Title: She is Eternal and
Author: Ugorji O. Ugorji
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
Poetry, says Paul Engle, “is ordinary language raised to the Nth power” and it’s “boned with ideas, nerves and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.”
Reading Ugorji Okechukwu Ugorji’s debut collection of poems, She is Eternal, Engle’s definition of poetry reverberates. In 30 poems, the poet distills emotions emanating from within, expressing angst, admiration, piety and occasional melancholy.
This poetry, in part, is a celebration of womanhood, given the pride of place accorded women in the work. Ugorji carols of virtues, heroism and valour associated with the weaker sex. His vignettes abound with sublimation and the poet declaims his verses with candour about man’s regression and also explores idioms of transcendence. He also deploys nuances of folkism.
Ugorji’s She is Eternal runs in three parts: Jamie Poems, Anya Poems, and Amadi poems. These sections meld poems with similar themes —of praise and criticism, love and affection, consciousness and struggles. Ugorji draws from his rich Igbo cultural heritage for nuances (in personages, anecdotes, proverbs and tropes), but there is a universality that echoes in his bardic excursion.
The first paean in the collection is dedicated to the Lorji royal family in Mbaise, Imo State, on circumstances surrounding the emergence of Nwabueze as their king, a man “long primed for this assignment,” also made possible by unanimity of the people (the voice of oha). Likewise, “Da Ngozi” is a woman of substance who touched many lives outside her own children.
The poet also valorises eminent Nigerians beyond his sociological home base. In Ambassador Sule Gambari, for instance, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, the poet finds a quintessential African whose name “rings of competence in diplomacy” and one “steeped in the peculiarities of the African condition”.
In the Anya poems, Ugorji revisits a past amour who became an avatar. From his cadences, the love of his life approximates to the best woman in the world perhaps. Thus, in “I see You in My Eyes”, he elevates the percussion of the prosody in this personal lyric, with “I see you in my eyes” becoming gratis.
This exceptional woman reappears in “I am Gonna Tell My Homeys About You”. The poet speaker, here, addresses her as “Nneh” (mother). He would like to tell his friends about her, the woman who has enchanted him with “ihunanya” (love). Of course, she is like no other, having taken his monumental grief away with “a heavenly relief”. Another affirmation of love can be found in “The Gift of You”, and Ihuaku Durueze is presented as an apotheosis of love worthy of resonating gongs.
A peek into Igbo culture is seen in the “New Yam” poem. From the arrival of the new moon, use of a calabash bowl of water, expiation of transgressions of yesteryears, and hearing the ancestors speak, we are educated on the lead up to this annual celebration of the king of crop in the Eastern Heartland. The beauty of it all is that this special woman is there to add glamour to the celebration with a deep understanding of the rituals —what a lucky man!
The greatest celebration of womanhood is exemplified in “She is Eternal”, the title poem itself. From physical beauty, inner beauty, to her grandeur, the (African) woman is presented as a warrior, a transcendental scribbler, a purveyor of hope, an intelligent woman, a legendary technocrat, a medical doctor, an energetic athlete, excetera. Reading between the lines, one can deduce that the poet is using iconic figures like Queen Amina, Winnie Mandela, Funmilayo Ransom Kuti, Chris Anyanwu, Chioma Ajunwa, Mariam Babangida, Dora Akunyili, among others, as game changers and Amazons who typify the strength and virtues of black women, and whose glory must remain eternal.
Ugorji’ poem offers varieties in laconic diction to profuse prose poems. “We All Rise” celebrates the abundant talents in the country of his birth, preaching peace, appealing for all to humanise the earth and rejection of dichotomy. The chimes of brotherhood teem in “Come, Brother, Come!”, where the poet declaims: “Torn between Mecca, the Vatican and Canterbury, /Let’s fly a flag of original nationhood.”
This poetry collection marks Ugorji out as a colourful recanteur. The romanticism and adulations of his verses, as well as his ardour for national rebirth further makes him a poet we should all spare more than a moment to listen to. Read him.
She is Eternal will be presented at Concorde Hotel, Owerri, on December 1l, 2020.