Archive for the ‘Critical Review’ Category

by Chimezie Chika

I
Finding Q-dance Centre was what drove me onto the streets of Lagos
that morning. I felt something leap in me when I saw throngs of people
milling into the streets from the thousand avenues and nooks like
ants, saw yellow buses hop by, and their conductors howling in Yoruba
for people going to Mile 2, Mazamaza, Festac. Maruas trotting like
hungry dogs. Hawkers screaming. On the pavement, a bend-down-select
book vendor. I bought a book.
II
The bus left me at Tejusho market, at the corner of the modern
shopping complex. A kind tall mallam in a white skull cap directed me
to the rail line where I had to wait, with other people, for a snaky
rickety train pooh-ing in agony to pass by. The Okada I entered there
dropped me off at 194 Herbert Macaulay—a tall edifice with a blue
façade.

I was the first to arrive that day but, ironically, I would become the
prize-winning latecomer for the rest of the workshop. I was not really
looking at the young boys and girls who were cleaning up; I was
thinking about my not having had a bath that morning. Chidimma came.
She is a colleague at IMSU. We talked a little and then Basit came.
Basit—the smiling talker. He was silent that morning. The rest came.

III
I was struck by how young we all were. How our eagerness was moon in
our eyes. Eagerness is a character that has resonated with writers for
generations. We write it into our blood. Did I hear Dami?—everything I
say is subject to your personal acceptance; I mean, you mustn’t take
me seriously.
Dami: white-smiling all over the place, talking: medical doctor at
day; writer at night. Did I—or did I not—imagine him bending over
writhing patients—(psychosis, neurosis, Freud)—at day; sitting quietly
in a room and clanking away at his small laptop, the screen lighting a
limited vicinity in the dark. I think of Chekov, Ekwensi, Imasuen, and
all clinical people who find time for literature. There is something
about writing that erases professions.
My muse had long become this gathering of twin souls. I had not
thought of those ancient Greek scions of the imagination. My Aphrodite
is that amber-lit room; my Bacchus, that water bottle.

IV
Ukamaka, in all her resplendent beauty, was, to my surprise, down to
earth. Qudus was passionate about inspiration. Mazi was so engaging. I
did not think these people had any drab illusions about what they do.
They were proud of it. Loved it. We were quiet and they talked. We
were quiet and drank in their wisdom. Some people are not talking
here.

V
I wonder if I mentioned Socrates, the Kenyan brought-up who somewhat
acted like his Greek namesake. Socrates, adupe!

VI
Lagos is so big. The maze of roads is confusing; snaking over each
other; bigger roads eating up the smaller ones. Brigdes. Too many
bridges. Under Bridge. The conductors gabble their words; so you might
miss your way.
I found myself in Ebutte-Meta, the railway headquarters. I walked
through that gigantic railway establishment, the industries associated
with it—they were in forlorn shambles.
Everyone was already seated when I arrived at the Centre for
Contemporary Arts. Punctuation. Dami reads his story to illustrate.
Tricky story. I think of John Barth, William Gaddis, and Pynchon.
Ukamaka reduced every literary equation to the simplest understandable
unit. She was so eager. You could see it in the way she talked, the
way she tried to build upon every point made. Marlon James—Point of
View: technique. Exercises: wonderful. Tolu (always smiling) wrote: I
am sitting here, hungry. I doubt if I will remember everything Dami
said in the next 24 hours.
I walked home with Chidimma.

VII
There are some people you know only on Facebook. Uzoma was so quiet,
his chubby cheeks hardly moving. His eyes changed shades. Something
was going on in that head; you could tell.
Memories of the third day are muddled up. Maybe because I am writing
three days after the workshop, or perhaps, because I scooped some,
raw, and ate right there and went to toilet.
It was a Sunday and, on the way, I bought five books from a roadside
vendor. Winesburg, Ohio; VS Naipaul; Michael Cunningham; Junichiro
Tanizaki; others. The talk progressed seamlessly. Ukamaka, Mazi, the
charming Bola.
It did not end with any elaborate fanfare. But—but then we were all
happy. Something had happened to us: writing. For people to meet,
actually, in conducive Art-mosphere, to talk about writing is
uplifting. So we can now go home and sit at the desk and bleed? The
personal thing is that a picture—a horizon—has been enlarged.
I snapped a ‘wefie’ with Ukamaka, Dami autographed Clinical Blues for
me; I held a short discourse with Mazi. One thing about these people
is their lack of airs. They are so humble and helpful. I think of
Dami. Thank you. I thank all of them.

VIII
After everything, did we not sit down and talk? Did we not discuss
literature; our interests? Uzoma, Gbolahan, Basit and I. We shared
files, movies in the fore-room, talked about our work, of continuing
the Writivism ’15 spirit. Talked about Chimee, Olisa—Basit wants to
meet him. I said to Basit, You are so exuberant. Suddenly, we all
laughed. We started talking of how we saw each other at the Workshop.
Evening was descending, we would go. Downstairs, Uzoma and Gbolahan
climbed a bus to Ojota. I walked down Macaulay street with Basit. Then
he crossed the road. Goodbye, Chimezie. Goodbye, Basit. Buenos. We
shall meet again in the place where there is no darkness; someday,
somewhere, someplace, in this vast city of bridges.
Writivism2015.

Chimezie Chika

Chimezie Chika

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Reviewer: Chime Justice Cjn Ndụbụisi

To read the Poem click here: ON THE MEANDERING PATHWAYS OF LIFE (Poetry)

Poetry is a serious business. Serious in the strictest sense. This is because it dates back to the beginning of the world where the first recorded utterance of man is poetry. In Genesis 2 vs 23; Adam said, “This is the bone of my bones/And flesh of my flesh.” From that moment onwards, man came under the sway of poetry which becomes the foundation upon which history stands; the history of the past, the present and the future.
I’m not really a critic in the strict sense of the word and I find it a herculean task to do. However, I’m entering into the critique of On The Meandering Pathway of Life in terms and or in form of a ‘verbal structure’ which Rev Prof A.N Akwanya in his book, Verbal Structures (2004: 1) says is the structural:
“Analysis of the work as an individual utterance in order to determine its basic elements and establish its form.”
This he argues would help us pick and focus our attention upon a limited range of phenomena to which the poem strictly applies.
One basic benefit of reading a poem in this manner is that it highlights the things that distinguish it as a poem. And “these things are not its themes…since even such great themes as Oedipus Relation has become a key formative in the discourse of the psychological sciences; similarly, it is impossible to determine whether diabolism, another recurring theme, belongs properly to literature or to religious thought” (1).

The above is the hypothesis upon which my discourse of the poem stands. But before we proceed, I’d want also to make a distinction between the characters in a work of art or persona in the case of the lyrical, and the narrator, as distinct from that of the author, this is because I’ve seen many of us in Lyriversity use such phrase as ‘the poet narrator tells us’, ‘the author says’, etc. The author is like a midwife who helps in the delivery of the child. There’s no where or how on earth she can lay claim to the paternity of the child. In essence, the poet, author of a work of art dies the moment the work is published. It is his only in terms of the ‘ownership’ of the work (intellectual property). He has no hand or say in whatever happens in the text anymore, except as a disinterested and impersonal reporter in which case his words are not final. This goes to say that the characters are the people that people the text whereas the narrator is usually what most scholars calls ‘the points of view’: namely, the first person, the omniscient, and the third person point of views. The narrator is such that in most cases, takes the character’s or persona’s words and sometimes mis-apply them, thereby causing a kind of disagreement which we shall see later.

Having said the above, it’s imperative to say that this poem starts on a high note:
“The awakening of the sun at dawn…” line 1

The personification in this introductory line of the poem cannot go unnoticed as it ushers us into the celestial and gives us a glimpse of what we are to encounter further down:
“Something beyond this world/Beyond this life I see.” lines 5 and 6

Meanwhile, we are forced to ask this rhetorical question: ‘the awakening’ by who? Your answer is as good as mine, but one sure thing it does is to alert our sense of natural and supernatural phenomenons and our appreciation of the fact that even without our consent, the sun, without which life on earth is dead, wakes up everyday.
Worthy of note is that the poem combines the services of a narrator and that of the persona. The persona is seen narrating his own experience from the first person’s point of view using the personal pronoun ‘I’ starting from line 6 where we read:
“Beyond this life I see. I hear clearly…”

Prior to this point, it was the voice of the omniscient narrator we hear prying into the deepest part of the earth and beyond where ordinary human eyes can not penetrate. This is not for no reason though since it opens our eyes to the nature and manner of action, the persona of the poem is involved in.
It can be said that he is a human, yet is capable of functioning at a level outside the limits of natural laws. This is inherent in the following lines:

“I’m just a simple man in simple shoes,
With my simple shirt tucked in simple shorts.
My heart in my hand, my hand on my head,
I walk through meandering pathways of life.”
lines 22-25

In the above, there’s a tint of dramatic irony in the sense that not only is the persona a ‘simple man’, he also performs magical acts like having his ‘heart in his hand’ yet keeps living, an act which is not just an exaggeration, but a kind of paradox in the sense that the idea of simple is immediately shattered by the performance itself. Here, the narrator tells us one thing different from the actions of the persona: they disagreed albeit working together.
Besides that, we’ll quickly recall that similar situation played out in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight where Bertilak the green knight’s head was cut off, yet he carried it in his hand out of King Arthur’s Court after he had successfully mocked Arthur’s knights. In works of this kind, the reader is constantly ushered into the world of the marvellous where natural elements are stopped, which in itself is an aspect of romance. In the poem under focus for instance, we read further and we marvel at the kind of ‘simple’ human who could journey “equal miles in equal breath/Equal grass in equal grace…” lines 27-28

This human seems larger than life in the sense that he is “In the world but not a part of the world” (line 30), a feat not all of us can perform.

Further reading confirms that he is human afterall, and not immune to supernatural forces like fate and fears. Thus, his kowtowing to both natural and supernatural forces makes it possible for us to find him ‘adrift at sea’ like a ‘log in the ocean’ and this is also attested to in the following lines:

I cannot will myself to run freely/Nor break from travel, I’m bound to this path. lines 38-39

Perhaps, the path of adventure on the “…road that stretches on eternally
From one history’s page unto another,
From the infant rocking on cradle bed
To the poet, the potter, the prostitute,
The man, the woman lost in the moment.”
lines 54-58

From our discourse so far, given the unstable environment or setting where the marvellous and wondrous are commonplace, it’s easy to see the poem from the aspect of romanticism which starts as a movement derived from the old school of metaphysics that goes back to Aristotle. But Akwanya assures us that “romanticism is the great celebration of life, especially in the forms in which scientific discourse cannot encompass it” (2). He further made mention of some postulates of romance as including, “…adventure, especially through primeval forests and uncharted wilds, and journey in quest of some mysterious object.” –50 Years of Nigerian Novel (Akwanya, Anohu 2001: 10). But Northrop Frye in his Anatomy of Criticism makes specific mention of the nature and characteristic features of a romance persona. He says that “the persona of a romantic quest sequence moves in a world in which ordinary laws of nature are slightly suspended: prodigies of courage and endurance, unnatural to us are natural to him, and enchanted weapons, talking animals, terrifying ogres and witches, and talismans of miraculous power violate no rules of probability once the postulates of romance have been established (1957: 33).

Now let us take and identify these postulates one after the other from the poem.
‘A world where ordinary laws of nature are suspended’:

“I am a part of everything that exist,
Yet distinct from all in the minutest
Of thoughts, in my words and in my actions.
I shared my dreams among the wild flowers.
My eyes I have lent to the bats to see.
My ears I’ve given to Shepard and sheep,
Each with equal passion and attention.
I’ve left my tongue to the hawkers to use.”
lines 43-50

In the above, we have no doubts that the persona lives in a different kind of world because the acts above are surely not natural to ordinary human being.

‘Prodigies of courage and endurance, unnatural to us are natural to him’: we see this in the following lines where notwithstanding the unmapped path, the persona courageously forges ahead in his quest when chicken-levered men would naturally have turned back:

“The perennial road of life is untarred.
It is filled with debris, pot-holes and mud.
I’ve searched for a smooth area and found none.
Night or day, Life’s holds no happy ending
For the poor souls striving still upon it,
For it’s the greatest tragedy there is.”
lines 60-65

In the above also the persona exhumes the archives where the history of suffering is hidden, where tragedy is lodged. This is the primal tragedy that can be traced to the beginning of things. Here, the road is uncharted and rough and the persona is faced with all sorts of discouragments in terms of physical obstacles, yet he moves on courageously and enduring it all.
Although we may not see an ‘enchanting weapon’ in the strict sense in the following lines, but when one is,
“A puppet for the master puppeteer/Pulled by invisible levers and strings,” (lines 73-74) we could make due. Besides, what could be more enchanting than being pulled by an unseen hand?

Further down, we see ‘talking animals’ in Nightingales and cocks making utterances in terms of singing songs and crowing respectively.

Akwanya and Anohu tells us that the literary epic and its derivatives, such as the heroic romance and the quest romance (such as we are treating) generally involve a movement of homecoming. It also involve an outward journey (2001:16).

Now in support of the above, towards the end of the poem we read:

“Perhaps there is a peaceful place for me
To go and rest my heavy heart and feet,
A home beyond the mountains and the streams.”
lines 82-84

The fantasy of there being other invisible worlds attached to the human world where humans can go at the exhaustion of the current life, worlds whose order and internal working directly or indirectly helps to shape that of humans, is one of the most universal of all mythic ideations. And I’m of the opinion that one lifetime, whether long or short, is already enough for any human.
The persona seems to be torn between the above assertion of mine, and we hear him reiterating:

“I will never know till all is done/And I will never know till I am gone.” lines 85-86

Here, I refused to toe the path many readers would want to toe. I had to fight off the temptation to say that ‘gone’ as used above means to cease from existing. My reason is inherent in the following lines which say:

“It’s evening, the moon is up in the sky/The stars have all descended from above.” lines 87-88

In the traditional society, which is the setting of the poem, when the moon is up in the sky, it denotes playtime for children and an avenue for hunters to go out into the bush in search of games. So if ‘gone’ is in the sense of death, the poem would have finished before ‘evening’ is ushered in again. But the introduction of the ‘evening’ and ‘moon’ and ‘stars’ only confirm one thing; the continuation of the adventure with a much more pronounced zeal and determination. We read further:

“And I, who is but a trespasser here/Must find a shelter for my thoughts tonight.” lines 89-90

The persona is not ‘done’ yet, he must finish his quest. But his quest’s object of ‘shelter for thoughts’, does not have a home nor does it need one. ‘Must’ as used above is a sort of vow, which shows the persona’s resolve to see the end of his adventure, but quests of this kind are not easily finished, especially when the object of the quest is something as intangible and temporal as ‘a shelter for thoughts’ and ‘the strength to dream’. Now let me elucidate at this point that the nature of romance is one that makes for indefinite actions such that so long as there are more quests to embark, the narration may never end. Thus we read:

“And I, who is but a foreigner here
Must find the strength to dream once and again,
Till the night brings rest to my wand’ring feet,
Or the cock’s crow wakes me free and no-more.”
lines 93-96

‘Once and again’ as used above signifies that ‘the strength to dream’ has been found before. And even if it is found again, there’s every possibility that it may exhaust again to prompt another quest altogether. The probability and impossibility of an ending is entwined in the last two lines, namely; that no matter how personified ‘the night’ may be, it does not have the ability to perform human attributes in the actual sense. However, the sound of a cock’s crow may wake one up for free, but never ‘no-more’ because each generation of cocks must continue to crow.

In conclusion, Mr Solar’s On the Meandering Pathway of Life, is a poem that carries the burden of the history of struggling and suffering. It carries with it too the myths of origin and myths of recapitulation or summing up of all things in the origin from which they began. Here man is confronted with what is more than man: fate and tragedy, but man insists on struggling to survive. But his insistence is not without a price, a price he has chosen to pay. Thus even when he found himself walking on the road of life filled with debris, pot-holes and mud, he continues his quest. This is the great path of majority of tragic personas, they make the choice themselves to carry the burden of others on their shoulder. Thus we read:

“Fate disguised as free-will, I make my choice.
Silver or suicide, my choices are vague
And I will never know…”
lines 75-77

We read again in the poem:

“Chasing still an ever-elusive dream
Of justice and equality, of life
Without prejudice, without suffering.
The yellow leaves of human lives fall still;
Broken and stale, fall still on those areas
Where childhood mem’ries are loose, eroded
By time. I sigh, and from my window pane
I gaze at the cross-roads of human choice,
Human dreams and human aspirations,
Put on a face and faith; straws of smiles
To mask my fears, and step into the world…”
lines 11-21

Stepping into the world here is an act of faith which man does for survival sake.

Mr Chime Justice Cjn Ndubuisi writes from Lagos. You may reach him on twitter: @legendaryCJN

Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity

by Tim Nwaobilo

As conformed to normality as poems go, the first line of every great poem must hold its reader captive suddenly, for however how short a moment. It must catch the reader unawares, sweep him off his feet, without a doubt, no matter the familiarity of the poet and his writings to the reader. Charles’ piece is not a disappointment in this regard.

“The awakening of the sun at dawn” Line I

Personification here is apt where the sun is set as a living being, a human. I find the choice of “awakening” and not “waking” or some other synonym as something sacred, something lofty, and at worst significant. The “awakening” possesses a strong detail to duty. Probably the sun’s revival holds the key for some deeper mystery to be revealed, some inner workings unseen to be materialised. The sun here is given enormous power as is seen within the next lines of the poem.
The sun is clearly no respecter of person or creed and serves both the “base” and best just as its “awakening” causes the stream of a man’s mind to bubble with freshness—
“…calls to my mind” Line IV
—and then a whole new world is opened up to us, a world due for exploration and adventure.

One striking theme is the “ordinarily-ness” of the events and yet filled with so much sarcasm.

“…indifferent cock crowing…” Line VII
“…pilgrims calling to a form-less being” Line VIII

These events and those that follow are deceiving to the un-discerning and may most likely be passed by when traversing the length and breadth of this poem, except for maybe a quick personality check by the reader to see if he can picture himself within the events. The fact that they look ordinary serves as a red light: HIDDEN MEANING! How virtually the totality of mankind is captured in these circumstances is itself quite amazing.

A raging feeling offered throughout this poem is that of mystery. Firstly seen in—
“..calls to my mind the doubts” Line IV

The succeeding lines to Line IV tend to serve as an explanation to it, and something looks awkward, attesting to my idea of mystery—
“…I hear clearly” Line VI etc.
There is an assurance of the clear hearing and good sight, but the un-assurance of unseen things “beyond this world” poses a question—why the mystery if so much is clear? I guess we’ll never know. This feeling is also expressed when the poet talks of the world in Line V. Beyond this world is the mysterious, something he might be perceived as dissociated from. In Line XXI he “steps into the world”, now associating with the world, probably for want of no other option, a necessity, a compulsory action. Little wonder his fears and ironically faith require some masking! And yet in Line XXX, he is “in the world but not part of the world”. The unnerving spike of uncertainty added to the pre-existing mystery only serves to put the reader’s mind at edge.

Prior to Line XXI the writer is merely an onlooker in the happenings around and beyond, but now offers the reader the chance to view him within the realms of the poem—

“…and step into the world” Line XXI.

This is bold, courageous, daring; allowing himself to be evaluated within the confines he has earlier mentioned. He however permits himself be humoured and I find it amazingly comical—

“My heart in my hand, my hand on my head” Line XXIV.

Lines XXVII and XXVIII seem to portray the writer as a sort of zombie, a clock-work mechanism, winded by some stronger force or will, bidding him toil a journey devoid of his intellectual or intuitive input—

”Journeying equal miles in equal breathe”
“Equal grass in equal grace, drifting still”
Lines XXVII-XXVIII

I say this because this strange equality in affairs may antagonise the “ever-elusive dream of …equality” offered in Lines XI and XII. Life and its courts are deliberately positioned as unequal and unstable by the writer, thus the sudden equality of steps seems unnatural and unreal within the frames of the ”world”. If inequality could be festered by will or non-will, this new-found equality in life actions must be non-will, a mightier will surely. Or probably he is “In the world but not a part of the world”. If this zombiesque status was previously in doubt, Line XXIX does justice to such doubts—

“A log in the ocean, adrift at sea”. –Line XXIX

Also—

“I cannot will myself to run freely
Nor break from travel, I’m bound to this path”
Line XXXVIII-XXXIX

Lines XXXI to LXVII contain more of the workings of life and a dark blanket of gloom, sadness, tragedy and ill-fortune hangs over that portion of the piece. An almost tangible gloom that rotates and revolves in an unending circle.

One thing is certain, amidst all the prevailing uncertainty: the writer searches for answers, he needs answers. Answers to questions that lead to more questions as evidenced in these camouflage lines—

“Ploughing the bellies of earth for answers
Answers which lead unto more questions still”
–Line XXXVI-XXXVII

—questions borne out of a sense of reason. It’s unfortunate how these questions seem not to have found their right answer. When the writer offers—

“Perhaps there is much more beyond this life” –Line LXXVIII

—he is not just trying to be funny in a poetic manner, he is standing right at the root of a tree man tries to reach the summit of, at one point or the other. Knowledge is akin to life, and no knowledge of what lies “beyond this life” leaves the poet resigned to eventuality. He decides not to bother about the aftermath of life and its journey and is content with striving for the bread for today. He doesn’t feel sorry for himself, not in the least, nor for his present achievements. In the words of English-man D.H. Lawrence: “I have never seen a wild thing feel sorry for itself. A little bird will fall dead, frozen from a bough, without having ever felt sorry for itself”.

This poem escapes my technical criticism—unusual as it may seem—because it doesn’t deserve it. Much kudos must be given to Charles for a poem this long, tasking his pen give full expression to his thoughts. If no-one noticed, each line of this poem consists of 10 syllables, a feat not easily juxtaposed with intelligent writing.

TO READ THE FULL POEM CLICK HERE
On The Meandering Pathways of Life

Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity

by ECHEBI JOSEPH CHUKWULOZIE

T.S Eliot in 1927, after his conversion to Christianity, wrote a poem illustrating the travails of conversion and acceptance of a new way of life and belief. The closing lines of the poem; The Journey of the Magi, painted a clear picture of the state of unrest the magi felt inside when they returned from their journey:

“We returned to our places, these kingdoms
But no longer at ease here, with the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods
I should be glad of another death.”

—The Journey of the Magi

Thirty-three years later, Nigeria gained her independence from the British Empire. Nigeria, after her independence found herself in what might be described as, post-colonial identity crisis. This identity crisis caused problems that mainly affected the value system, the language and the entire culture of the indigenous Nigerians. Chinua Achebe, in order to address and illustrate the origin and nature of this identity crisis, went back to Eliot’s poem and borrowed a phrase. This phrase was the title of his 1960 novel, NO Longer at Ease. This novel tells the story of a young Nigerian, in the post-colonial era, Obi Okonkwo, who was given the best of two societies; his indigenous society and the western English society. These two societies prepared him for almost everything but one thing, how to reconcile the values and norms of the two societies. This made Obi Okonkwo no longer at ease, not just with the societies that shaped him, but with himself. Hence, he became lost. The novel; No Longer at Ease ended with Obi Okonkwo, brought so low by his identity crisis, that he was sent off to a correctional facility.

So, what is the relevance of this Chinua Achebe’s novel, fifty-four years after to the modern Nigerian society? Or, to rephrase, has the modern Nigerian society anything to learn from no longer at ease?

From my own perspective, if I substitute the modern Nigerian society for Obi Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease, the answer is yes! It is just that the modern Nigerian society seems unwilling to learn from the novel. The novel shows that the poor decisions, corruption and civil unrest that plagued Nigeria immediately after her independence, which is still evident in her society today, is as a result of identity crisis caused by colonization. Achebe also went ahead in the novel, to send the modern Nigerian society to the only place that she can make amends, and come at peace with herself from within in order to resolve her identity crisis, a correctional facility.

Nevertheless, it seemed that 54 long years in this facility is not enough for us to make amends. Still in my perspective, I think what Achebe really wants from us is to evaluate the norms and values of our indigenous society and that of western society which have come to shape us, find a middle ground, and accept that we have been changed and shaped into new people. Then as new people, instead of struggling between our metamorphosed selves and the old dispensations, we should accept our new selves and strive to make the best of what we have become. We need to define, refine and inculcate new set of values. That is the only way of coming out of this correctional facility that, No Longer at Ease has sent us to, a reformed, unconfused and efficient society. Which to me is the ultimate relevance of Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease, to the modern Nigerian Society.

Echebi Joseph writes from Lagos, Nigeria.

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Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity

What Can Words Do?
Author:
Kukogho Iruesiri Samson
Pages: 84 pages
Year of Publication: 2013
Reviewer: Chimezie Chika

There is a cliched saying that goes this way: ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’. In no place is it more exemplified than in Kukogho Iruesiri Samson’s debut poetry collection.

In Kukogho’s collection a lot happens. Cold ovens bake bread, earth fights itself, tongues fool thumbs, men chew seeds of discord, among other things.
The first poem, ‘Wedded and Weeded’ illustrates domestic discord, a situation in which the original sweetener of a marriage is no longer there.
In the first stanza the poet observes:

‘He wore a tie, she wore a veil.
And yes, I looked, no face was pale
As both of them walked down the aisle
In sweet rehearsed musical style.’

And yet by the third stanza the poet tells us in first line:

‘He shouts and throws two angry fists’

Here, the contrast is obvious. Just like other poems in the first part, the poet kept asking the question: Who can bake after the heat in the oven is long gone?
In such poems as ‘Beggar Without Choice’, ‘Souls Adrift’, ‘The Baby’ ‘Broken Webs Still Stick’, among others, the poet’s question pops everywhere:

‘How long will you remain
A beggar without choice’
‘Are these not they that breathed hot
Last night, here in the same smoky hut?
Did they not whisper and tangle arms?’
‘Did not the voice bid you change?
Now you die alone on a bed strange’

As one journeys through the politically concious topography of the collection the poet gets more and more angry and poses more and more questions.
In ‘Men or Beasts’ he asks:

‘Why then do men–demon possessed pack,/Merciless Humans that do humanity lack–/Now slaughter on whims and plunder at will?’

In ‘The Shame Of Man’ the poet mocks mankind’s pollution of life with mundane avarice. ‘A Stench in the Nose of God’ poignantly begins this way:

‘Man against man, no one knows another.
Woman against woman, all is put asunder.
Brother against sister, the cord is broken.
The scion forgets that his breath is a token’

The poet went on in the poem to lament and decry the fact that man and God are no longer moving in parri-passu; hence, Man’s farts has penetrated the nose of God, leaving a hideous stench.
The leitmotif of man’s desecration of the original order things as God wills it runs through much of the poems. The poet in moments of tear-jerking lyricsm observes:

‘For now we stand at the edge of the cliff/And we flutter in the wind like a leaf.’

The poet asks another question in my favourite poem of the collection, ‘Where is the Breath of Fresh Air?’
As the poets anger intensifies he, in straightforward deadpan language, confronts those that subverts social values and norms.
In ‘The Voter’ he mercilessly accuses:

‘You are the fool that sold his people for crumbs’

From here the poet’s anger gets the better of him; his inherent socialism comes to fore, so that the overt recommendations of revolution as the means of acquiring a breath of fresh air cannot be totally ignored in such poems as ‘The Land is Ours to Occupy’, We Shall Occupy, Poet’s Rage’.
This revolution is not so much a war of Kalashnikovs and bombs as it is a war of angry pens and smouldering rage at the impunity of our leaders in their continuous and daft perversion of the collective values of a nation; trampling upon the masses; and looting by chewing seeds of discord. As the poet lyrically wishes in the second stanza of ‘A Poets Rage;

‘If I could rhyme you death/And enjamb your stolen laughter/With spells of lingering tears!’,

it becomes immediately apparent what the poet’s festering anger points at. Not unsuprisingly we begin to see such poems as ‘Widows of War’, ‘Hate’, and ‘When We War’, where poet, in vivid lines, paints harrowing pictures of scenes of grief–the antecedent of which is discord and gun-mongery.
Harrowing pictures follows other harrowing pictures of rape, of loot, of privations. It is not far-fetched to say that we are dealing with a socially concious poet here whose anger seeths and whose grief in such poems as ‘Salty Pearls’, ‘Lamentations’, or his resignation in ‘Full Stop or Ellipses?’ and ‘From Dust to Dust’ brings a rare humanity to bear on his work. Inspite of the total annihilation of equality in our society, among other things, the poets makes us understand that there is redemption in true love as he illustrates in ‘Forlorad’:

‘Come, love, come to me.
Come, marry your voice to my ears.
Come plough my frame.
For I am, now, but a fallow land.’

But, even then, this love is blighted by the poet’s scepticism. He wonders if love is not a twist–a gile–which our leaders use as a weapon in their incessant striving to create a divide, as seen in ‘Inanity’:

‘I stand before you, empty.
Circumcise
My heart with love,
Or ‘disvirgin’ it
With the bile of rejection.’;

In the poem; ‘Don’t’:

‘Don’t love me
Like the shadow
That stays only in the dark of night
and flees
at the break of dawn’;

…among others.

In end the poet tells us that God is the ultimate being, the supreme judge. Whatever we do, we should acknowledge the fact that we are going against his statutes. According to him, if we listen when God speaks we ‘ll have peace in our hearts. The poems here–‘Tempted’, ‘Sinking Within’, ‘The Shackles, The Weight’, ‘Man vs God’, ‘Did He Hang for Me?’–tend to be metaphysical.
But then in a poem that poses the central question that pervades the collection, the poet ends on an inquisitive note:

‘What can . . , words do?
. . . Could they be worthless ink stains
Corpses on paper plains
That flies won’t inspect
Ghoul-feast reject
Lacking stink
Wasted ink?
Tell me!’

Can you answer that question?

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity

by Okoye Chukwudi Charles Ezeamalukwuo

The rise of Modernism, of science and technology has dealt a severe blow to the ideas of Romanticism; to the idea of man’s nature being intrinsically good, to the sublimity of the untamed Nature. Nature has almost been tamed by Civilisation, Industrial growth and Urbanisation, which have driven people (and poets too) far from the company of nature. The 20th century witnessed two world wars, the rise in weapon of mass destruction and unprecedented level of innovation in areas of torture, mass-killing, genocides, terrorism etc, all combining to make the idea of “man’s nature being of good” explicitly theoretical.

Nevertheless, the ideas of Romanticism still hold value among contemporary writers. The song of the Nightingale, the beauty of a flower, the rising and falling of waves, the company of nature (both tamed and wild) still inspire a lot of artists, philosophers, thinkers, writers etc as it did in that moment when William Wordsworth penned one of his great poems; “Lines Written in Early Spring.”

Spring, the season immediately following Winter is one of awakening. The Spring season is usually seen as a period of rebirth, of resurrection, of reincarnation from the death that the harsh realities of winter had brought. Wordsworth by picking this title did not just want to put a time-line on his creation but also wished to draw the reader to the significance of the moment; the newness, freshness, youthfulness of that very hour that only Spring, early spring can offer.

The poem begins with the poet persona sitting, perhaps after a tiresome labour (which is his winter), silently observing the happenings before him…for what is the work of the poet, if not to observe and to honestly report and respond to his observations.

“I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.”

—Lines 1-4

The paradox in lines 3 and 4 is one that brings to mind the idea that life is an oxymoron…bitter-sweet, equal and opposite both intertwined. I feel that these lines set the tone for what the poem is all about. The poet persona was relishing the pleasure of the moment but the pleasure of seeing Nature beautifully at work before him brings to mind his own loneliness, the insatiable desires of man, the injustice, the wickedness, the cruelty and curse of man on his fellow man.

“To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.”

—Lines 5-8

Nature according to the poet persona had made everything fair, right and equal. The rule of Nature is clear and it is fair to all, but it is man that disobeyed the rules of Nature. It is man that is responsible for the unpleasantness of thoughts.
In order not to sound ambiguous, and not to be misunderstood, the poet persona used the next 3 verses to outline the fair works of Nature and his take on them.

It must be noted that in all his examples of Nature’s fair work, the poet persona used only little things that we see daily, things that we will take as being of inconsequential value. He chose them to show us that even in the lowest of the low, Nature’s fair work is still very much at work…be it in the Primose tufts or the Periwinkle, it is his “Faith that every flower/ Enjoys the air it breathes” …(Lines 11 & 12).
Even the small birds were taken into account, birds whose thought he can not measure, still he believes that even the very “Least motion which they made/ it seems a thrill of pleasure.” …(Lines 15 & 16).

These lines do not just lend credence to the sublime essence of Nature but also to the preciousness of life, of every life. This poem is more of a sermon, a call for tolerance, of love and peace. The fact that we do not understand certain things does not mean that they should not exist in the first place. The poet persona believes that all of Nature are significant, and nothing is out of place or a mistake. These lines serve as a sort of reproach to the Darwinists, racists, exceptionalists, religious bigots etc. He believes that all the diversity of life are part and parcel of Nature’s fair work, and if this is how Nature has ordained it to be from genesis then something, somehow, somewhere is very very wrong with man, hence the unpleasant thoughts. I believe that anyone who honestly observes the world will surely reach similar conclusion with the poet persona, which is; that man needs saving from himself and his fellow man. Yes! If Nature has ordained that all forms of life should live peacefully on Earth, then…

“Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?”

—line 23-24.

Lines Written in Early Spring is a poem written by William Wordworth, the greatest of the Romantic poet. This is a typical Romantic poem with all the features of Romanticism. The poem extols Nature, and focuses on the actions of man in contrast to that Nature. A very emotional poem that slowly but steadily draws the reader in like a web of fine silvery thread. The poem is written in quatrain form, haven 6 quatrains of 24 lines. The rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b, but syllable is not regular, haven a syllable count of 8-8-8-6 per quatrain for the first 3 verses but broke off from this rule in verses 4 and 5 where the syllable counts are 8-7-8-7 and 8-6-8-6 respectively, and ending with 8-8-8-6 in verse 6.
The language is very simple, and the setting is rural. The poem is written in first person like it usually is in the Romantic poem.

LINES WRITTEN IN EARLY SPRING by William Wordsworth

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

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Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity

by Chimezie Chika

Through graceful strokes of compassion, Charles Okoye has provided a rare insight into the bases of the human condition.

bicycle

Today brings us yet again to our weekly takes on works of literature.
With this peek into life, we can as well flag off the second review on this column.

What drew me to this poem in the first place is the melancholic tone. No poem has evoked such sorrow before–no, not since Kofi Awoonor’s Songs of Sorrow and a few others.

The melancholic tone made this poem bleak. Something that is quite apt when you consider that–to use a popular cliche–life is not really a bed of roses. The juxtaposition of the bleak melancholia and a story, a vignette, produced such powerful first stanza as could ever be asked of poesy:

“The repairman was my friend
We bonded over a bicycle wheel
With spanner and a bolt, he worked diligently
His palms were of crimson brown, tainted by many years of hardship
He smiled at me, I smiled back
Tomorrow we shall break word and tear.”

This first stanza started like a simple, well-told, innocent story. But on a second look, the metaphor became visible. The poet persona had encountered life. And life was the repairman. He went further to tell us: ”His palms were of crimson brown, tainted by many years of hardship”
The reader became aware that the repairman was not really perfect. His palms were deformed by his ‘diligent’ work. The crimson quality of the repairman’s palm fore-shadowed something sinister, a death, that the reader might not quite grasp at once. The underlyng sadness was established by the last line of the first stanza: ”Tomorrow we shall break word and tear”
It was here that the poet completed the statement he made in line 2. The poet persona became friends with the repairman because he brought him a tyre, and the persona knew that their friendship would grow deeper.

I didn’t mean to provide a detailed analysis of this first stanza: that is largely not my interest. However, to understand this poem, I had to break down the palm kernel of those wonderful lines to show how much power lay therein. These lines showed that the poet is a keen observer of life, a poet at the height of his power. The way he reeled off the words, ‘bonded’, ‘crimson’, ‘tainted’, ‘break’, ‘tear’, showed that he knew exactly the well from which to draw the exact words.

The second stanza began with a declaration: ”Someone is dead, an unfortunate stranger is dead.”
Life has its casualties. Nothing is steady as far as life is concerned. The riding of bicycle became a metaphor for the cyclically continuous movement of life. The death of human beings
cannot stop life from going on.

The story took on a philosphical slant in the second stanza. The persona after passing through life, the repairman’s shop, and seeing that things were no longer the same, decided to ask why.

The poem concluded with the clarification of the repairman’s befuddlement as to why things were no longer the same: his friend had died. And to emphasize the important insignificance of one death and the fleeting nature of one live in Life, the poem concluded:

”And he cycled away in time.”

This poem is decidedly a highly-wrought work. This is highly inspired poetry. The kind of work that can make you appreciate the little things that life has to offer.
The human condition of staying and going, this continuous cycle that is life is unveiled with such tear-jerking compassion and keen observation such as could only be seen with a truely gifted poet.

The poem as whole, the story, is an extended metaphor of life. For life is made up of live and death: everything that lives must die and everything that dies must have lived; and it is the dying not so much the living that makes life what it is.

This is a poem that should be made compulsory for school students. A work whose power lay in its brevity and the visual strokes of language used. Reading it, one has the impression of a painter at work. And a very thoughtful one at that.

The Bicycle Repairman by Okoye Chukwudi Charles Ezeamalukwuo

The repair man was my friend
We bonded over a bicycle wheel
With a spanner and a bolt, he worked diligently
His palms were of crimson brown, tainted by many years of hardship
He smiled at me, I smiled back.
Tomorrow we shall break word and tear.

Someone is dead, an unfortunate stranger is dead
You will not see me mourning him
I pedaled my bicycle down through the streets of life
Passed the repair man’s shop
He wasn’t there.
When next I see him,
I would ask him of whom the flute sang today.

The next day I met a man, pedalling his bicycle
He looked familiar so I stopped him and I asked
“Who died yesterday?”
“The Repair man.” He replied,
And cycled away in time.

You can read the poem The Bicycle Repairman

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Poet: Okoye Chukwudi Charles Ezeamalukwuo
Reviewer: Tim Nwaobilo

Poem Writing is intuitive as well as it is intellectual. This may seem like an unnatural contrast, but isn’t that the hallmark of great poems? Poems bring a topic into focus and slowly but steadfastly pull the reader into falling in love with the entire plot/scheme. With the title of this poem AHAMUEFUNA being a traditional name, and its probable English translation following, this poem seems set to be largely restricted. Though only a good poet would be able to fetch out paths to varying interpretations, while still keeping the conclusion constant, both to the reader and himself- the poet.

As every good poem should do, the first two lines of this poem capture me in intrigue. They already begin to give the impression of a great story ahead: fasten your seat belts.

I have written to the old, a tale yet untold;
Of a young slave sold, for a few pieces of gold.

There is a metaphor hidden in line 1 and is subject to multiple interpretations. Throughout AHAMUEFUNA, a constant theme resonates: a sense of duty. The character possesses this enormous sense of duty like some never-ageing custodian, erected at the portals of knowledge and conscience, to safe-guard and ultimately restore the deep hidden truths to which he has sworn his life for. The use of first-person action words like “I have sung”, “I wrought”, and so on by the poet places the main character in the limelight consistently and rightly so.
The poem surprisingly downshifts into an emotional state, bemoaning the loss of faithful friends while still hanging on tenderly to hope.

Though comrades forsake, faith strapped to the heart won’t break
Though the night awaits, day at dawn will surely break.

This shift is unusual because it is the only part of the poem where such emotional recourse is attempted. As if quickly jolted back to reality, AHAMUEFUNA resumes his duty-bound task of service.
Mention of Imhotep in line 7 is reminiscent of a line in Barry Kemp’s Ancient Egypt:
I have heard the words of Imhotep…with whose discourses men speak so much.
Reference to Imhotep leaves the reader uncertain as to the chronological identity of AHAMUEFUNA. Further reference to Egypt and Alexandria and West Africa and never-found Atlantis encapsulates a certain surreal presence to this piece. I perceive an unnerving sympathy for the spiritual, medieval, and indeed ancient; as is seen in most lines of this poem. This sympathy is akin to the trademark of 16th to early 19th century philosophers who delved into alchemy, spiritualism, astrology, poetry, and sometimes clerical domains. Take for example, Edgar Allan Poe.

Contrast in this piece is ‘so loud and so close’. This is visible in:
Though the night awaits, day at dawn will surely break -line 6
I was marked by fire, the brand of another
Conceived in summer, the warm kiss of a lover
-lines 17 & 18
I have tasted the forbidden fruit of Eden
Drank from the spring of life…
-lines 25 & 26, etc.

Two opposing scenarios are juxtaposed, thus portraying a certain depth and width not previously envisioned. We now have to take another look at the particular contrasting lines to be sure a metaphorical code is not passed unnoticed. AHAMUEFUNA not only thinks he is a custodian of some sort, but also a saviour, destined to destroy all evil and instill good. He is a saviour of the intangible, nature, and a heritage he had been prised from.
There is a consistency of suffering and hope reminding me of the plight…of a young slave, sold for a few pieces of gold. AHAMUEFUNA seems to bear a spiritual personality, but is burdened with the responsibility of his existence. He keeps hope with faith till he begins to question even his own identity. Finally, he is mortal, not spirit, not a primordial saviour.

Do I not breathe same air my anus foul, with grace?
Or should I yet dig six feet down to save my face?

Hope quickly fades to despair as AHAMUEFUNA asks more questions than he provides answers. Questions of the future. Questions of uncertainty, although uncertainty is unprecedented in the course of the plot.

Shall broken bones arise again to reclaim the vale?
Shall the sun rise again on faces; poor and pale?

The poem ends on a low-key as the main character is resigned to the fact that he can’t save his situation or indeed that of any other. He must be content with accepting his present condition and circumstance, and hope for a saviour soon.

Technically speaking, the poet employs 2 basic rhyme schemes: a-a-b-b and a-b-a-b, and is consistent with this pattern, although the sequence of the scheme alters randomly after stanza 6. Worthy of important note is the meter pattern. The poem is set in verses 4 lines long and 12 syllables per line. Sticking to such meter style for 17 stanzas is a very arduous endeavour, however orthodox, but one that stretches the imagination, vocabulary, and ingenuity of the poet. W. Shakespeare was the master of this art. For indeed, it is an art, a difficult one at that.

The diction family is mostly ancient and traditional as is observed in words/phrases like mummies of conscience, Alexandrian rectors, Igbukwu, fruit of Eden, Tongues of Cleopatra, Bantu, etc. The poet exhibits a vast array of words in his lexicon and does marvelously by permitting his lexis cadence, synergy and symbiosis in the cascade of the poem.
AHAMUEFUNA is hardly apologetic in style and largely defiant. This poem is undoubtedly original no matter the little traces of Ashanti-style dogma inherent. It is lacking in deep emotions and is apparently straight-forward.
AHAMUEFUNA provides needful inspiration and necessary insight into the woes, hopes, and tales of the colonial African. Precisely an Africanised poem, albeit subtlety is ensured, AHAMUEFUNA adds value to the reader, African or otherwise. Value being emotional, historical or even hilarious, per view.

For the full poem click here AHAMUEFUNA

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Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity

by Chimezie Chika

In this first review I have choosen a classic poem by a man who exemplifies the kind of poetic image that has taken root on the continent. Believe me, it was a hard job trying to choose a particular poem from the cornucopia of African poems available.

One more thing to state before the review: a poem can have different interpretations. I don’t believe in poetry that is prolix and monotonous. Poetry can mean different things at different times and from different angles. Hence, this review is only a single perspective from the myriad interpretations of this poem.

The basic theme of ‘Civilian and Soldier’ is war–a topic that harkens back to the chequered historical trail of many African countries. The poem itself tries and mostly succeeds in capturing a crucial moment in war when a civilian is brutally shot by a soldier.

It explores the dilemma of a soldier trying to shoot a civilian. The civilian, who is the narrator, imagines the soldier’s brutality–his willingness or unwillingness to carry out the order of his superiors and kill the civilian. This conflicting feeling is captured here:

“My apparition rose from the fall of lead,
Declared, ‘I am a civilian.’ It only served
To aggravate your fright. For how could I
Have risen, a being of this world, in that hour
Of impartial death! And I thought also: nor is
Your quarrel of this world.”

-lines 1-6

In this first stanza the surrealistic confrontation between the civilian and the soldier is established with a deft use of language that is both striking in its candences and in its bold theme.

The civilian went on to imagine the instructions the soldier must have gotten, his confusion as to his function as a soldier. This hesitation to shoot can be liberally (and rightly) predicated upon the fact that the soldier may also have civilian relatives. This is the central quarrel of every soldier–a ‘civilian quandary’.

Soyinka employs a unique language in conveying these nebulous feelings. At a point the poem reminds one of Wilfred Owen’s Strange Meeting. One cannot overlook the surrealistic undertones therein, as if the civilian and the soldier are meeting somewhere in Hades.

At the point where the soldier ‘brought the gun to bear’ on the civilian, the civilian reiterates the central dilemma of war–the pointlessness of the senseless killings:

“I hope some day
Intent upon my trade of living, to be checked
In stride by your apparition in a trench,
Signalling, I am a soldier. No hesitation then
But I shall shoot you clean and fair
With meat and bread, a gourd of wine
A bunch of breasts from either arm, and that
Lone question – do you friend, even now, know
What it is all about?”

-lines 19-27

Here the civilian states a strange thing: he says that if given the same opportunity as the soldier, he would make his life better (‘But I will shoot you clean and fair’), by feeding him and giving him many other good things.

War is a strange business: sometimes civilians helps soldiers, feed them, nurse the wounded ones back to health while the war rages; later on, the same soldiers whom the civilians fed may be the very ones to shoot them in the battlefield.

Now shouldn’t you ask yourself: what is war really about?

For Soyinka, the man dies all who refuse to protest in the face of tyranny. He is known for unabashedly taking on heavy issues without flinching. And this poem is no exception.

Civilian and Soldier by Wole Soyinka

My apparition rose from the fall of lead,
Declared, ‘I am a civilian.’ It only served
To aggravate your fright. For how could I
Have risen, a being of this world, in that hour
Of impartial death! And I thought also: nor is
Your quarrel of this world.

You stood still
For both eternities, and oh I heard the lesson
Of your training sessions, cautioning –
Scorch earth behind you, do not leave
A dubious neutral to the rear. Reiteration
Of my civilian quandary, burrowing earth
From the lead festival of your more eager friends
Worked the worse on your confusion, and when
You brought the gun to bear on me, and death
Twitched me gently in the eye, your plight
And all of you came clear to me.

I hope some day
Intent upon my trade of living, to be checked
In stride by your apparition in a trench,
Signalling, I am a soldier. No hesitation then
But I shall shoot you clean and fair
With meat and bread, a gourd of wine
A bunch of breasts from either arm, and that
Lone question – do you friend, even now, know
What it is all about?

…………………………………………………………….***………………………………………………………….

Chimezie Chika currently lives in Onitsha, Nigeria. His writings has appeared in a number of places, and has been a finalist for Africa Book Club Competition and the Eriata Oribhabor Poetry prize.

NB: This column is just starting. We will be happy to receive new books for review, among other things. If you are interested, reach the editor (Lyriversity) and it will get to me.-Chimezie Chika

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Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity