By Henry Akubuiro
The Lilt of a Rebel, Hornbill House, Lagos, 2022, pp. 195
Obari Gomba hasn’t pedaled back in ever since he announced his entry into the Nigerian literary scene as a poet and playwright, earning ratcheting accolades and garlands over the years. His oeuvre has paid witness to broad themes ranging from oil exploitation, Niger Delta’s despoilation, corruption by the powers that be, oppression, amour and socio resistance.
In his poetic vocation, Gomba, an associate professor in the Department of English, University of Port Harcourt, functions as a factotum. Using uncluttered diction, the poet creates sublime verses to dramatically express variegated emotions, nay, condenses exposés into poetry. He draws from personal experiences, too, to enrich our understanding of today’s mysterious and ambiguous world.
Obari Gomba’s Lilt of the Rebel, which recently won the 2022 PAWA Poetry Prize, is a poetry volume that welds diverse thematic concerns beyond the shrill voice of a social critic labouring in an African dystopia. The poet affirms the place of the word and how the word redefines our existence. In the same vein, he juxtaposes living with the miry clay of death.
Obari Gomba’s Lilt of a Rebel reappraises religion and its trammels on the African psyche. He, hence, offers a candlelight to see through the membrane of a rebellious heart, unfettered from religious moorings. The collection also xrays contemporary social developments around the globe, and how humanity tends to buckle on the feet of visible and invisible fiends. The unjust murder of a hitherto unknown black somewhere in America and the transportation of a deadly virus in China can easily impact the lives of individuals faraway from the epicenter, down to different corners of the globe where snowballs, monsoon and Harmattan appear on different occasions.
The 108 poems in this collection are woven in stanzas, varying from couplets to sestets. For the average reader, the significations of the poems in the collection aren’t elusive. Perhaps it’s the poet’s way of winning new audiences outside the literary enclave. Gomba shows an adroitness in his prosody with luxuriant sound devices that elevate his euphonies.
Gomba alludes to a longlife art of fighting in the first section of the poem. In the title poem “Lilt of a Rebel’’, the speaker hints that he has been designated as a rebel by others because of the pillories of his poems which resonate in state houses. He envisions “the possibilities of greater brightness where others see only a lean moon” (p. 7).
Despite the challenges a social crusader encounters with his pen, the poet elects to keep fighting the cause of his society. Thus, “I am not afraid…” becomes a dominant mantra. He is not afraid to write about the world, open closed doors, knock down walls, speak to us about our unfinished journeys, He sees himself as a redeeming vanguard in the quest to enthrone love and unity in the land. Hence:
I am on the frontline
to take us to the magic moment
when synergy will build bridges
across the chasms of hate (p. 9).
The persona goes on to declare he is on a mission to deliver a future that will beam its light and delight, amid an impressive diaphonic encore of “Eyes on the world, eyes beyond the word”.
Gomba’s The Lilt of the Rebel is fascinated with beating demons out of each other, accentuating his message with lucent idioms. It’s an epiphany that attains a lustre in multiple verses. The mysteries of the earth and our individual cocoons are juxtaposed on “Earth’. Gomba is meditative in many of the poems in this section, leaving you to reflect on ideas whirling in eddies, still making hope a constant trope.
In the third section, Gomba concedes: we make gods and we make them Gods. Here, the poet hallmarks his lilt with an algorithm to infer deep meanings. For one, humankind has lost the truth in search of many Gods that can never be known. Gomba’s verses are limpid yet piquant. Not scared of controversy, Gomba enters the cathedral of religiosity and dismantles crusaders’ anthems about eternity, wearing the moniker of an unrepentant prodigal yet pious. Gomba even interacts with Judas himself.
The poet mourns the dead in the fourth section. He remembers Pius Adesanmi in “Allow Us to Mourn” and weeps a river for Chadwick Boseman in “King T’Challa”, two blacks who illuminated our faces with words and actions while they lived. Gomba laments that death has put a wedge between us and our loved ones. The cruel murder of George Floyd, which activated the Black Life Matters Movement, is also brought back to our consciousness
The Corona poems and a stricken world nestle in the fifth section of The Lilt of a Rebel. The poet traces the dots between viral spots. From quarantine, anxiety, deaths, conspiracy theories and missed opportunities caused by the Wuhan plague, Gomba depicts an epoch when the world became a slave to fear, almost helpless. Yet we are reminded that we shall rise from this fearsome pestilence. Little wonder, he uses “The Only Life” as a consolatory shower upon the bereaved in our midst.
If you love cantos that breathe and lines with profound moieties, “Lines on Ten Places” is a delight in Gomba’s The Lilt of a Rebel, which has been longlisted for the Nigeria Prize for Literature.