Chrysanthemums for Wide-eyed Ghost
Author: Echezonachukwu Nduka
Publisher: Griots Lounge, Owerri
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
Music and poetry are dear to Echezonachukwu Nduka. In Chrysanthemums for Wide-eyed Ghost, the lyre comes up against the numbing effect of grief and dark forebodings. Personal lyrics are almost wholesale in his debut poetry volume, as the poet declaims with an emotional tongue.
In this seven-part collection also abound imagery laced with humour, making you laugh or fret as the poems worm themselves into you. It is not an entirely ghoulish atmosphere, however, as the title of the poetry volume tends to suggest –there is love, heroic reverences amid sordid recollections and amalgam of fears. Nduka sets out, as it seems, to craft poems that are not cloying yet not impish.
Chrysanthemum, needless to say, is an ancient flower that produces a colourful yellow bloom. Given as a gift to a wide-eyed ghost, it shows the daring attitude of the giver to encounter the grotesque. This daringness is also evident in the imaginative veil of Nduka: it is a veil that allows him to peer into the face of imaginary ghosts and disambiguate their shadowy universe.
The first part of the poem contains just a poem “The Initiation”, which announces the poet’s immersion in the world of words. The second part of the collection contains poems that speak of life, death and, in some degrees, the ambiguities of love, which offer both laughter and tears without let.
Of particular note in this section are the Bambari poems, which run in seven parts. Bambari can be read as a metaphor for, laxity, indiscretion, defiance, and what not. In the first poem, “Bambari is a byzantine song that plays non-stop/It is a gate that leads to a sinful paradise, but/ opens its arms to you in expectation”.
In “Bambari II” and “Bambari III”, there is a suffusion of smokes from cigarette puffs. For Nduka, banalities you might dismiss serve as a fertile ground for his poetic project. Whether it is the slim lady in ash pants that turns liquid at the sight of his brother or his drama queen neighbour who wears herself like clothes on summer sale or the perfume wearing Derek on purple polo coat, Bambari opens a vista of youthful exuberance and how it affects the youth in a dystopic locale.
In “Bambari VIII”, the poet rues the death of innocence –of youthful Derek given to coquettish adventures, booze and smokes, and paying the ultimate prize for throwing caution to the winds. one can deduce a tone of mockery in the poem.
In Nduka’s poetry, even a simple element as wind is given a ghoulish imagery. For instance, in “Ghost Lover”, the ghost here isn’t really a physically engaged in a liaison with the speaker but of a caressing wind sneaking through half-open window in the night. However, in “Living Near St. Vincent De Paul Cemetery” and the title poem, “Chrysanthemums for Wide-eyed Ghosts” , Nduka paints dissimilar cultures straddled and how dislocation from home easily decant hubris and vegetative existence, making one come to terms with the placid.
Reading Nduka’s poetry is like following him round the world. The Nigerian born poet has lived in the UK and is resident in the US at the moment. In “Grief in Two Movements”, he takes us to Newark in New Jersey, USA, and depicts a pitiful encounter with a nameless schoolgirl, feeling us with empathy.
The novelty of spring season also compels his attention to pen “Spring” in which the poet juxtaposes the winter he experienced previously: “As I watch these leaves and branches wave/And bend in romantic frenzy,/I remember now/ How dead and mortified these trees were in winter” (p.83).
One also encounters loneliness and longings in the poems of Nduka. In Nigeria, it is hard to be lonely, for the culture is built on communality. Abroad, it isn’t the same experience, which is why, in “Running”, we hear:
Living in a room alone
is like hearing a chorus
of demons chanting my name
in four parts
inviting me to a dance]\accompanied by no rhythms (p.73).
Nduka’s poetry bears nostalgic echoes, drawing repeatedly from his sociological home base. If he is not making references to the hills of Udi or fauna of Nembe, he is reminiscing on “Rainy Season in Amakohia”, near Owerri, which is ushered in with hurrahs of thunderclaps. The helplessness of man before nature is echoed in this poem, driven home with images of wallowing messy streets, drenched monarchs and paupers, pulled roofs, beckoning homelessness, etcetera.
Nduka’s verses carol of scribal sketches, colours of love and deception, deathlessness of songs and its varying tonalities. “Okigbo’s Thunder” isn’t an apologia for Okigbo, the late legendary poet, but a call for caution from rogue politicians who toy with people’s votes and destinies. But, in “Insignia”, Nduka revisits Okigbo’s martyrdom and ends up with a coda of veneration.
In some parts, this collection betrays some borderline versification, but the beauty of it is that it leaves no reader groggy with opaque and bathetic verses. Nduka’s Chrysanthemums… is not a gift to any wide-eyed ghost anywhere but to lovers of vignettes and poetry.