he Romantic Movement pioneered by William Wordsworth and Samuel T Coleridge was an intellectual revolt against the stifling urbanization ushered in by the Industrial Revolution of 18th Century Europe. This revolution greatly minimised man for machine; just as the family suffered under diminishing values. In rejection of these changing times certain poets turned to nature for inspiration. And that is what the Romantic Movement was all about- a peculiar type of poetry that celebrated the countryside (not the city) side by side with traditional pagan beliefs (not Christian orthodoxies).
In Black America, across Romantic Europe, Emancipation did not translate to real freedom as white racism immediately replaced plantation slavery. The White dominant culture instilled a feeling of inferiority in the black man whose daily cry was "I want to be white, I want to be white, I want to be white." Langston Hughes and other committed black artists wrote from 1920's in response to this inferiority complex; that being black was not only a big plus but something to be proud of. Eternal poems like "I, Too, Sing American" came from this generation of poets and artistes whose works came to be known as Harlem Renaisance.
I have used the above phenomenologies, that is, the Romantic Movement and Harlem Renaissance, to demonstrate that poets and artists write to stimulate change if not in response to one. To have a proper grasp of amu nnadi's poetry we must engage the wider milieu under which he wrote as militant writers do not engage art for art sake. His desires and dislikes are best adjudged if his readers are brought into contact with the daily realities that made his poems depressingly melancholic. He bestrides two epochs (military and civil rule) and two opposing values (armed militancy and Nonviolence). As a dissenting voice against the old order that brutalised his people, his position still remains precarious: The very lumpen he tends to speak for may distrust him if his envisioned change takes too long to come or if it arrives stillbirth.
The socio-political condition of the Niger Delta in the early years of the 21st century largely shaped the temperance in "pilgrim s passage," published 2004. By this date the Kaiama Declaration of 8th December 1998, the corner stone of the Niger Delta struggle, was six years old. Three years after publishing amu nnadi is known to work side by side with Felix Tuodolo in the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC. Tuodulo actually worded the Declaration which he signed with Timi Kaisar-Wilhelm Ogoriba on behalf of representatives of Ijaw youth associations converged at Kaiama, the birth place of the legendary Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro, in Bayelsa State of the Niger Delta. In addition to providing the much needed infrastructural development for the blighted region, NDDC in collaboration with the Amnesty Office at Abuja and Allen Onyema's Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria, FEHN, rehabilitated ex-combatants who were predominantly Niger Delta youths without the requisite skills necessary to benefit from a petro-dollar economy. The point here is that amu nnadi was on ground zero to capture a great African tragedy in the making.
The Kaiama Declaration which spelt out the Ijaw stand on self-determination remains important in this exercise for two reasons. In the first place it was an open ended document as long as its interpretation was concerned. It never specified "how" the Ijaw were to go about achieving their goal beyond stating in Resolution (9), "We call on all Ijaws to… work for the total liberation of our people. You have no other true home but that which is in Ijawland." The result was that extremists like Asari Dokubo liberally interpreted the document as a "declaration of war" against the state and big oil business. But moderates like Chris Ekiyor and Miabiye Kuromiema, who at one time led the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, as presidents, endorsed dialoguing with the enemy. As fate would have it the extremists carried the day.
The Asari Dokubo war which drew its inspiration from this Declaration commenced sooner than expected with Operation Locust Feast. The government of the day responded by heavily militarizing the region. Dokubo was tricked and abducted from the Niger Delta, like Jaja of Opobo before him, as a necessary step in curtailing his insurgency but this turned out to be an error. In his absence his army megamorphosised into an albatross as his lieutenants effectively filled his vacuum. Rather than one Asari, Nigeria now had twenty Asaris to content with; with many more dreaming of raising their own private armies. It didn't take long for most Niger Delta sympathizers to start questioning the real motive of the liberators as ordinary people cut down in the crossfire became the real casualty. The excessive violence witnessed during this era produced an opposite emotion for dialogue and it is from this point that emphasis was shifted to the Kingian Nonviolence Protest for social change championed by FEHN.
Secondly, the Declaration set the pace for rigorous intellectual debate made more urgent by the unpalatable consequences of the armed struggle. At a stage the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka appealed to the militants in the creeks to shun armed militancy for intellectual militancy only for Asari to retort, "So what was Saro-Wiwa doing when they hanged him?" But armed struggle created the right condition for Niger Delta writers, artists and musicians, the most celebrated musician being Duncan Mighty, to be taken seriously. In "The Black Jacobins" CLR James justified the inevitability of the Haitian Revolution as capital never listens to reason. This immutable truth played out in 21st century Niger Delta where it took armed struggle for poets and artists, the very conscience of humanity, to be heard.
The premium placed on indigenous poets and writers in turn heralded the emergence of Niger Delta literature, defined by amu nnadi as a literature that tells the Niger Delta story "…from a point of view peculiarly native, about our environment and our experiences." I must add here that this literature predates the Kaiama Declaration as the writings of JP Clark, Elechi Amadi and Kenule Saro-Wiwa are authentic Niger Delta literature. Armed struggle only gave it its unique coloration as the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas, NLNG, and NDDC set up prizes in recognition of its unique literary heritage borne out of environmental/political struggle for expression.
Femi Osofisan and Maxim Uzoatu did pioneer works on amu nnadi's "pilgrim s passage." Their commentaries are as important as they are exploratory in the establishment of thematic and stylistic links between this collection and its precursor, "the fire within," published 2002.
Osofisan points out what he considers the poet's unconventional writing style which includes (1) his refusal to observe laid down rules on punctuations; (2) graphic eccentricities and willingness to mutilate words and recreate new ones outside known English lexicon, which in turn (3) creates sheer acoustic effects. The poet subsumes meaning for aesthetic and lyrical effect. Sufficiently convinced that amu nnadi is a Romantic, Osofisan draws attention to the poet's preoccupation with "interior journey" where the dramatic persona relieves his tragic experiences as the late Moshood Abiola or a way farer. These journeys, though mental, are autobiographical and historical. He concludes by seeing light beyond the overwhelming gloom of the present for both amu nnadi and Nigeria (Femi Osofisan, "forward" to amu nnadi's "pilgrim s passage." Veesek Books, 2004, pp. xxv-xxvii)
Like a fastidious father, Uzoatu grudgingly concedes that amu nnadi "is in the first rank of poets at home and abroad." The poet's grammatical unorthodoxies fascinates him in the following areas (1) His refusal to capitalize and punctuate his sentences very much like Robert Frost and Taban Lo Liyong and, (2) semantic and syntactic seamlessness as a result of the extensive use of enjambment. Once more we are brought face to face with the poet's overwhelming Romantic ethos which he agrees "shines through unobtrusively," as well as his quest for political freedom (Maxim Uzoatu, "Introduction" to amu nnadi's "pilgrim s passage." Veesek Books, 2004, pp. xxix-xxxi).
In reviewing the above critics I would like to limit myself to their comments on amu nnadi as a Romantic. I note David Wright's observation that with Romantics "Nature is invested with personality: human moods and moral impulses are seen reflected from it. Romantics see nature through lenses of emotion, usually coloured with melancholy, nostalgia, regret" (David Wright, "Introduction" to "The Penguin Book of English Romantic Verse." Penguin Books, London. 1983.p. xv). Osofisan comes to a similar conclusion-"amu nnadi is a poet in the Romantic tradition for whom Nature is merely the metaphoric sound-box for personal emotion, and in particular, the emotion of love." My conclusion is that the poet gives the four elements of water, air, fire and earth human attributes with the capacity to create and destroy, to love and hate. I give one instance below.
In "reflections," a Romantic poem by amu nnadi, the poet variously sees himself as the sea, weaverbird, road, flood, sun, noon, clouds, moon, big cat, rose, pine and wine. The repetitive use of "i am" indicates, albeit strongly, his declaration as a conscious "being" distinct from a mere "nothingness," echoing Jean-Paul Sartre. He equates himself with powerful natural phenomena and free spirited creatures outside the control of restrictive society. Only a soul circumscribed by time and space desires to be the insatiable sea that swallows all or the free-roaming weaverbird that knows no boarder. This is to say that the poet is not satisfied with the regimented life that robs the individual his essential humanity. Call to mind that it was a similar disenchantment with the compartmentalism of Industrial Revolution that triggered off the Romantic Movement some three hundred years ago. The moment poets and artistes begin to register their disenchantment with any given epoch then change won't be long behind. It has never been otherwise.
Metaphorically, the poet could simply be saying in "reflections" that he is a walking razor not to be toyed with. Though harmless as the "weaverbird" and peaceful as the "moon," he still has the potential like the insatiable sea for trouble. Even though he bubbles with "laughters" like a happy noon his destructive "anger" and "fire" are not in doubt. In this poem the poet employs allusion, typical of most writers under repressive regimes, to escape censorship. Short of open confrontation he attacks without naming names.
Osofisan and Uzoatu did not emphasize the human tragedy and destruction evident in "pilgrim s passage." Fully conscious of the inescapable upheavals marking the collapse of one order and the emergence of another, amu nnadi sees his art as bearing witness to the "…haunting tragedy of the niger delta/ a region as a beautiful woman overwhelmed by her endowments/ and convicted by her blessings and her hoping/denied the power to dream and claim them/which is the tragedy of moshood abiola/who returns with a last testament/abiola saro wiwa and the unknown victim of our national descent into the valleys" (amu nnadi, "a poet writes," in "pilgrim s passage" ll 144-151, p.xx11). The paper tends to shift attention to this tragedy by engaging amu nnadi as war poet.
I aim to point out what I consider authentic war verses that captured the dark side of Nigerian national life as conceived by the poet. The full story of the armed struggle in the creeks will dominate the Niger Delta literature for a long time. The protagonists will definitely come round to relieving their experiences as every war has two stories-the official version and the opposition's. Whereas the official monologue is tainted with biases and half-truths, the protest discourse of the opposition often questions the rationale of sacrificing human lives for ideology. This alternate voice, with amu nnadi conspicuously vocal, characterises the new discourse called Niger Delta literature.
Selected War Verses
So what is war literature?
Any literature that captures war events and emotions is war literature. Precisely, it is an imaginative work centrally concerned with the presentation and problematic of war (Jeffrey Walsh, "American War Literature, 1914 to Vietnam." Macmillan Press. 1982. p.1). Handy here is Wole Soyinka's "The Man Died," written while in prison during the Nigerian/Biafran war. I privilege this novel as it fulfills an important function of war literature: Proposing or opposing a war. In Soyinka's case he strongly opposed the war as a "war of solidity" that only entrenches and consolidates the very factors that gave rise to it in the first place (Wole Soyinka, "The Man Died." Random House. 1999, p.181). Worthy of note here are Ken Saro-Wiwa's "On a Darkling Plain," Elechi Amadi's "Sunset in Biafra" and Chinua Achebe's "Girls at War" and "There Was a Country."
According to I.M Parsons, war literature generally falls into three distinct categories. These categories influence a writer's tone, diction and point of view. The first category is literature dealing with events just before the war. The writer is full of patriotism for which reason he sees no sin in the politician and general who declared the war. He paraphrases their speeches in his writing since he's convinced that war was a lofty and heroic enterprise to keep tyranny at bay. The infectious optimism of this literature has the potential of firing young men and women into giving up their lives for fatherland.
But literature dealing with the daily horrors and cruelties of war comes with a different tone entirely as the mood is pessimistic and cynical. This constitutes the second category. Face to face with death in the trench it is not unusual for the soldier-writer to turn rebel and curse those who caused the war. This literature dealing with the injuries, killings and exploding bombs captures the soldier's changed attitude to the true nature of war. It is a protest discourse per excellence. W.B. Yeats' "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" is a good example.
Then long after the war is lost or won the third category of war literature emerges. It is sober in tone and outlook as the soldier-writer has taken time to reappraise what happened and what could have been. The ideological thrust is to condemn war in general (I.M. Parson, "Men Who March Away: Poems of the First World War." Ed. Heinemann Educational Books, 1974. pp.16-31). Osbert Sitwell's "The Next war" is a typical poem written long after the war. It exhibits ill-will for the politicians who send poor kids to their early graves in the battlefield while shielding their own progeny. I cite it:
The long war had ended.
Its miseries had grown faded.
Deaf men became difficult to talk to,
Heroes became bores.
Who had converted blood into gold
Had grown elderly.
But they held a meeting,
"But it seems to me
That the cause for which we fought
Is again endangered.
What more fitting memorial for the fallen
Than that their children
Should fall for the same cause?"
Rushing into the street,
The kindly old gentlemen cried
To the young:
"Will you sacrifice
Through your lethargy
What your fathers died to gain?
The world must be made safe for the young!"
And the children
amu nnadi wrote "pilgrim s passage" under war condition when emotion is high. War evokes in any patriot extreme patriotism very consistence with his poetry. In one poem he is angry at the wasted dreams only to be philosophical in the next about freedom. His verses capture the angst of war and pains of exile, whether as internally displaced person or refugee in exile. In the true militant writer's tradition he copiously convinces his readers that justice is on the side of Nigerians and the oppressed people of the Niger Delta. For consideration here are "refugees" and "shadows of dreams" from "part four mexicana blues" and "part five abiola s last testament" of "pilgrim s passage."
what do you give a refugee
who s lost on a limb
surrounded by brittle sediments from flooded shores
the bits and pieces of refuse their homelands refuse
your parcels are mere palliatives
drops of water on chapped lips
the stomachs emptied of all rumbles
and in the heart are recurring echoes
of poundings on the door
wails in the dark strangled by thunders
what do you give a fish
bobbed belly up on a strange rivulet
mouth open lamenting still small silent stories
of a lost peace
the droplets of a cool spring at the head of rivers
that empty into distant seas
reinventing a forgotten wish for a quiet old age
your earthworms are speared in 2
to invite a hook on my grief i know
yet i dare bite to fill emptiness
to spread my brittle lack of wings
over the fires you light beneath
salt and pepper that garnish this bitterness
what do you give a tongue
given to quinine bitterness
with a taste for the lost sweetness of home
This poem is important for two reasons.
Firstly, refugees or exiles are products of war and natural disaster. Scholars have identified the 21st Century as the age of refugees, due mainly to the disproportionate number of people made homeless by social conflicts. It is therefore expected that any study in war and its consequences must also be a study in refugees and their tragic experience and, vice versa.
Secondly, the poem prioritises "memory" which is an integral part of war literature. All that a refugee has is memory of a treasured world he once enjoyed. Memory makes poems of exile an exercise in mental torture and lamentation. Irrespective of time and clime, poems dealing with the emotional state of dislocated refugees share common characteristics as suffering is universal. Compare the angst captured in "on a strange rivulet/ mouth open lamenting still small silent stories/of a lost peace/… lost sweetness of home" (ll. 13-15 and 29) with a similar emotion found in another poem of exile recorded in Psalm 137:1-6, "By the rivers of Babylon/There we sat down/And where we wept/When we remembered Zion." Originally a Jewish poem composed three thousand years ago, black slaves adapted this Psalm as Negro Spiritual. Spirituals are songs composed by black slaves in American plantations expressing their miseries and alienation made worse when their families are broken up and sold to different masters.
Now, when you carefully place the above lines side by side certain words begin to assume common connotation, "strange rivulet," "lamenting," "lost peace" and "lost sweetness of home" ("refugees') and, "rivers of Babylon," "wept" and "remembered Zion" (Spiritual). These words express the crushing experience of the exiles in both poems who mentally compare their strange new environment with the oasis of peace that was their "home" or "Zion."
The title, "refugees," throws up the picture of war casualties. By so captioning his poem the poet draws attention to the plight of ordinary people, the aged, women and children, who suffer most in war and peace being non-combatants. The theme is rootlessness made poignant with adjectival words and verbs like "lost," "denied," flooded shores," "bits and pieces," "refuse," "emptied," "swallowedup," "bitterness" and "lost sweetness of home." The poem describes the tragic experience of Niger Delta refugees when uprooted from their natural environment.
We can pin-point without ambiguity that the personae are Niger Delta autochthones on the strength of three inferences. The first is the poet's allusions to "flooded shores" (l.4), "…a fish bobbed belly up on a strange rivulet" (ll.12-13), "head of rivers" (l.16) and "distant seas" (l. 17). These are deltaic terrains for sure. The second is from a different poem titled "in the dull stammer of day to a woman named niger delta." It paints the picture of a dead fish floating on the river, "…your treasures bellyup" (l.10). Bear in mind that "fish" constitute an integral part of this region's treasures. The third inference, if you agree that the Niger Delta poet JP Clark is an influence on amu nnadi which I honestly do, is from Clark's "Night Rain" where the poet describes as a child waking up in the dead of the night in a flooded hut: "What time of the night it is/ I do not know/Except that like some fish/ Doped out of the deep/ I have bobbed up bellywise" ("Night Rain" ll.1-5).
The first stanza starts with "a refugee" but ends with more than one refugee in the poet's use of the possessive plural "their." I attribute this to his informal style which is highly colloquial. This must never confuse his audience. We are confronted with the picture of a stranded refugee caught in an unfamiliar environment. His looking "lost on a limb" conforms to the African saying that "A new fowl stands on one leg in a new environment." Around the destitute are "the bits and pieces of … their homelands refuse" (l.5) also expelled alongside with them. "Bits and pieces" can mean two things. They could mean the refugees' personal effects like clothes, boats, household utensils and money. They could also mean relics of their culture like language, beliefs, rights, values and religious practices. Nothing can compensate for the loss of these tangible and intangible properties that made them who they are as a people. In other words, what amu nnadi is saying is that being a refugee dehumanises since such person is "denied desires."
In stanza two the poet opinions that not even the miserable relief materials, "parcels," handed out to them as "palliatives" can ease their mental agony. Through flashback we know that these refugees are war casualties, "…in the heart are recurring echoes/ of poundings on the door/ wails in the dark strangled by thunders" (ll. 9-11). The scene here is that of midnight invasion with soldiers smashing down "the door" and expelling sleeping villagers whose "wails" are drown by the "thunders" of gunshots. Memory helps the reader to share the mental torture of these refugees whose traumatic experience flashes through their minds with cinematic clarity.
Stanza three conjures the devastating picture of polluted environment that kills aquatic lives. A dead "fish/ bobbed belly up on a strange rivulet/ mouth open lamenting still small silent stories/ of a lost peace" ( ll. 12-15). With their means of livelihood destroyed, probably by oil spill, the dream of "a quiet old age" becomes a mirage for the local people. The argument here is very consistent with Observation (d) of Kaiama Declaration, "That the quality of life of Ijaw people is deteriorating as a result of utter neglect, suppression and marginalization visited on Ijaws by the alliance of the Nigerian state and transnational oil companies."
In the penultimate stanza the poet personalises the experience by shifting his authorial voice from third to first person point of view. This shift redefines him a refugee as he talks about "my grief" and "emptiness" which no half measure could satisfied, "your earthworms are speared in 2/ to invite a hook on my grief i know/ yet i dare bite to fill emptiness" (ll.20-22). In this redefinition a refugee could mean a physical or mental exile. Whereas the former is a physically displaced person, the latter is one though not physically displaced is nevertheless mentally alienated in his supposed natural/home environment like the poet who feels nothing but "emptiness." The last two lines of this stanza refer to the camp fire where food, "salt and pepper," is prepared for refugees.
The poem ends on a note of contrast, "what do you give a tongue/given to quinine bitterness/ with a taste for the lost sweetness of home" (ll.27-29). Quinine is an extremely bitter but effective medicine against malaria. It is also a bitter irony that with its discovery in the 19th century West Africa, hitherto the impenetrable white man's graveyard on account of same malaria, capitulated to white colonialism. For any nationalist quinine aided and abetted the black man's subjugation, never his redemption, even more than the Bible and rifle. To totally win over his informed readers what the poet did was to place the hated "quinine bitterness" side by side with the beloved "sweetness of home." No exercise in contrast could be more effective on the psych of the colonized. Having impressed the mind with images of idyllic "homelands" flowing with "cool spring," the natural verdict favours "sweetness" of home over "bitterness" of exile.
This poem saddles us with the eternal dilemma of amu nnadi's poetry-what to make of his "i pilgrim" (l.24) identity. The poet seems to conceive "life" as transient and "self" as helpless earthling whose inadequacies mean total reliance on "god /almighty so great he dines with those without capitals/and punctuations" (amu nnadi, "the poet writes." ll.155-157). Though a globe-trotter at home in world capitals, he sees himself a lone pilgrim on a metaphysical journey through life. His self-awareness is deeply religious and inward-looking. Perhaps his disenchantment is not with life but its "fart of egos." In the poem "the pilgrim thinks of rest," he comes across as a hermit on a long journey. Weighed down by the ruin of his life he sits down under the shade of a palm tree to pass the night. An unhappy and tempestuous night, even the very nature grieves with him. A pilgrim is not without mission. What then is amu nnadi's? Increasingly, I see him in the image of the suffering servant of God, Isaiah 53:4, who "collects the wounds that draw our spots" ("the pilgrim thinks of rest," l.19, p. 146).
Literary devices include rhetorical questions, "what do you give a …" (ll. 1, 12 and 27). These questions are meant to arrest the reader's immediate attention to the hopeless condition of the refugees. Alliteration, another device, gives the poem its lyrical effect, "mouth open lamenting still small silent stories" (l.14). I categorise this war verse as literature written long after the war as it is a product of memory, "recurring echoes," that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
"shadows of dreams"
i long for the peace of dreams
being too tired sometimes to feel
and agony runs down the pavement of my body
into the concrete cold and unfeeling
too hard for a print of my restless soul
just like a dream upon which you never can imprint your pain
i long for the quiet of silence
to shut my everquestioning mouth
too tired sometimes to keep pace with anger
to halt this next step that takes me
into your wilderness and wastelands
where stumps from forest fires cut deep
and my cries become nothing
but disconsolate echoes repeating themselves
you will find me among the shadows
dying the dark with the texture of my fears
so real sometimes I paint clouds with them
dark clouds foisting a storm
over the charred landscape of our dreams
I will mushroom out of this decay
sprout like new shoots across this wasteland
come into new light of new beginnings
just like January
beautiful once more
but for now my country
let me hide in the shadow of our dreams
numbed by rigor mortis
at peace once more
The title suggests alienation in the sense that "shadows" are no substitute for "dreams." If what obtains is a far cry from the ideal then disaffection logically follows. The poem has the major theme of suffering as seen in words like "agony," "restless," "pain", "anger," "cut deep" and "cries." Other themes are (1) death-suggested by "decay," "dying," "rigor mortis;" (2) rebirth in the use of "mushroom," "sprouts" "new light," "new beginning," "January" and "beautiful."
Its sombre tone indicates that the poet is under siege, a condition that makes him want to "hide in the shadow of our dreams" (l. 32). The picture painted here is that of overwhelming violence created by war or military brutality against which the poet must put up with. From another poem titled "living with you" we know that the enemy is the military: "perhaps/love will survive this crucifixion/sealed with smoking barrels of treachery" (ll. 14-16, p.187).
In 1999 the military bowed from power, the Kaiama Declaration came into existence a year earlier and the war in the creeks started almost immediately with the exit of the military. Yet in this 2004 collection the poet still points fingers at the same military that relinquished power years ago. This means that we have a problem categorising this poem. We get around this bearing in mind that though he wrote under a democracy his subject matters did not necessarily fall under the same period. This is to say that he relieved his military era experience of the 1990s under civil rule of 2000s. That is point number one.
Point number two, even under civilian government military campaigns did not diminish as seen from the destruction of Odi in 1999 to the fall of Ayakoromo more than a decade later. Finally, the recurrent reference to the military exposes amu nnadi's unease relationship with that institution: "…grief of a country/ the teeth sharpened to a point/ to devour flesh/indian apples" (from the poem "a simple dream" ll. 39-42, p.190). The last but one of Nigerian military rulers died in the company of Indian prostitutes, "indian apples," in 1998. These are matters obviously weighing heavily on the poet as he wrote forcing us to categorise this poem as literature written long after the war.
Stanza one is a declaration for the ultimate "peace of dreams" as against the present "agony" that literally wastes the poet. The reference to "concrete cold" that does not feel for the sufferer suggests a prison or totalitarian regime. The poet's intense suffering is again evident in the second stanza where he desires the "quiet of silence." He questions events around him, events which inspire a dangerous "anger" in him. He's the lone "pilgrim" banished in the "wilderness and wastelands" where he suffers deep "cut" with no hope for respite. The image here is that of a rough terrain with protruding tree stumps after a great wild fire that cuts the bare feet.
In stanza three he casts the picture of intense fears. These fears are so real that one could literally dye the dark night with them, "dying the dark with the texture of my fears" (ll. 21). The reference to dark clouds capable of "foisting a storm/over the charred landscape of our dreams" (ll 23-24) predicts an impending revolution. The poet predicts his own redemption in stanza four when like young shoots he'll "mushroom" and "sprout" out of the present "decay." This new era will usher in "new light" as beautiful as the month of "January."
I make two observations here. One, January has ambiguous meaning in amu nnadi's poetry. This month has a revolutionary undertone in the annals of Nigerian history. The first military coup d'état took place on January 15th 1966. The 30 month Nigeria/Biafran war ended in January 1970 and every year January 15th is Armed Forces Remembrance Day. For the poet to pine for "new beginning" like January could only mean one thing figuratively-a call for revolution. Still, when you carefully examine poem like "the year drapes a tired leg," January literally stands for a new calendar year and rebirth: "january one/ and i stand fulllimbed across the fence of a year/ looking into the deep eyes of new desires/ new dreams and a new earth" (ll. 20-23).
Two, when you carefully extract "stumps," "sprout" and "shoots" from lines 16 and 27, what emerges is a message of hope from Isaiah 11:1, "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit" (New International Version, NIV). This is not the only time Biblical passages echo in amu nnadi's poetry. 1 Samuel 24: 8-15 echoes in "the patriot sings" where the poet assumes the role of the fugitive David fleeing the irascible King Saul, "and i stand before the mouth of open caves/ fugitive from the rage of rot/disowned because I dared sing of hope" (ll.9-11,p.199). In the poem "a lion s cry," he equates himself with the humiliated Samson of Judges 16: 25-30, "paws blunted to amuse mad dogs/ and i am whipped to roar to mock my pride/ by those who stand in concert/ and the pain on the thin lips of whips/define the fears we share" (ll.9-13, p. 201). What all these mean is that the poet derives his materials from Christian theology, among other sources.
Note the use of "my country" in the concluding part of this poem which conveys the poet's high sense of patriotism. From this last stanza, also, we gain a glimpse of the present untenable condition bedeviling him, "but for now/…numbed by the rigor mortis" (ll. 31 and 34). Even in the face of these overwhelming odds the poet is convinced in the ultimate triumph of good over evil, the very reason why he's at "peace" with himself once again.
Literary device conspicuously employed by amu nnadi is repetition. The repetitive use of "sometimes" in the opening lines of the first three stanzas emphasizes a desired happy future: "sometimes/i long for the peace of dreams" (ll. 1-2). "sometimes/i long for the quiet of silence" (ll. 9-10). "sometimes/ you will find me among the shadows" ( ll. 19-20). This envisaged happy future is juxtaposed against the ugly reality of the present: "but for now my country/let me hide in the shadow of our dreams/ numbed by rigor mortis" (ll.31-33). Repetition gives this poem its musical quality. Growing up in the 1980s amu nnadi must have internalised the repetitive lines of another Negro Spiritual, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child/ Sometimes I feel like my hopes are in vain" ("Motherless Child" by Music Band Boney M).
Finally, the prophesy of "someday perhaps/ i will mushroom out of this decay/sprout like new shoots across this wasteland/come into new light of new beginnings/just like January/beautiful once more" (ll. 25-30); strongly echoes Denis Brutus' "Sun-stripped perhaps, our bones may later sing/Or spell out some malignant nemesis/Sharpeville to spearpoints for revenging" ("The Sun on this Rubble After Rain"). Brutus wrote in the 1960s following a black massacre at Sharpeville by the Apartheid police. amu nnadi wrote between 2002 when "the fire within" was published and 2004, a period also characterized by the war in the creeks of Niger Delta.
Chigachi Eke is an Igbo Rights Activist.