Womanhood).

“Tall like the tree of life,
May the leaves of your beauty
Never fall
From season to season,
From year to year.
And if theyy should fall…
May they fall on grounds
Richer than you can wish,
To breed new beauties
Better than you can know…”
(Benediction, Pp. 82).

Yet in all these, the scars of loss and grief are not coompletely erased from the poet’s mind.

“May you find favour with your chi,
And with the gods of our ancestors,
And with the creator on whose providence
I shall name you for she whose loss
You have redeemed.”
(A Prayer for My Daughter).

“Hence for your sake and hers,
And the dreams growing
In the womb of our hearts
Fear shall no longer posess me.”
(A Note After Dark, Pp. 69)

“I too once knew an Uyi. She was
A rose garland hung on a full blue moon.
Much burden of glory passed with her pulse
When she slept in her beauty’s June.”
(Show Me a Sign, Pp. 83)

I totally agree with T. S. Eliot who avers that “When a poet’s mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experience; the ordinary man’s experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary. The latter falls in love, or reads Spinoza, and these two experiences have nothing to do with each other, or with the noise of the typewriter or the smell of cooking; in the mind of the poet, these experiences are always forming new wholes.”
(Review of Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century: Donne to Butler).

In the same vain, George Santayana holds that “(T)he poet’s art is to a great extent the art of intensifying emotions by assembling the scattered objects that naturally arouse them. He sees the affinities of things by seeing their common affinities with passion… so in poetic thinking, the guiding principle is often a mood or a quality of sentiment. .. Poets can thus arouse sentiments finer than any which they have known, and in the act of composition become discoverers of new realms of delightfulness and grief…”
(The Elements and Function of Poetry)

And then, perhaps, to check the poet’s excesses, George Santayana further adds that “ (T)he poet is himself subject to this illusion, and a great part of what is called poetry, although by no means the best part of it, consists in this sort of idealization by proxy. We dye the world of our own colour; by a pathetic fallacy, by a false projection of sentiment, we soak Nature with our own feeling, and then celebrate her tender sympathy with our moral being… Poetry must, therefore, to render all reality, render also the background of its figures, and the events that condition their acts…”
(The Elements and Function of Poetry)

One must be careful with the way one interprets works of art in general and poetry in particular. Riding on poetic license and figures of speech, poets and/or their works are in many cases misunderstood. Poets are often pointed out as the conscience of the society- a pedestal which only very few other groups of persons are elevated to. Which, I suspect, is why I suffer a great deal of discomfort reading At the Feet of the Lamido.
“… I sat at the foot of the Lamido…
Who saved my people from a raging mob
Before the war…
He had kept the raging mob at bay, a mob
Hungry for the flesh of innocents…
As he shepherded the flock of my people…”
(At the Foot of the Lamido, Pp 47)

It seems unjust to clothe this ‘Other’, this “raging mob”, in so barbaric a garb without considering the events that led to the pogrom. While one should not attempt to rationalize the carnage, claiming the innocent victim and painting the ‘Other’ as beasts “hungry for the flesh of innocents” isn’t entirely accurate.
The employment of Us vs. Them creates identity crises as to who the poet is referring to by “we” in the last four lines of the poem:
And we are humbled by humanity and never by the growls of power,
And we are subdued by compassion and never by the snarls of power,
And we are drawn to kindness and never to the spoils of power.
And we are edified by the benevolence of the good Lamido.”

Is this ‘we’ the peoples of the old Eastern Nigeria, or the entire human race minus the few rotten apples found amongst all the peoples of the world?
This Us vs. Them is carried on in Lest We Forget:
Their voices no longer count
In the land they fought us
To keep as one,
In the land for whose unity
They slaughtered us…
Those who killed us like flies
Now fear for their lives…”
(Lest we forget, Pp 56)

My main problem are with the words “us” and “them”, and also the phrase “my people”, a group the poet has depicted as an orderly flock in contrast to a raging mob. I don’t intend to dispute Kolawole Ogungbesan’s claim that “the writer is a member of a society and his sensibility is conditioned by the social and political happenings around him”. But to what extent does the writer go in depicting these “political happenings”?
Not too long ago we’re told the story of President Buhari visiting the then Governor Lam Adeshina of Oyo State back in 2000 to protest the killing of his ‘(Fulani) people’ by the Governor’s ‘(Yoruba) people’. If (President) Buhari would come under harsh criticism for singing the us-vs.-them song, then it would be partial to spare (Poet) Ikeogu Oke.

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.

A REVIEW OF TADE IPADEOLA’S THE SAHARA TESTAMENT

Title: The Sahara Testament
Author:Tade Ipadeola
Genre: Poetry
Format: Paperback
Extent: 184 pages
ISBN: 978-978-51826-6-8
Publisher:Hornbill House of the Arts, Lagos

 

 

The natural man would rather appreciate objects such as the snake from a reasonable distance. Only when assured of his safety does he then begin to adulate the object’s grace and charm.It is the same with the privileged class who would collect Van Gogh and revere Mother Teresa and St. Francis of Assisi even though they themselves would rather not relinquish their comforts and experience 1/10th of the life their ‘heroes’ lived. THE SAHARA TESTAMENT bridges that chasm between us and the desert life.At first we recoil from its horror and harshness. And then we begin to understand it and to draw nearer until we begin to experience it with the poet persona. What the book does is throw you beside your self. It knocks you out of your mind. Reading through it, you become born again. “There is no birth of consciousness without pain”, Says Carl Jung.

Even as I write this review, I still have not been able read the book from front page to back page not minding that I have had it for over two years now. I mean, how does one read The Sahara Testament from its first page to the last? Who can claim to have done so? Possibly, not even the author.

The Sahara Testament is not the type of book that is come by every day. Blot the poet’s name from the book cover and the book would easily pass for a multi-authored inter-generational collection on the geography and anthropology of the Sahara.

“And in the beginning…”

Thus begins the very first verse of the very first chapter of The Sahara Testament. And it does start at the very beginning of existence when it was yet vegetation and reptiles; to the very beginning when “Atlantic winds carried echoes from the Amazon Rainforest”; the very beginning when “Flora breathed the nascent Levant air free from Mediterranean speech”. So typical of the griot that Tade Ipadeola is.

What distinguishes the poet from the ordinary man is the eye. The former’s eye is gifted, or rather accursed, with a special lens that enables it spot the extraordinary in scenes that the ordinary man’s would miss. The poem in pp4 proves just that. I am astonished at how a random encounter in a public place can be captured so elaborately.

“The fishwife in her wooden market stall

Tucks in a franc into her black brassiere,

Smiles as she hands over the fish…”

 

The persona becomes fascinated by her teeth which

 

“glisten whiter than the sassier

 

Neighbours, whiter than any woman’s, so white

I wondered if God knew she’d make it

Into a magnet for custom and light…”

 

When I think why the persona would refrain from pitting his “halting French against her effortless river/ Of Bambara and market French”, the only likely reason that comes to mind is that he anticipates subsequent encounters and therefore would rather not do anything that would diminish his prospects. He must have become so enraptured that he eventually forgets:

 

“What the fish tasted like, but not the fever

Of curiosity, flaring as it did from the nugget

 

Of ivory that blinded my wandering eyes…”

 

But in spite of all these,

 

“The desert was ever present, its idiolect

Suffusing the streets with a certain ease…”

 

One of the things about desert life is that it makes you become more alive. You learn to appreciate the environment. It affords you time and space to notice hitherto insignificant things like the sand and the scorpions and the night sky and all other such things. Page 44 draws our attention to:

“The swagger of young eagles soaring in the sun

Oblivious to the weight of light resting

On outstretched wings, their trajectory of fun

Wide as the Sahara…”

 

I am touched by the anticlimax that befalls this “lords of flight” which slice “clean as swords/ through morning air”:

 

“Soon they age compared to mountains, soar alone

For decades soaring, outliving the condors

Coming to rest in a ball of feathers on a stone.”

 

 

Just like the persona, you would also pity

 

“…their hyperactive femininity

Their perennial regicide, their shrinking kingdom

Embering out to ash with sex and DDT.”

 

We are not spared the violence and grimness of the desert world where

“… The dead lay in throngs, Arabs and Black

From smoke and steel, clubs and poisoned pike.” (Pp 48)

 

And again

“… All night the final battle raged

men dying in thousands like fish with oiled gills

gasping for air amid the ruins…” (Pp 49)

 

This same desert which “nibbles at asphalt like black chocolate” is still home to millions who have grown to understand its language. It is only the migrant who sees the desert as the

 

“…face

Of that hidden museum of hellish inquisition,

Lacking all kindness, compassion and grace

Impervious to the merits of calm disquisition.”(Pp 116)

 

However, against all odds, there is hope in the horizon. The harshness and violence that mark out the desert are nothing but harbingers that announce the coming of better things.We get to learn (in Page 151) that

“The colours of freedom are the same colours

As those of the newly born, blood precedes

The narrative and pangs of pain, it pours

With the crowning, it multiples, it recedes

 

For a spell before the joy is born.

Fragile baby joy- arriving in a slender frame…”

 

 

Tade Ipadeola has proven to be one of the last flag bearers of the old guard who still insist on keeping poetry as an art/for only the strong-hearted. Those are the very few who knows what it is to wait upon the Muse to drop on their souls words that merge into phrases and grow into lines and stanzas until they read like chants by the oracles of Delphi. With The Sahara Testaments (and works like it),Tade Ipadeola (and others like him) has in no small way renewed the faith of many who had contemplated giving up on poetry since after the band of cavaliers broke through the gates and hijacked the stage.

 

DIARY OF A NAGGER (A Review of Timi Rowland Kpakiama’s SONG OF BENASORO)

Title: Song of Benasoro
Author: Timi Rowland Kpakiama
Genre: Poetry
Format: Paperback
Extent: 66 pages
ISBN: 978-978-934-004-0
Publisher: Origami Books, Parresia Press

 

It is a collection of 15 poems by one Benasoro and one Brisibe about a million trivialities. Put more precisely, it is basically a diary of a provincial nag by name Benasoro, who is languishing in unrequited love for her husband Brisibe who fancies some other woman. Benasoro just cannot understand why Brisibe “despises” her for Cecilia whose

“… bones crack

Like dry kuru wood when

She walks. Her age

Has long passed child-bearing…”

 

She cannot hide her disgust for ballroom dancing which she thinks is “for those with scabies on their buttocks”. She finds it appalling that

“A man whom you are not married to

Would politely place his hands

On your shoulders

Bobbing up here and there like averen insects.”

 

But at the end she learns to

“cast down my pride,

And trampled on it

With the sole of my sandals

And learnt the steps of the ballroom dancing,”

 

Benasoro is a total aberration of “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” She lacks the jealousy of Cleopatra. Where you expect her to fight her rival, she whiningly complains to her inattentive clansmen. Where you expect her to be reasonable, she jeers at her rival from a safe distance. No psychoanalyst will take Benasoro seriously. Not because her case is irredeemable but because she is unstable. One moment she is deriding ballroom dancing and another moment she becomes very interested in it she wants to learn it. One moment she admits that Cecilia “drinks from the clay pot” and then later she tells us that Cecilia is so posh she doesn’t “drink from our water pot…”

She doesn’t even spare her husband who has become so westernized that he will put on his “three-piece suit under the/ roof of this scorching sun…” We further learn that he

“… kills his time

Reading Marx’s The Capital

He does not have spare time

For unproductive talk.”

 

Brisibe is suffering from Salvation Complex. Even before he becomes a member of the People Liberation Party, he vows that “he will single-handedly uproot the huge/ tree of poverty and ignorance/ that is blocking the view of Oyakiri clan.” He claims

“… he alone has

The chest to chase the python poverty

Away from the impoverished gates of Oyakiri and Kabo.”

 

There is very little else Brisibe seems to have to do than deride every other person. He believes that

 

“… the Kaduna Mafia

Are responsible for the arrival of

Python poverty swallowing the hopes of our countrymen.

The mafia must be eliminated at all costs.”

 

Benasoro is not only hysteric but also suffers from Persecution Complex. In THE THATCH OF THIS RAFTER IS FALLING, she tells us how

“For decades, each Hausa warloard

Has lived in the castle of our skin.

The dissident says his pygmy mind

Had not been circumcised

On the mountain of books,

So he does not care that

The university’s gate is growing rusty”

Song of Benasoro chronicles the career life cycle of the average politician. At first, they don the revolutionary garb armed to the teeth with Marxist or liberalist ideologies. Next, they endear themselves to the masses, vowing to restore the world to the state of Eden if given the opportunity to occupy public offices. But once they have gotten there, they will align with the old enemy and mutually rape the helpless masses. Brisibe completes that crazy cycle. Through the People Liberation Party, he occupies a position of power from where he hopes to dismantle the

“… Structures of the Kaduna Mafia,

Grind it into powder and blow it into

The endless pit of River Gongola

Where it will be washed away forever.” (pp 19)

 

But soon he joins the Millionaire Club, and

“… washes his velvet hands

With Spanish wine at the same table

With retired Generals whose oil fields sullied the creeks

Of Oyakiri and Tarakiri clans!” (pp 21)

 

At first glance, one can easily be intimidated by some of the names in the AKNOWLEDGMENT page and in the blurbs section of this book. One would think that these persons should have been able to spot, and then alert the poet about, the handful of stones that has ended up marring his plate of rice. The reader’s enthusiasm begins to corrode right from the ACKNOWLEDGMENT page which seems too rife with grammatical errors. None of the fifteen poems that make up the collection can be totally absolved of one grammatical error or the other. There is no doubt that the poet and his publisher have good intentions towards their readers. But that alone is insufficient to make the readers’ hearts dance. More can be done by both writers and publishers to see that works don’t get out of the laboratory until it has survived the test of fire and.

One good thing about this book is that it will make you wonder once again what makes a thing a poem? Is it its form or its substance? Is converting a flood of words into short uneven lines (whether or not these words spark up imageries at a higher plane) enough to make a write-up a poem?

I am not saying that reading this book isn’t worth the pains. Of course, any effort to propagate literature is a welcome development. Majority of us may not dispute the fact that Song of Benasoro is a poetry collection, even though most of us would wish that the words within were as graphical and picturesque as the rich cover design of the book.

THE AMAZON EIGHT (A (Partial) Review of The Sky is our Earth)

Title: The Sky is our Earth (An Anthology of 50 Young Nigerian Poets)
Editors: Abasi Torty Tortivie, Senator Ihenyen & Emmanuel Dairo
Genre: Poetry
Format: Paperback
Extent: 185 pages
ISBN: 978-978-52838-6-0
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.
“Again
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
around you.”
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.
And then:
“… 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
to shades
of gold’s brown in
yellow life.”

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
to experience
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.