THINKER: Su’eddie Agema
Last Token and other poems is a collection of seventy-five poems and some matching pictures drawn by the poet, who is also a fantastic artist. It holds a myriad of themes that range from love and betrayal to religion. It is made up of seventy-six pages in a pocket-sized book. It is forwarded in a piece of appreciation by Dr. Andrew Ame Aba who gives a brief introduction to the poems while offering a toast of appreciation to the poet and her efforts. This book, published by fairly unknown publishers, Nabekota Publishing House in Makurdi, Benue state is full of rhymes, different forms of imageries and other poetic devices that one gets to notice even from the irony of the title of the work Last Token which is the poet’s debut poetry collection J. Ambiguity also lies in lots of the lines of this collection but that is to be expected of poems.
One finds in Last Token and other poems a strong sense of rhyme that runs through most of the poems in the collection. These rhymes are largely standard end rhymes and add some to the musicality of the poems. As is expected with an overt concentration with rhymes that our poet, MaryRose, seems concerned with largely, one feels that the poet might have expressed herself better or used different words that would have made her work richer – but which are sacrificed for the beauty of rhymes – the sacrifice of sound for meaning. Still the same, there’s no doubt that the poet has her wishes expressed as said of the persona in ‘All I wanted’ (8): ‘I always wished the wind would sing my rhyme.’ But, this is not to insult the effort of the poet – far from it. One finds her making good use of her rhymes to a limit in poems like ‘A Father’s Son’ (74) where the persona asks his son to be independent and ‘reach the sun’ for the father would ‘cheer him on….Don’t fear to give me your hand/Allow me to help you stand.’ So, it is the message of independence given by a father but a reminder that the son should never be afraid to ask for help. Still, some poems might have been better…
We find themes of betrayal in ‘Eldorado’ where in the search for the promised land of bliss, a friend attempts to drown the persona who has helped him in times of need and troubles. The persona struggles on in hope to confront this betrayer. We hear similar tones of betrayal in a fore poem ‘Would you?’(1) which is the second in the whole collection. This time, the point of view is different and rather unique. It is the voice of the betrayer that is the persona asking if despite every wrong done, the addressed ‘would forgive and repay every evil with kindness.’ This poem leaves us thinking on whether we would really be good to someone who has wronged us thoroughly and severally. However, after the probes and confessions of crimes and a wondering if the addressed would repay every evil with love and kindness, (as the line quoted), there comes a subtle end ‘If your answer is yes/you have won yourself a best/Friend that will love/Treasure your memory to the end.’ This is probably the poet’s message of forgiveness and a re-echoing of the popular ‘The Devil you know is better than the angel you don’t know.’ She seems to be saying that no matter what evil one does to us, it is best to keep ‘revenging’ with goodness as this would soften the heart of the person hurting us to the point of a total transformation that would lead to the person being a best friend.
After a deep evaluation, one begins to wonder if it is not the betrayer in ‘Eldorado’ who is seeking forgiveness in ‘Would you.’ This sure looks like the case. Maybe, maybe not. Whatever the case, one can’t deny a certain linkage between these two poems as between several other poems that run through the collection. This shows another aspect of MaryRose’s Last Token where poems are linked to each other despite their separateness in space and time (like ‘Would you’ on page 1 and ‘Eldorado’ on page 11, ten pages away). This is the kind of connection we see in ‘Africa’ (8) and ‘What we are’ (13). There are several other examples that run in the like in Last Token. All these point out to the interwoven nature of the book and certain ingenuity. This ingenuity, beautiful as it is, might have been shown better, and made the work come out much nicer if time had been taken to put like poems together in succession or simply in groups in the book. This was not done. Fortunately, the groups though haphazard are open to readers who can write each or form a mental note of them and follow them in that order for better appreciation.
Perhaps one of the longest poems in the collection is ‘Mind’s Funeral’ (14) that is set against the background of a funeral. The reader is tossed around wondering if the funeral is that of the persona, the persona’s relation or beloved one, or the mind of the persona. The persona does strange things and we get to follow the title and believe that the persona is losing the person’s mind. We keep following events and the talks of the persona hoping for more clues and expecting an unravelling till the very last line where we are left in suspense. The title poem (52) beautifully tells of a people used to suffering who rise above their poverty and shame. They are used to it and ask that the next words, perhaps of contempt or criticism remain unspoken: ‘Let your next ignorant words,/Remain in your throat unspoken’… It is their ‘poverty and shame/Storm and rain.’ It makes them hold their heads high ‘To God as the last token.’
In the spirit of the usual religiously (proud) Nigerian, we find MaryRose declaring through her persona that she’s ‘solely God’s property’ in ‘Stamped’ (37) a poem that talks of the pride of ownership of one by God which ends in the line ‘Jesus still loves me.’ If then, you want to question her faith and principles, you have something to really ask. But it is not only her religion that MaryRose is proud of. She is also proud of her continent and praises it severally in poems like ‘Africa’ and ‘What we are.’
There’s a vivacity and enthusiasm for life that one finds in several poems like ‘Africa’ where one is told of a land ‘where the sun rises with joy and sets with dancing/Day breaks with laughter and night falls with singing/The sky smiles and the wind whispers sweetly’ (8). This is a land where ‘nature controls and everything tells a story/…and with every beat our hearts rupture/the flute tells the past/The very first story to the last[…]/ A land…Filled with so much joy, so much beauty/Africa, land of the sun.’
Now, in addition to the enthusiasm for her continent that MaryRose expresses in this poem, one notes undertones of a love that directs the gaze of the persona to a more positive outlook opposed to the very negatively ‘dark’ sad outlook that Africa is always painted. To match it all, there is a picture of three instrumentalists and two dancers in various poses of dancing. All these are with the map of Africa featuring prominently in the background. The atmosphere as portrayed in the picture is one of wild dancing with the lone lady dancer in midair and the male others bare chest. A follow up poem in theme and content would probably be ‘What we are’ where the persona concentrates on an acceptance of ‘our true pride the darkness of our skin/our skin/what we are!’ (14). The beauty of this poem lies in the poet’s use of personification through which she makes some body parts like the skin, eyes, ears, to appear to have a mind and dominion of their own which they use in talking to the persona.
If MaryRose is to be accused of not following post-colonial conventions or being very unconventional or Western in her poems, ‘Africa’ and ‘What we are’ and ‘The Story of Africa’ (54) would show where her loyalty truly lies and in many situations, shut critics up. And talking of criticism, MaryRose has something to say in ‘All Alone’ (10). The persona is presented as a lonely person who believe in herself – maybe, himself, so much and declares that no matter what people say (or critics proclaim), ‘It doesn’t matter/I know one day I will make it/As a poet […] I run alone,/I stand on my own.’ In this poem, she uses words and phrases that one doesn’t ordinarily come across in Nigerian poems like ‘give a damn’ or ‘don’t give a sh..t’ (sh..t is mentioned twice!) but of course, it is allowed.
In many parts of the collection, we find anecdotes and pearls of wisdom and others simple wonderings, while in yet others we find musings on mushes. What is prominent and common to most of the poems is the use of the singular pronoun ‘I’ and its derivative ‘me’ and possessive ‘my’ showing an involvement of the poet in the poems. This would prompt the casual observer or reader to suggest that this is the poet talking in most of the poems. This explanation would have the poet appearing as a small child, a man, or woman as seen in poems like ‘Spy Dog’ (26), and ‘Advice’ (6) respectively. The thought would then present MaryRose as a sort of transformative super freak, which mercifully is not the case as the poet is a lovely lady of a not so advanced age J. But on closer look, one sees she tries to use the voice of a man or father in many poems like ‘A Father’s Son’ ‘My Dream Girl’ (3) making one wonder if there’s some tomboyish attitude to the poet. Well, the question is still on the use of the first narrative largely in her exploration of themes so we continue as such. The question arises on why she uses the medium of the first person narrative in her poems. Another casual view would situate the reason of MaryRose’s use of this narrative point of view as being due to the cheap or easy way that ‘I’ poems can be exploited and manipulated as against others especially the omniscient that requires far more thought and tact. The next resolve is similar to the first. Here, we think of the reason for the use of the first person point of view as being because of desire to be actively involved in the poem as well as invite the reader to go into the heart of the personality and read the story as being his/her story being told by the same reader. This would most probably be her reason. In this wise, we become like the various characters in the several poems and share their emotions and all. Thus, no matter who we are, we become the proud worshipper in ‘Things He’s done,’ (1) and ‘God smiled when He created me’ and ‘Stamped’ among others; the betrayed friend in ‘Eldorado’; the proud African in ‘Africa’ and ‘What we are’, the child in ‘Spy Dog’; the lover in ‘Not Yet my love’ (39) and the like. In essence, as we journey through the book, in all the ‘I’ poems, we feel an affinity with the persona made possible by the use of this pronoun that leaves us sometimes thinking we are actively in the poems. One discovers that the poems would have come out different if this point of view hadn’t been used (obviously!). They wouldn’t have been as involving as they are …but come to think of it, how wouldn’t you feel involved when the lines read ‘I,’ deceiving or rather compelling you, the reader to think you are the one talking.
There are several other poems in the collection like ‘Starian’ that talks of a member of the star community and ‘Spy Dog’ where a child suspects his dog of being a spy, that are quite simple in tone and easy to read but these are left for you to go and find out, and enjoy for yourselves. This decision is not just based on a desire to leave you in suspense but because if one was to select and write on one or two poems based on their beauty or theme, it would be quite difficult and would have a person puzzled as most of the poems in the collection are really lovely and interesting. They are made so also by the poet’s use of easy understandable words and light tone which are easy to chew and digest. The pictures, which are also lovely and drawn by the poet herself are interesting and add lots of meaning to the poems, in some cases, giving the poems a face that one can flow with. One only hopes to see more of such beauty and it is evident that it would be forthcoming as this wine of a poet grows older in age, experience, and style to give more. The question now is how much change we would see when next we see in MaryRose next time and what title she would give now that we have accepted her last token and ask for more…:)