The Horsemen and other poems
73 pp Africa World Press, Inc.
This one is for Mr. V. O. Thomas, my English Literature teacher, “Fat head! Read! Read Abiku!”
“There seems to be a crisis in the poet’s trade these days; his shop is worm-eaten and the wooden beams of its roof rotten and collapsing; the ceiling is caving in and our poet might go to the dog-house if the critic does not rebuild the shop. A notable and signal decline in quality, coupled with an overproduction of poetry, is ceaselessly propelled by a contemporary failure of criticism in nurturing and mid-wifing good or even great poetry. This phenomenon seems to stretch from equator to equator around the globe. And it seems to involve all who are in the business of publishing – from poet or ‘poetaster’, to editor, to critic, prize-awarding institutions, and publishers, especially the vanity press and, online poetry journals! This is not to suggest that there are no great quality works being produced, but that such quality poetry seems to burst forth in spurts these days; that there is much too much chaff out there.”
– Amatoritsero Ede, Editor, Sentinel Poetry (Online) in Sentinel Poetry (Online) #54
Anyone who worries about the fate of poetry in today’s world should read Amatoritsero Ede’s editorial on the subject here. It is an immensely readable and enlightening look at the state of poetry in today’s global world of unthinking consumers. Ede’s editorial begs the question: Is poetry on its last knees? From where I sit, I honestly believe that poetry is enjoying a renaissance. Warning: Poets who rely solely on the book as a medium of expression are yearning for irrelevance. Publishers are in the business of making money and they are not going to publish poems unless they are assured of a profit. Therefore the poet’s volume of rejection slips from traditional publishers is directly proportional to the enormity of the poet’s literary gifts. These days, the book does the poet a huge disservice. I personally have a love-hate relationship with the book as a medium of expression. I don’t like books because they tend to trap the ideas of our best minds in a forgettable vat of obscurity. How many people read books these days? Meanwhile, mediocrity soars free, on the wild wings of the Internet. I believe it is time to escape the limitations of traditional literary media. We must not be like bound books – bound by the suffocating strictures of tradition. Our writers should be judged by the quality of their ideas not the quantity of their books. And I dream of a living, breathing anthology of the best poems I have read in recent times. That anthology would not be a book; it would be on the Internet, on a blog or a website showcasing the best and the brightest of our beautiful people. In my eyes, it would be a rollicking roll call of brilliance with names we have never seen gracing books. I mention no names, but I ask the gentle reader to surf the web and look for hope in our writers. There is hope everywhere one sees. If we don’t see hope in our books, it is because hope doesn’t sell. Publishers have to eat and eat well. It is a crying shame. But we must change that or lose our best thinkers like Obi Nwakanma.
Where is all this leading? Hopefully to Obi Nwakanma’s book, The Horsemen and other poems. The famously finicky Amatoritsero Ede should read Nwakanma’s book and reconsider his stance. I don’t know much about how poems are put together but I love poems. I don’t know much about how music happens but I love music. I don’t remember asking anyone to define for me good poetry and good music. I simply cock my ears like an ancient dog and lean into the wind of the bard’s pain and I am good. If the poet speaks to me, I am good. Alas, these days, much of what passes through my eyes posing as poetry is ceaseless self absorption penned by narcissists afflicted by a messianic complex. Nwakanma avoids this pitfall and the reader enjoys a good collection of poetry that is eclectic and not in a contrived way. The Horsemen and other poems is quite simply an arresting and enchanting production. After reading The Horsemen and other poems I can confidently say that Nwakanma can write what Amatoritsero Ede would call poetry. The brother can sing. If you remember Chris Okigbo you will love this little book of poetry. Christopher Okigbo’s influence is everywhere. Shades of Okigbo blanket the reader’s consciousness. Nwakanma speaks to the reader in the tradition of the poets before him, who were afflicted with the debilitating disease of possessing a clear vision of the coming apocalypse, of the towncriers who wailed nonstop to indifferent ears about the pain of the coming dispensation. When I think of the poets of my childhood, they are speaking in English, they are writing in English, but they speak to me in the guttural language of my ancestors. In speaking to me, they make me smell the earth of my ancestors; I smell the sweaty raffia palm regalia of my ancestors’ masquerades. They speak to me, comforting me, soothing my anxieties. That tradition is dying of course; it is hard to find poets of that genre. A handful still remains and I can say that Obi Nwakanma is one of the very best in that select club that I have had the pleasure of reading.
In The Horsemen and other poems, many layers of perspectives reveal themselves to the reader through the deft use of imagery. Nwakanma is adept at the use of the turn of phrase to ambush and delight the reader. Nice. On virtually every page of the book, many layers of dispensation and being jostle with each other for position. I love how Nwakanma plays with words and forces images, quite a few of them sensual, on the reader’s eyes. Every junction is a gentle riot of colors. The poet in Nwakanma successfully returns to the time tested tradition of writing for the individual reader. As a result, my interpretation of each poem is really up to me and is informed by my personal journeys and experience. Nice, very nice.
There are many things to like in The Horsemen and other poems. I loved the haunting lyricism of Deep Crossings (p 6). Take these lines for instance:
Let my cry come, hang dry
Like the worn sail, a plea to the sultry wind.
Bleach the light, my silence…
Let me sail –let me sail in silence
Swallowed by twilight.
Let the twilight sing the song of this empire.