Apart from the church where both seek for salvation under one roof, saints and scoundrels are two strange bedfellows. There is dissonance in thoughts, and their ideas pull at contrary directions.From that standpoint, you can get a whiff of the nutmeg in Ekaete George’s poetry volume, Saints and Scoundrels.
Saints and Scoundrels doesn’t sound like thedoggerelverses of a tyro; the pages carol to us like that of a veteran songstress in the middle of a fermata, with maturity in cadences and tropes, evidence of long gestation. What’s more, there is elegance in diction, and, even when the poems make us feel melancholic, we are spared of bathos.
Saints and Scoundrels is structured in two parts: Homeland and Girl Rising. The Homeland poems begin with deifications of places worthy of reverence to the poet speaker before the verses implode to pillory their desecrations. The overweening ambition of the swashbuckler comes up for deflation in black and white.
In the Girl Rising poems,there are indicators of hope from the pangs of hurt. Poetry, thus, becomes a medium through which the wounded can overcome angst and ennui, and chart a course for the rediscovery of self and the realisation of personal aspirations. It comes with an overwhelming sense of triumph conveyed through amorets.
Amid the hackneyed chastisements of masculine frailties is an interrogation of social relations with an undertone that the ace of trumps is only held by an overcomer, who refuses to buckle to snares and the whimsies of a superman.
“Ediye Obio Canaan” is a paean for Calabar, the Cross River State capital, which is lionised as a beautiful city that enchants wayfarers and wanderlusts. The poem echoes nostalgia for the city of her education such that whoever has an encounter with her will surely return.
The euphoria expressed in the former poem is lost in the next one entitled “Triangular Sea”. Here, the blessings of the sea and oil of the Niger Delta have turned to a curse. Thus, “Gardens have disappeared” and “paradise wasted”. Niger Delta is presented here as a land where affluence has turned to poverty, the river mixed with oil and blood. The theme of despoliation recurs in “Let them Dream”, leaving in its wake contradictions in the social fabric:“Let the rich revel/In their fill of luxury//The poor in their unfair share/ Of misery”(p.11).
The poet speaker in “Wailer” deserves our pity. What we have here is not the typical Nigerian wailing wailervariant –it is a justifiable lachrymal recourse precipitated by man’s inhumanity to man in the name of oil exploration. The images of “plastic houses gladly melting away”, “eyelids sagged”, “smoke stealing their sight” and “lips locked in a death kiss” are emblematic of woes that have betided Niger Delta.
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Georgeis a poet who knows how to sing the sad love song so well. She creates voices in her poems remonstrating against patriarchy. But all hope isn’t lost. As the speaker rides on ashes, she encounters so many inhibitions, yet she continues to persevere until she rises to centre stage, “Riding fields of green” (p.40).
The practice of child bride in some parts of Nigeria is criticised in the poem “Child Bride”, but in “Newborn” the joy of motherhood resonates. Melancholy runs across most of the poems in this part arising from betrayal and arrogance. For instance, in “The Tunnel”, the voice is distraught and abandoned. “Chibok Girls” comes with a familiar tale –of kidnapped schoolgirls turned to sex machines, yet echoing the plight of silent Nigerian women baulked of their innermost souls.
Forgive the poet for her grim persecution; just enjoy the flakes and the euphony of her benign purr. George is a poet whose ballads have found a nest and whose nest will nettle the rabble.