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Talking love in homeland


Title: She is Eternal and Other Poems.

Pages: 80

Reviewer: Anaele Ihuoma

Publishers: Goldline and Jacobs Publishing, Glassboro; Bluesland Communications, Abuja

Year: 2020

SPOUSAL Virtue and Homeland Sentiments Fire up Ugorji’s Poetry in “She is Eternal and other poems.”

Beyond the poet’s own confessions, I do not quite know the exact prompt for Ugorji O Ugorji’s début  collection of poems, She is eternal and other poems, but it is evident that the poet has been under some spell of the spousal kind; the sort that compels the vocal cords to adopt a love song mode.  Set out in three segments of ten poems each (Jamike Poems, Anya Poems, and Amadi Poems), She is eternal and other poems is a song of love, cultural identity, and yearnings for a consequential homeland.

Jamike poems traverse personal and filial experiences in the journey of being and becoming, some exultant in their happy memories, others counter-exemplary.  The poems in this section include “Laurette of the Savannah” dedicated to Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, CFR, “Warrior Scholar,” addressed to Professor Molefi Asante, “Prince of Alayi” offered for Chief Chekwas Okorie, and “Achalugo’s Husband” written for Dr. Azubuike Ezeife, to mention only four. Anya Poems makes good its titular promise. It dilates on love and affection in its multiplicity of essences, our personal joyous slides and swings in its see-saw ambience and our entanglements in its delicate web.  It contains some compellingly poignant pieces, including ‘The Gift of You,’ a birthday present to the very Muse that inspired the entire collection – his wife, whose name ‘Ihuaku’ he pronounces –  we would presume – like Leopold Senghor his Naett.  Amadi Poems delve into human struggles at the personal, communal and national levels, showing human character, foibles and frailties in their variegated dimensions.  Embedded in this segment are poems that are sure to court controversy given the angle of their engagement with the polity (‘Come, Brother, Come’).

In the poems addressed to his love/loves, the persona pours out his love pleas first through the slow lane  ‘A Slow Dance,’ through the mystery arena  of ‘New Yam,’ until he becomes ‘transformed in (her) regal presence’ (A Gift of You’), writing his love song to her (I’m Gonna Tell my Homeys about You’). In ‘I See You in my Eyes’ we see entreaties to a paramour. Written in five quintet stanzas in ab, ab, c rhyming pattern, ‘I’m Gonna Tell My Homeys About You’ continues the love theme of the other poems, but in a rather breezy form that betrays a certain exile tradition. Nevertheless, the invitation of ‘the Abigbo troubadours’ who, for once, ‘can dance without being right/Cause this love poem is mine to write’ shows a deep knowledge borne out of  a cultural affinity with that musical tradition of Igbo people.

Dubbed Poems of Consciousness and Struggles, Amadi Poems are the most contemporary in terms of their thematic preoccupations. From dilations on the circle of life in ‘The Elders’  through a plea for unity and brotherhood in  ‘Come Brother Come’  the poems speak to contemporary political, socio-cultural and psycho-social issues.  It declares in one memorable pair of lines: ‘We’ve seen enough of the marketed women, /Usher in the market women instead.’ In some cases, the real poems are hidden in open view, inside the author’s rather generous introductions, both at the beginning of the collection and in the inside pages while presenting each of the segments. In Anya Poems, for instance, we are told of how, in love between humans, ‘the eyes usually fall captive first,’ a line rich in poetic insight.

The likes of Wole Soyinka (Idanre and other Poems) and, more so, Niyi Osundare (The Eye of the Earth, among others), accomplished practitioners of this art, are both famed for their emersion in the linguistic cosmology of their native lands. One of Ugorji’s more sublime lines is a direct gift from his ‘ala’ to whom the poet had paid fulsome homage elsewhere:

I know what the ancestors know

That the heart is a coward

The head, a calculating fool

and the soul, a troubadour philosopher.

But only in the eyes resides love.

A hurum gi na anya (I see you in my eyes)

This transliteration of the Igbo expression I-love-you directly subverts the notion that love is in the heart, that love is blind. Ugorji reminds us that in the Igbo linguistic cosmology, love is alive and wide awake.

She is Eternal and other poems is replete with puzzles and the persona’s allusions to localized, private and parochial subtexts now elevated and willy-nilly thrusted upon a broader literary connoisseurship that must make a meaning of these imageries. The poet’s reference to ‘free souls,’ ‘Marriott encounters,’ and ‘sweet moans’ in ‘I See You in My Eyes’ refers…..Set out in sextets, the poem laments ‘late night chats,/that end with the penury of goodbyes’(p.19 Section 2).

Many writers and intellectuals atrophy into a cultural amnesia after residing in other climes. Not so Ugorji. In ‘Progeny’ the persona (Ugorji) tells his heartthrob:

“Daughter of our land/my chi has long said ’Yes’

So when next I dance my Abigbo at Eke-Ukwu

Ask me not about Cupid or Valentine

Rejoice with me instead in the wisdom of Chukwu.

Similarly, in ‘New Yam’ the poet invests the new yam with spiritual and almost human qualities; it assumes a symbolic ritual essence, amid strong sexual undertones, as the festival yam is consumed between the persona /celebrant and the woman who is wearing ‘absolutely nothing but cocoa butter lotion.’

A sample piece from Amadi Poems includes the eponymous poem, in which the poet celebrates women ‘steeped in divinity,’ yielding life like the earth itself.  It begins with an exploration of female sensuality a la D.H. Lawrence: ‘her swaggering hips announce the confluence of the great rivers.’ This is followed by depictions of the woman, now a dance partner of thunder, in a symbolic symbiotic rendez-vous with the elements:

‘When she smiles, / the sun sends rays to nurture.

When she cries,/ the sky sends rains to nourish

When she frowns,/ the clouds converge to warn

In a third strophe, the woman transforms into a multiplicity of historical and legendary personages.

In one breath she is Queen Amina of Zaria gallivanting on horseback; in another she is a combination of the unnamed Aba Women’s Revolt leader, and the fiery anti-imperialist emancipationist, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. Under the poet’s deft hands, she morphs into a force in league with history and becomes truly eternal – she is Cleopatra-Winnie Mandela-Chris Anyanwu-Chioma Ajunwa-Toni Morison-Maryam Babangida-Dora Akunili-Stella Adadevo-Oprah Winfrey-Foloruso Alakija, etc, etc……This may not be female life as we had seen it depicted, but it is life all the same, one with a legitimate right to the universe of poesy.

‘Come, Brother, Come’ comes with a passionate appeal:

…’Eschew your dreams of separatism

Seek with me co-squatting rights in this space.

Nurture the seeds you have skilfully planted in all corners

And jealously guard the mission Zik had bestowed.

Let’s reject the dance of the ethnic warrior.

Many are wont to see this appeal to co-squat as one that should be prefixed with many provisos. Is this co-squatting going to be on equal terms? Do the other parties share this mindset?  Granted: some of the entities exerting a centrifugal force against Nigeria might be going about it in a rather reckless, quite unhelpful manner, the question must still be asked: in the Nigerian scenario about which Ugorji writes, is love the underlying factor in the ‘forced’ marriages?

The poem ‘Misplaced Reverence’ might well be captioned ‘Seeing the Light.’ The poet bemoans a situation where people allow themselves to be taken in by smooth operators. Many have thus fallen victim to political impostors who bring nothing but empty political and grammatical flamboyance.

Thematically, She is Eternal and other poems’ message remains poignant, insistent in its relentless demand for a harmonious coexistence, a decorous human summit, a cross-cultural detente. Ugorji does not totemise or even idolize symbolisms of cultural identity. Rather his poems affirm an immersion in the cultural nous of his people as can be instanced by his description of the new yam festival before and after his acolyte had ‘set down the bowl of palm oil.’

With the evidence of this collection, we can say that Ugorji does not wear the garb of authenticity; he breathes and breeds it. He should do well not to see She is eternal and other poems, as his magnum opus, for, good as it is, the collection is one that can be bettered, from its own evidence, and most of all, by its own author. It has shown a cultural resplendence, with a nerve centre deep in the African soil. It has shown that while its author may breathe the air of the northern hemisphere, he does not necessarily carry on with those airs. It has opened up or added to the space for further discourse on diverse national issues and, by the time its siblings arrive, Ugorji will have taken up his place among the eagle-feathered sitters on the lion-skin mat of Africa’s expanding literature.

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