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Saturday, 17 November 2012 00:00
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Probing Onookome Okome's Pendants

Introduction
His sincerity booms even on the ubiquitous^ace&oo£, at which Onookome Okome, frankly admits being born on the 1" of October. 1963. The conventional practice of nearly 80% of people in our contemporary culture is to masquerade, mystify and overawe others; by a deliberate obfuscation of their biodata, especially in matters of honest declaration of age. Why this majority fancy what Chinweizu, calls the shamanist option - is an interesting window for future scholars!

Onookome Okome, is an Associate Professor currently at University of Alberta, Canada. He belongs to the now famous Thursday people; a coterie of passionate writers in the formative process at the Urjiversity of Ibadan in later 20 century. This group of individuals, like the Mbari Club before them in the 1960s, also at the same university of Ibadan: has the distinction of lending the world, such voices as Niyi Osundare already an academic staff; Odia Ofeimun, Harry Garuba, Sanya Osha, and others...

Most of these individuals had their debutant sketches in voices from the fringe; an anthology   edited  by  the ?respective Harry Garuba in 988. Onookome Okome taught Theatre Arts at the University of Calabar, before his current Eass. Perhaps, because of his ackground with a PhD thesis on Yoruba Cinema; Okome remains with Dul Johnson, 'Sola Osofisan and a few others; writers who had prescience on the prospects of the Nigeria Film Industry; before this sector became a global brand of exceptional fiscal prosperity and pool of dizzying talents and international superstars!

His collection of poems being herein appraised, titled Pendants, won the Association of Nigeria Author's Poetry Prize - like most of the anthologies under study. But unlike several collections of verse, Okome's verse exists in an especial niche and distinction. Perhaps, like his real life temperament or po philosophy, Onookome Okome'sTenaants is the most mild mannered volume of the 21 anthologies of verse evaluated by this writer.

It is a quiet and solemn collection; dealing on crucial life issues in sublime tones. The first segment sub-titled I] comprise from Pendants, p. 14- didn't you make me wise p. 24; reminiscences, p. 28; through fire poems, p. 32. a girl in Calabar, p. 38; and my star-fruit-person, p. 39. And like in the second movement consisting of 33 poems: Okome's poems wear no glaring boxing gloves; and are apparently disinterested in dirty tactics: brawls or street fights! His burgeoning lyric; shows a promise for growth and maturation; in their delicate but persistent assay over the Niger Delta quotient in Nigerian Literature. And like J. P. Bekederemo -Clark; Tanure Ojaide, Esiaba Irobi, Ogaga Ifowodo and Amatoristero Ede; tropes hovering over water -dominated imageries like -crocodiles, casting-net, coral reeds; mangroves, kingfisher, oyster shells, conches, swamp; periwinkles, sea gulls,   waves,   marsh, waterfront, confluence, divers, lighthouse, algae, seawards, compass, snips and blue oceans' But beyond this watery -registers, in Onookome, as in the Niger Delta, poets, there is a stylistic affinity in the deft and glancing deployments of their war-weapons! J. O. Bekederemo -Clark, is easily, the Past-master of this surreptitious sleight as we can see in these measures:

The aborigines who generations Ago kept the stranger at bag Can only now keep wake for their rights, The rights the majority upcountry Have taken away in the name of one country To turn waste regions into garden cities.

It does not matter that even the BBC TBritish Broadcasting Corporation] deconstructed the incendiary pay load of this 14 lines of portentous verse and censured it. But this did not stop Clark's lethal harpoons, on the nationality question and quest for social justice, as we can see again in: .. .Hammer upon Anvil may strike like thunder, and the foundry Fill with lighting, but all is alchemy Trying to sell as gold in broad daylight This counterfeit coin called a sovereign Clark and Ojaide and Okome, have a primal unity of vision, theme and tone, [like other Niger Delta poets,]. They eschew direct violence, but retain a pleasing discursiveness; a conversational style that at once disarms and stings in their seriousness and veiled humour.

One more take from Clark then we   glide   to   survey  their correlated versions in the other poets herein cited. Hands and Thighs, that had broken many a bone In the square   yet   had   caressed women To sleep, lost at that instant their charge... In tears, and I can well believe His young attendant that upon The morning he went out into the night, He rose to his hands and feet, eyes Glazing in a head raised nigh in bed. Until he had to be held down before He froze into a position, that men Would say to the very end refused rest.

- in The Wreck State of the Unionp. 37
From Amatoristero Ede, we encounter:
It breaks my hart To see my sea -battled brother Come in under a broken sail -Clutching a wet flag -- the world's common nose -rag Surprised upon alien banks...

In Collected Poems: A Writer's Pain' Caribbean Blues p. 17 If only our leaders and citizens could read poems, comprehend and implement the message; we would have been spared the current travails that have swarmed upon us: the Niger delta imbroglio of armed militants and hostage taking which like a bubomc plague has overrun the Nigerian nation, - in copy cat re-enactment from Sokoto, Zamfara, Kaduna, Jos to Umuahia!!!

The greatest social thinker and philosopher of that epoch for urgent But pacific change was Professor Claude Akeh. His bleeding prose, eloquent with nonparen erudition, pleaded for equity and fairness in Nigeria's skewered Federation. But nobody listened. The machine guns, did not beg for hearing. It was avoidable mayhem. Like Onookome's lines here portray:

I saw the children Whose brows  have  witnessed  so many  sundowns  without  a single history of laughter... their eyes are hollow -and filled only with graffiti of withered flowers, p. 58 his lyric is an apt sociology of the existential angst issuing from   that   subdued environment   since independence.   This poem is therefore  more  ponderous than a history of outrage in meandering prose. Overview

"...for it is in poetry that we find the sources of our lives; the rivers of magical healing, the streams where we wash ourselves; here too, we meet and hold conferences with the gods..."  So wrote Okome in the preface to Pendants. I have deliberately ignored the rhetoric and propositions of several budding artists; because of a suffocating strain, to outOkigbo Okigbo among Nigeria writers, smce that watermark expression in Labyrinths.

Ever since, our indigenous writers, after the fashion of T.S. Eliot's "Houses that Jack Built..." feel compelled to reel out names of foreign models, influences and avatars: as if the more farfetched; the greater valence or validation their performance with receive.

But in Onookome Okome, you can feel an authenticity again to meld the traditional ethos; with his vision and practice - within the collection. He reinforces the class of poets who have sensitivity and song for the traditional flavours of our cultural existence.

Like concrete pendants n real life; there is a consistency in the panoply of the imageries deployed in the collection the palette of Okome, also provides proof of great cleavage from the language resources and registers of the Nigeria pre-war poets. Like Izzia Ahmad, Amun Nnadi, Toyin Adewale-Gabriel, Odinaka Nwamadi and Afam Akeh; the choice of words are transparent and laid-back. The only problem is that in Onookome Okome's free and simple expressions: sometimes become too banal to earn any perch to deep sense or meanings.

Okome's munitions remain unwavering; and a lodestar, which Uche Nduka's occasional sketches, could profit from. As a pilot, you can never miss your bearing with Onookome:
...Two leaves kiss in the touch of Slight breeze. Freely. Freely.

I have grown silent like plants amongjoy-p. 15 You can feel the poetry, at such strong junctures - where they succeed. But they do not always   excel,   and  that  is criticism's "job of work". Happy moments in Pendants are like the cumulous clouds; serendipitous   -   flat, flocculent:   transparent, opaque   and  iridescent  by asymmetrical twists we shall flow with the tide. XVIII

I do not have a choice to make, My dear love in the wilds of Lagos. This is my country. You are too. My country made me the choice hen, on her rough breast I encountered the rays Awakening from dead roots

And now, I love her even when she is so sick and Defies are I love her so...
This has been a bill-board epigram, like a generational flag,; cited in Book I: Uranus and Saturn. ° It is a heady almost desperate declaration of affect which characterizes most of the Third Wave of Nigeria Poets. The love for their homeland, Nigeria, is without reservations; but not ignorant of the ungainly warts; which the nation manifests.

It is a love and patriotism, which professional analysts have glossed over or are simply unaware of. This moiety in emotional tone: between infatuation and hatred; among Nigerian citizens of the Third Wave;  has   impelled  every single voice in the 12 Books, of the Gardeners of Dreams Series - and has received more profound prognosis in an earlier sequel - as stated. Our immediate concern, is to appraise Okome's act as a creative gesture. Onookome's distinction in Pendants is epochal. He has eschewed violence in all forms: preferring the prodding insidiousness of undertones and innuendoes. Landing his blows with fun and fanfare.

And with this, he passes, Francis Ngwaba's famous quip; "that Black South African writers were flawed, because the stringency of the Apartheid experience, made their worldview; incapable of positive balance!" The crush of cruelty by the White Minority Regime in that region and season; made the victimized Black Voices, to lack the detached perspective to storylines; that is common to mankind.

The Fulbright scholar, noted that sadly; most South African writers could never perceive or record homour - in Apartheid! Similarly, the Third Wave of Nigeria Poets, all have coal-fire stuffed in their mouths! They ventilate hatred and violence in most of their verse. And one can hardly blame them. An early critic, Kayode Idowu, once sanctioned this writer, by saying that "A poet must not drown in his own angst." The times are hardly propitious for light banters.

Nevertheless, Okome, strikes a commendable and significant difference and departure - by his choice of words.   He tackles the same groblems of social malaise -ead on, like his peers. But not like a poisoned arrow; instead Okome, employs the strategy of the tangential strokes and deadly humorous words - which will achieve the same goals to mostly intelligentpersons. He spares us the routine "choke hold", of anarchism that is all too familiar; as if inevitable! Pendants is delightful for this reason alone. In Onookome Okome's poetry, you can still breathe fresh air, even in a stinking courtyard. A
spontaneous slice: We play rainbow games of colours.

And like the crisp Sunday afternoon We wish to  last forever, We hold on to dreams, renew smiles Long forgotten on decaying racks; we Forget pain and all that... We grow again As children do in space And innocence. Just the two of us in an orange parlour.
And our country. In an orange parlour.

Onookome Okome, often personifies, land and country and love; with the same fatalist infatuation which "kayoed Idowu, qualified Udeozo's love poems, as comparable to Robert Graves and the ancient Catallus. " In some of the pleasant lyrics; you can taste the skein oflogic in their composition. Like after the resurrection p. 29: the poet uses the diurnal diction; quite lavishly: dreams and night, december and light in a motif of sounds and visions.

And as was credited to Honore de Balzac, every preceding phoneme in the ensuing stanzas, was premeditated and planed. ° And therefore saves the morceua, from catastrophe by the very fatness of its phraseology. We savour local flavours and
lots of intimations of maternity; reminding one of Ossie Enekwe's Broken Pots:
Out in the dark I feel your - many parts reasoned together like twin seeds of plantain fruit perched in the wind; in the dark your breath lingers...

The Hallmarks of Pendants is that Okome's love poems and serenades are concrete and almost unforgettable. At this point, however, as usual with our practice, it will be nice to see what have not quite excelled, in the anthology being appraised. QuinineThrusts In the generous introduction to the collection, Jonathan Haynes, admitted that in the unsuccessful poems, "when Okome nods and is not equal to himself his verse becomes a stylistic tic and his imagery is needlessly obscure... '

may be another altruistic understatements. In Pendants, there are heactres of lines, where Onookome Okome, snores and sleep walks! For instance, in the poem laughter, p. 36 we note a rather reckless appropriation of an imagery; ill suited for the subject matter at hand.

A re-positioning of the proposition, - the lamp of her eyes, instead of as written the lamp is in her eyes... "would have begun a slight remedial in the outline ofthat sketch. But the sore is more grave; because Okome is ensared in the elementary error of bombast! In a causal room temperature serenade; he drags the sun, which is both too big and too hot to handle-when you lure it into trivial moods and whimsies. As, a matter of wisdom; caution is necessary in our continual hunt for imageries and poetic devices. Poetry which is very generous and kind hearted; can be vicious and unforgiving - when the choice of words, do not harmonize as in this short poem.

i compare you on the facing page equally flops for want of any redemptive architecture or aesthetic grace.

Two love songs p. 42 - 43; are appositely out of character from the footprint of the poet; and almost catastrophic as a signed statement. But I do not have the latitude nor even disposition to explore this segment any further. When fconfronted the poet in Port Harcourt, with charges, that some of the stanzas in Pendants, are so prosaic as to deserve flogging for bad art... Onookome Okome, simply concurred and smiled an acceptance of lyrical fallibility. He said, that certainly, some of his verse, are bound to waver-since he is only mortal!

Such candour is unusual among the artistic community, where egos mount saddles of rudeness against eagles and irokos of the vocation - for mere whispers of reservations in a given work of art! Royal Robes Pendants have a glassful of stellar performances and we shall take a swig at some to conclude this segment of appraisal. Fire poems - and he loveMimi, takes off with a giddy clatter of pubescent, affectation. It is one of those pieces that meld the environment with the theme; whose rendering resembles the hour-glass jflot ascribed to Henry James The Ambassadors for excellent pitch.

In our own sphere, Okome's verse here also has echoes of such ribald lyric as Okogbulie Wonodi's Icheke, a momentous tale of love and adoration, of the female persona; which attains the singularity of fame akin to Rudyard Kipling's If in cross-cultural anthologisation and praise.

Watergirl, watergirl A dirge dances in the limbo of his voice he is not himself; the song takes him.

Watergirl, watergirl Insects  chorus  in  the blue evening Of his voice' he is not himself The song takes him... Again, like Odia Ofeimun's Emotan, fire poems is among the most desperately voluptuous and reverential poems: a song both to sensuality and the primary of ancestry as the only cogent modeofBEING. ...some Wednesday full of hisses but need you down them in tireless tracks of beer? just because they do not understand does not make you wrong.

Your anagram of pain would be their beginning of wisdom pastwisdom.
surely some Wednesday full of fire left  a  mark clear as blue sea. There is so much energy in this poem. So much vitalism and punch; a testament to the power of lyricism to enchant by itself-alone. The 8 - line a girl in Calabar p. 35; re-enacts the universal plot of the wench and the baffled bard. The parallels range from Edward Dwyer's My own Sally; and Udeozo's Milkmaid.

Okome's poem herein, invokes another mythical tour de force, in Ogonna Agu's She tempts me, Eagle — Woman of Abaluku   anthologized   in Rhythms ofcreation: A decade ofOkike Poetry selected and introduced by D. I. Nwoga p. 84. Ogonna Agu's poem has that rare quality of great verse: which invites continual repetition; with each contact seducing the tongue for more and more!

His Poetry p. 50; is a chromatic tribute to our mutual trade; it succeeds like Maxim Uzoatu's piece on a similar theme; but interrogates a wider canvas on the prospects and possibilities of poetry to effect concrete changes m the affairs of men. Its rhetoric is a refreshing variation on the ancient superiority slogan between the pen and the sword. Readers are advised to visit Okome's homepage on the subject, for his own verdict on that everlasting turf.

truth hides in leaves is delicate, snappy and haunting like Emile Bronte's Heart cliff in Wuthering Heights. ° It is also about a very cryptic purification ritual; like Scobie m Graham Greene's Heart of the Matter; ° and Hyster Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter! Any successful deconstruction of this poem; leaves the reader with goose principles over the quavering of the human conscience at the gates of the deep! Scars which subterranean violation etch on the mind; with the inscrutable ache for penitence and redemption.

We of course are served the experimental treat on page 49; titled dambduzo ...themba ...odia ...which is a linear stroke of humour undergirding a serious grognosis and career paths of le aforementioned poets. The strong points of the collection are also broadcast, like Vincent Van Gogh's Sowers across several pages and stanzas outside a uniform order.

Remarkable movements like these  occur passim  in the anthology. The flesh of my tears Wears the crown of a people Whose past remains in a dish offish-bones.

I have spoken to roots and flowers. Nothing is Promising. Nothing - in the flesh of my tears. p. 72 at first, I thought I was in a photo frame, a carnival of painted faces, or faces of painted frames - and then the laughter rises from his polished teeth, laughter so strong only goals could muster the air to provoke it - a laughter so large, so overwhelming it sends the hugeness of July rains sprawling in gutters in the people are waitmg.

p. 73 Which spotlights my abiding thesis; that a balanced aesthetic and craft  must evidence a complete view of life,   in  tears,   song,  play, laughter, and dance! In  the   longer  poems   of Pendants; we are served: "I'll lay at the mouth of fresh pronouns as you dance the Tdje of human mystery nobody stands between me and your throbbing flames in the silk silence of chill-mornings I want the simple savagery of your clean air Your light harmattan touch: your waiting fire,... Collect me even as fragments of waywardness. Weave me old songs and songs andsongs For all evening. I have been a child of Christian ears And now there is nowhere else to go but HOME.

In the river calls p. 62- 63. - are Okome's recourse to the native airs; the Jungian archetype of the racial unconscious, from which all major poets have plumbed. From Christopher Okigbo, Soyinka, J.P. Bekederemo Clark, to his contemporaries like Sola Osofisan, Isidore Diala and Odinaka Nwamadi, we also witness that author's fingers on those sort of strings!

The cultural hues in Sapelep. 77 are enchanting and the ensuing lines on Liberia, make Onookome Okome, a king of the placard strophe; comparable to Uche Nduka's mythopoeia on his best daybreaks:

once the rain brought plantain fruits greener in the greenscape of your eyes once in the silent fabric you wove crackling of firewood listening to singing pulses of soup-pots the oroths where banga-soup, oil-soup and fresh fish roamed their street corners;
God took his in vapour and once you were a constant lover we dove into your little pleasures... and we never failed to roll evenings into far time fantasies...

in Sapelep. 77 Nowhere in your poetry-nowhere in these pillars of salt, nowhere in the wounded history of sour mouths have I seen such broken finality of prose as when you turned to your children for blood-meal.

inLiberiap. 87 Whether it is in "Ono, wetin we go do after school close ? "/ I reply / "We go go take a dive na / Onookome Okome's verse, does not need an identity card. His works speak of his nation, roots^ emotions and traditional values in the manner, matured craftsmanship remains a vehicle for the worldview of its host universe across all times and societies under the sun.

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