Poetic Reminiscences: Book of Dislocation, Lyrics & Other Traditional Longer Poems, Udenta O. Udenta, Kraft Books, 2015, pp.165
Udenta O. Udenta is an unsung poet. In his Collected Boyhood Works IV, a collection of poems written as a thirteen year old boy in secondary school, the maturity of his diction, the depth of his images and his mastery of versification lend themselves to hyperboles.
This may not come as a surprise for those who know Udenta’s history. His love for books, which grew as early as his elementary school, became an addiction by the time he entered secondary school, thus, becoming a voracious reader so much so he was spending his pocket money on books. The love for writing came naturally.
The fourth volume of Udenta’s Collected Boyhood Works contains three parts: Poetic Reminiscences, Book of Dislocation, and Lyrics and other Traditional Longer Poems. The titles remain true to the poet’s original conception four decades ago.
At the time of writing these poems, Udenta was a keen follower of the poetry of English poets, such as Wordsworth, Byron, Tennyson, Arnold and Coleridge, and it was hard to overcome the anxiety of influence of the romantic poets. What is baffling, though, is Udenta’s appropriation of Igbo myths and lore in this collection at such a young age.
This collection, therefore, pays witness to a poet’s overweening ambition to dine with the masters by adapting their poetic templates and exploration of nature and the orbit of life and death. The poet sanctions mythopoetry and, in some cases, obscurantism, as he tampers with formulaic mythologies. With remarkable ease, he delves in dark alleys of our existence just as he leads us into a prism to see what looks ordinary in real life yet embodies variegated significations.
Of the three parts of this poetry volume, the first part, “Poetic Remanences”, contains the most number of poems –fifty –while the second and third parts –“Book of Dislocation” and “Lyrics and Other Traditional Longer Poems” –contain five poems and one respectively. This is a work of juvenilia, but your ability to disentangle cloyed verbiage is one thing the reader should possess in abundance order to unravel the Udentan mosaic.
“Snapshots of Ancient Ways” introduces us to the days when innocence reigned in the world, before modern man elevated sins and evil to a fine art. It conveys a nostalgia for everything ancient, for, in them, the African gods, in their majesty, evoked aura and dread. The speaker heralds the backward glance: “I came to the earth when lizards/were in ones and twos/ When houses were built under the ukwa tree/ When the royal python was sacred…” (p.32). The symbiosis with the traditional milieu is further advanced with the reference to the incarnated spirit: “In the days of ancestral Egwugwu/Spirits, when monkeys were/Human beings/ When rape was a …taboo among the underworld dwellers/ There appeared an old witch, an/ Advanced woman who wiped out the …race of Nridwarfs….” (p.33).
Udenta chants about risky ship voyage, pushing to the unknown, of subterranean subterfuges and of true love that sees nothing wrong. To departed friends, he carols of fading story of life and darkness that falls with persistent weapon. Cries Udenta: “All farewell to all the beloved,/ What hearkens deep, strikes hard”, and he cannot but end the verses in “floating oblivion”.
With his quill, Udenta takes us to a world we aren’t familiar with, yet throbs with familiarities and mysteries. He regular depicts evil forces and otherworldly living. In “Ishirikpam”, we encounter several cunning insects, millions of eerie sounds descending and diminuendos from evil, immortal being and barbarous plants powerless to quench “Ishiri” light. And in “Down to Mortals”, rusty beings in earthly mood rush towards the dawn. In “Beautiful Heavenly Paraside”, light of heavens keep shining.
“Rain” is one of the nature poems by young Udenta that makes you awestruck. The poem substantiates the euphoria of man when heavenly tears fall down in torrents: “Eternal gate of heaven flung open,/ The rain of tears, weaving the dews,/ Scattering, -enchanting, tempting kids// cries of excited kids running about…” (p.55).
The Book of Dislocation limns issues relating to modern, traditional, metaphysical, mythic and moral. Onomatopoeic device is deployed in “Mystery of Disappearance” with “clanging wooden doors”, “buzzing sounds”, “rusty hinges”, “throbbing pains”, “shuddering body”, etcetera, painting a picture of vagaries, despair and hope at the same time. The dislocations verge on the penumbra of rusting plume, dancing to the rhythm vengeance in Disca, metaphysical beings, inconsolable birds, etcetera.
One of the poems that catches my fancy in Lyrics and Other Traditional Longer Poems section is the exchange between the Nri dwarfs in “Song of the Nri Dwarfs” and the response by the ruler in “The King’s Reply”. The images unspooled in the narrative are almost insibidic amid a miasma of dread and death.