Etching Lines of Silence and Profound Thirst

The Beginning of Silence
By Ibrahim Zakama,
Kairos Productions, 2012,
48 pages.

One Thousand Years of Thirst
By Denja Abdullahi,
Kraftgriots, 2011,
112 pages.

James Joyce, the giant Irish modernist novelist of the twentieth century paid his own tribute to the creative genius of youth, when he published his first notable work and entitled it, A Portrait of An Artist As A Youngman.

When sometime ago the city of Abuja witnessed the birth of a book, The Beginning of Silence, by the twelve year old author and poet, Ibrahim Zakama, even Joyce must rejoice that some cheeky yet to be teen boy dared to shred the implicit age-limits he drew on the sands for artists. His very choice of title sets you thinking that we may well have a prodigy among us, because for those who know, the solitude which silence bestows is the beginning of wisdom for the truly creative mind. This gem of a title enunciates our very aware child-poet’s artistic principle. So, all you noisy throng of adults, take heed!

The ambition of the poet is expressed in the first poem, when he seems to wonder in “Beautiful Sun”: ‘The sun brighter than light/You still are looking at the sun.’ The same sun teases his dream in the concluding lines: ‘Believe and one day you will/be as bright as the sun.’

A declamatory cadence tinged with innocence seeps through the fourth poem, ”Song in My Heart”, to reveal all that our poet thinks this rite of chanting is all about – ‘I always sing and dance/To the song in my heart/I tell the truth and I sing/About the song in my heart.’ The search for the truth is the provenance of the philosopher, while the poet’s fount of inspiration remains the heart. So, we have here a poet of the mind and heart, poised to reflect and create for his audience.

The Beginning of Silence, however, offers more abundant lines of the intimations of a poet of. The question arises, what does a boy, sorry, a poet at twelve know about ‘love’, to devote close to a third of the forty-six poems in his book, to cogitating and musing about it? They range in intensity and tenderness from “What’s Her Name?”, “Your Beauty”, to “What Is Love?”, “When Love Says No”, and “My Love Is Blind”, where he raps and confesses: ‘I would love her so true/But she makes me feel blue…’

The ‘thinking’ poems are no less meditative and motivational, in such verses as – “The Journey”, “If Only”, “Peacemaker”, “Racing Is Unlimited”, “Bring Me A Clear Hand”, “A Man With A Dream”, “The Rules”, “My Teachers”, “The Lazy Man’s Song”. Related to these are the poems on nature – “Dove From Above”, “Wildcat” ,”Rain”, “By Sunlight”.

Of course, much to be expected from a child, there are the whimsical pieces, like – “If I Shoot Now”, “You Don’t Know My Name”, and “Usual Parade”, which satirise our current political scene. However, the very last poem in the book – “I Never Said I Wasn’t Afraid” is the poem that truly speaks to our troubled times, where he despairs, ‘I’m scared of the animals that lurk in the dark/Am I soon to become their midnight snack?’

the-beginning-of-silenceNot unexpectedly for a child growing up in this wild, wild age of rap music where everything seems to rhyme without reason, most of Ibrahim’s poems mimic this trend. But, “Baby’s Cry”, stands out as a stylistically successful and empathetic poem, and it does not try to rhyme: ‘A baby’s cry/Sometimes it feels/Like it came out/Of nowhere, though…’

A considerable number of the poems are dedicated to family members – his sibling brother who also writes, a late aunt, an uncle, his mother, and most especially the poet’s father, who’s a versifier himself. The father’s influence cannot be discounted, but listening to Ibrahim recite his work as I did before a mostly adult audience at the Abuja Writers’ Forum Monthly Session, tells you he crafted each line in The Beginning of Silence.

Formerly a pupil at Educare Private/Chosen High School in Jos and Funtaj International School in Abuja, and currently enrolled at Belle Vue Boys’ School in Bradford, UK, versatile Ibrahim also sketched the thirty-seven illustrations in this book, including the cover. And he responded to every query with surprising aplomb. Like the question from me concerning his choice of title, to which he said: “It’s my first ever book. I have to be quiet when I set out to write and create…”

A Thousand Years Of Thirst is Denja Abdullahi’s third collection of poetry, coming after Mairogo: A Buffoon’s Poetic Journey Around Northern Nigeria, and, Abuja Munyi (This is Abuja). The dominant motif that ties the three books together is that of the wandering minstrel on a journey of discovery of life in his natural, social and cultural environment.

The poet’s intent in this new collection is explicitly stated in the last two lines of his sonnet-like fourteen-line “Dedication” on page 5: ‘To the spirit of the pathfinder/Giving new insight to a static world.’ A Thousand Years Of Thirst details in poem after poem, the author’s search towards opening new grounds, both in literary and ideological terms, for making his world a better place.

A Thousand Years of Thirst is structured into four sections reflecting the thematic routes and detours of the persona eternally on a journey. The four sections are: “The Poet’s World”, with twenty one poems; “The Wandering Minstrel” with eighteen poems; “Rediscovery” with six, and, “African Love Songs”, the largest, with twenty-seven poems.

The first section starts with an invocation of the poet’s Muse in “Oasis”, the first poem in the book. The reader is given a glimpse into the preparations of the poet at the point of setting out. The declamatory lines from this particular poem sum up the thematic concerns of the book: ‘Whisper the promise of scented fluid into my camel’s ears/And make it race to the prized beauty./ Said to be waiting in honour at the oasis.’

The poet as a restless rider, journeying away from the diverse straits of encampment, seeks the tenderness and companionship of a beloved one.a-thousand-years-of-thirst

In the second section titled, “The Wandering Minstrel”, there is a definite shift from the earlier concerns of the poet with the twin subjects of love and the poet’s world. This section reveals a new consciousness of the poet as a social and political being. The poet’s anger at the social inequities he sees all around him is expressed in an uncompromising stance in “The Wandering Minstrel”, as he declares, ‘My song will turn to fiery embers/scalding palaces of tyrant rulers’ (page 43).

The contrasting roles of the warrior and the poet are brought to the fore in their confrontation in “Between the Warrior and the Poet”. In the dramatic exchanges between the two, the author, do we say predictably, takes sides with the poet.

An attestation to this point perhaps is rendered by the author in his poem written in memory of Ken Saro-Wiwa, titled, “Africa Kills Her Son”. This happens to be the same title of an ironically prophetic short story Ken Saro-Wiwa wrote before the hangman came calling, over a decade and half ago. The poem also recalls the sad fate that befell the other ‘irritants’ and ‘noisemakers’, like Lumumba, Biko, Giwa… Murtala, Samora, and Sankara, who lost their lives in their search for justice for all.

In the third and the shortest section, titled “Rediscovery”, the midpoint through the minstrel’s journeys, the author/poet/ traveler/exile, in order to proceed further, takes us back to his cultural root for a re-grounding in the lore of his native land of Agbaja, in Lokoja, in the middle belt region of Nigeria. This section celebrates this reunion with the birthplace of his ancestors and kindred. “Rediscovery” clearly reveals that this poet is not estranged from his people as the lines here evoke a sense of oneness with the ways of his people: ‘Agbaja:Gbonojo Ma Gbolue/Agbaja which welcomes the stranger/With warm bosom of hospitality/But tells those of the soil/To rest on the hard edge of reality.’

The fourth and final section, titled “African Love Songs”, which also has the largest number of poems, takes us full circle to the theme of the search for the tenderness of a beloved one in the very first poem, “Oasis”. There is abundant evidence here to suggest that, we need not look farther than the delights and the inspiration offered by the romantic encounters of the wandering minstrel for the location of the oasis. These encounters with beloved ones are spread all over the continent! The love songs celebrate the dark maiden’ from Calabar to Darker to Zimbabwe…

The other poems in this section more or less complement and accentuate this flourish of Senghorian cadence. And the reader recognises immediately that we have arrived at the oasis of love and tenderness, just as the wandering poet has reached the soothing point of a fulfilled mission.

Chiedu Ezeanah is Contributing Editor, Arts & Culture, at PREMIUM TIMES.

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