Publishers: Kraft Books Ltd, Ibadan.
Reviewer: Su’eddie Agema
Would you know why his poems/never mention the soil or the leaves/the gigantic volcanoes of the country that bore him?
Come see the blood in the streets/come see/the blood in the streets/come/see the blood in the streets! – Pablo Neruda
For readers who love the active artist and commitment in Literature, Ifowodo’s Homeland and other poems is a true classic. The poet, himself, an activist who has had clashes with civil authority and has been imprisoned on different occasions pours his heart in this collection. He bases his book on a strong commitment to his society and leaves no one in doubt about this. The short unofficial poetic preface to first part of the collection (Today’s Songs), by Pablo Neruda (shown above) proves a forebear of what is to come. If anyone is left in doubt, the first poem of the collection, ‘For art’s sake,’ clears it. ‘For art’s sake’ is a rhetorical and ironical poem that opens with the poet stating that “We shall shun pain/and write lyrics of the ear.” He continues by saying that “we (the artists) shall only write about the beauty of nature, roam the full earth/and see no pain on our paths…” In this regard, all the suffering and toiling of the land would be left. “For art’s sake, we shall shun/pain, and write lyrics of the ear.” But then, that is as far as the irony goes.
The very next poem confirms the usual commitment that African writers are known for. In that poem, ‘Untold terrors are gathered,’ a mother whose house once boasted “the deep/promise of children” but now sits to “recall in flaming anger/the anguish of today” in her “one song of pain.” The poem ends on a note of hope as the persona urges the mother to refrain her song “with the thunder/of a rain-starved sky/set on his season/of waters and growth/and the cleansing of a dusty earth.” A promise of rebirth when things would be better and there would be a refreshing in the land. ‘No water’ talks about the ever present scarcity of water prevalent in Nigeria while a further poem, ‘The Deluge (22 April 1990)’ talks about the Niger Delta and its crises “Moments lived upon heartbeats of the Delta.” In the poem, the poet describes the degradation of the environment by use of “liquid gold.” There is no more fishing and no more harvests in the land. “…rivers part into oil and water/segregating stream-flow to farm neither fish nor drink.” The poems continue to roll in the same format, talking of the filth of society. The badness of the soldier politician who makes the poet wish he was a General but promises that his loins will sire only songs that would be Generals, is the focus of ‘When I hear martial songs.’ There is only enjoyment to be experienced in khaki and agbada, the soldier uniform and the politician’s ‘costume.’ But then, there is the assurance again shown in the rage of the poor man’s “God dey” as reflected in the poem, ‘Greed will kill the beast’ where the poet outlines the several atrocities of the military who are aptly symbolized by the image of ‘The beast.’ There is the hope however, that after all, his greed will kill him. This collection, no doubt would be a treasure to readers of the commitment front while those who frown on the use of literature for such purposes would have cause to growl a bit at it.
The collection, largely written in (and bordering on) the military era of Nigeria concentrates on describing the despicable situation of the Nigerian society during the period in question. In thirty-four poems the poet summarizes the Nigerian experience, (as it was, with some remnants in our present society!) and throws a big net over South Africa. The poet packages his message carefully into three sections viz., today’s songs, other songs and tomorrow’s songs. Today’s songs, covering seventeen poems, deal with the sufferings and injustices experienced during the military era. The poems already discussed fall under this section. Other Songs, cover the general world with South Africa at the heart of this section. Over here, Mandela is praised in ‘Mandela’s mantle’ and sympathy shown to his ex-wife, Winnie in ‘Her bed is vacant again.’ The final part, Tomorrow’s songs is the most complex of the whole collection boasting a philosophic hold on poems that speak of hope. In this final section, the poet leaves his full simple renditions and gives the reader something to nuzzle about. By the time, one reaches the final poem though, there is some satisfaction. This satisfaction is such that though one enjoys the entire poems in the collection, there is not much longing for more. It is like eating very delicious food to your stomach’s delight and not feeling like taking more, a unique situation.