When the Nigerian civil war broke out, my younger brother was barely two years old. As the shells began to fall on Asaba, a cousin snatched him up from play and fled with thousands of refugees across the Niger Bridge and into the heart of Biafra. Our mother stayed back, combing the streets, the dead, for her child. This was well before the advent of the GSM of course, and nothing was heard of him for the duration of the war. We gave him up for lost, but he survived the three years of the war.
I cannot begin to imagine a life without the memories of that brother, who is thankfully alive to this day, and I can understand the enduring trauma that has led Obu Udeozo, who lost an infant sibling in different circumstances, to edit a series of books in memory of his own brother. He has collected the works of writers who would have been in the generation of his lost sibling. He calls this the Gardeners of Dreams Series. One of those books, Flaming Flowers [ISBN: 978 978 929 684 2] is published this year and contains the works of ‘third wave poets’, Uche Nduka, Toyin Adewale, Ogaga Ifowodo, Isidore Diala, Amun Nnadi, Izzia Ahmad, Remi Raji, Esiaba Irobi, Promise Okekwe, Maxim Uzoatu, Maik Nwosu, Amatoritsero Ede, Sola Osofisan, Onookome Okome, Elias Dunu, and Afam Akeh.
The last named is one of my favourite poets, and not necessarily on the evidence of this book, for his best poems are not yet in print. But writing on Ife at First Sight, he says persuasively
So there is a place in this land
where the eyes can feast on flowers,
the mind suddenly burst into song?
Evening at Ife is wedded to laughter;
evening fills the fields with youth
and a charged faith in living.
A vibrant motif of scholars, lovers
is woven into the landscape;
traffic lights order them into a polite pace,
Here, sturdy buildings stand arm in arm-
concrete communities of polygons
locked in harmony
by flowing green acres
and walk-ways that stretch to eternity.
Through this endless loveliness
one can walk a long, quiet distance
and forget to feel tired.
I will walk this morning with the image of buildings arm in arm, and on the strength of this reading we should inbox this poem to the dozens of administrators with a licence to design and build private universities. I have visited a couple of ‘boys quarters’ universities and we must persuade our founding fathers on the need for beauty on campus, if only to inspire another generation of poets. For beauty, whether in the lines of a fine poem or in the metaphor of romancing buildings, leavens souls.
Afam Akeh is not the only gem in this anthology, which is worth a read on many levels. But there is a significant frustration: the names of the poets are divorced from their poems. This is not an attempt at plagiarism by Obu Udeozo, of course, for each poem is duly attributed in a table of contents at the beginning of the book. It is perhaps another attempt at experimenting with form and presentation. So this anthology of the works of 16 poets is divided into five chapters or suites, with the various poems arranged, anonymously, in each suite. If you are haunted by these words on page 79, for instance,
while he watched
they tied her to the wall
seven dead men
rinsed themselves in her
You would have to flip back to page xiv to know that they were gifted by by old friend, Promise Okekwe.
And these lines on page 19?
Words alone cannot describe
That slow disturbing gaze
The stab of your smile
They are credited to Amatoritsero Ede’s on the table of contents. Perhaps there is a simple reason for this? Perhaps this is an attempt to train readers to encounter poetry without the incubus of a poetic reputation. This approach may have its benefits for judges who must read poems without prejudice, but for this old-fashioned reader browsing for pleasure, a poem is completed by the name of the poet. Every single poem that pleases me requires a flip back to the table of contents for the mandatory prayer of thanks to the giver of beauty. Do take notes for the future, dear Obu Udeozo, some like their eba and egusi on the same plate!
And may Umeadu Udeozo continue to rest in peace.
he died early, it is true,
but these mahoganies,
are saplings to his seed
[No, you don’t need to flip to Obu’s table of contents to attribute these last lame lines, they are mine, all mine 😉 ]