Title: So Long a Journey
Author: Sunday Okpanachi
publisher: Kraft Book, Ibadan
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
The title of Sunday Okpanachi’s So Long a Journey foretokens a spirit of wanderlust. A journey motif runs through the verses in the eight-part poetry volume, painting pictures of lands, distant and near, often reduced to a mire of tears by cruel fate and indecorums. The minstrel is driven to remonstrations by ominous dark clouds. From political malady to societal putrefaction, So Long a Journey reverberates with a litany of woes from a bewailing voice.
The sinister machinations of the powers that be move the poet to create concrete poetry in this collection, given reign to a mélange of sublime images. Yet, occasionally, we come across deifications of the Supreme Being as the poet searches for untainted soul to commune with and lionize in a sinful world; but the lambent atmosphere created by such spiritual flights is sooner overcast with a sombre tone.
The poem, “The Kogite and the Bellowing Hurricane”, situates the locus of the disenchanted voice as domiciled in the confluence city ruled with iron hand by a maverick leader given to anti-people policies, one who “has come to know the number of stars over Lokoja skies”.
Even when he attempts to sound romantic, the gloominess of the social fabric and despair felt by the poet speaker is overwhelming, woven in bleak images like “waters of despair” and “treacherous abductors”, as found in the “Bitter-Sweet Water” poem.
The poetry volume doesn’t spare political indiscretions. So many poems are designed to disparage failed politicians, including lawmakers, whose acts and conducts do not inspire hope among the populace. In “Letter to My Law Maker”, for instance, the voice in the poem recalls that he was engaged during the campaign to elect the infamous law maker, addressed here as a “law baker”, whose chunky countenance has replaced “the scraggy hollow cheeks we sent forth”. His hatred for this self-conceited lawmaker is further driven home by his address as “My dear distinguished predator”, amid a coterie specialising in “Padding, thieving and forging allowance codes”.
Okpanachi’s So Long a Journey, in fulfilling the role of a poet as a chronicler, reminds us of the shameful conducts of Nigerian lawmakers deviating from their primary responsibilities in Abuja. “The Stylish Drummer” is yet another poem that denounces these inglorious men dancing “in market places/ When nightly breeze sweeps away/ The echoes of regarded footsteps” (p. 20).
When a kindred spirit falls by the way side, it calls for sorrows among the tribe. The same goes for “There is Life Behind this Death”, a poem in honour of late Ada Ugah, a writer who mounted the Trojan horse to fight oppression. Hence, “He summoned co-travellers to arms against complaisance” and toiled “to create appetite for the taste of the forbidden bark of the tree of rebellion.”
Okpanachi’s angst sometimes arise from when disgruntled citizens also embark on a voyage of inanity across the Mediterranean Sea. Poems such as “Mediterranean Dream”, “Waves and Waves” and “Tango at Sea” are sad reminders that the pursuit of golden fleece via Mediterranean is a risk not worth taken, given the catastrophic consequences that trail such misadventures.
“A Father’s Memorial” is a lament, nay, a father’s recollection of the loss of a specially gifted child who has distinguished himself in the service of his fatherland as a naval officer. But the joy of his son being a brilliant soldier is truncated by an untimely death at Owerrinta. It echoes the futility of life and also a celebration of ephemeral success.
Of course, the search for salvation follows a winding road. The poet calls attention to this fact in “The Road to Miango”, a rather treacherous road to Jos with perilous course. The descriptive power of the poet is evident here: “I see …Behind yonder carpeted hills/ The skies and the earth in tender embrace/Like freshly reconciled couples in a new conjugal bliss” (p.80).
The latitude of the poet enables him to tinker with styles. For the best of prose poetry in the collection, flip over to “Karmo, Calm Karmo”, a poem dedicated to Senator Ubah Ahmed. Karmo is described by the poet as “a settlement perching on the nostril of Abuja”. Another visit to Obudu in Cross River State inspired the poem “The Hanging Gardens of Obudu”. Through his personal lyrics, Okpanachi furnishes the reader with the flora and fauna of Nigeria.
Poems such as “What Manner of Good Friday”, “Calvary! O Calvary”,
Cursed of the Loved”, “The Lamp Stand”, to mention a few, fan the embers of love for Christ Jesus and what He represents to humanity.
Perhaps one of the best poems, which happens to be the longest in this collection is “Land of a Thousand and One Ear”. In it, the poet allows his nous to wander into the labyrinth of the hinterland where humanity vegetates, creating a panoply of local idioms with universal imports bordering on the vagaries of life.