Archive for the ‘Literature in a Week’ 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

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 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

All Right Reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the written permission of the publishers.

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

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the written permission of the publishers.

Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity