By Anote Ajeluorou
Spoken word poetry, or indeed, the pop version of poetry, is fast gaining ground in Nigeria, especially in the Lagos performance circuit. So much so that clubs or performance arenas to that effect are beginning to spring up.
Paul Efe Azino, Pumbline and Atilola Moronfolu are frontline artists giving verbal authority to spoken word art. Azino has taken the spoken word art to a revolutionary level with the verbal audacity of his performance. Moronfolu is less daring as she engages religion taken to a noisome level and other domestic issues.
But giving a solid, intellectual angle to spoken word art is Dr. Chiemeka Nduka Ekeghe, with his new collection of poems, Overwhelming Treasures: Poems on Love, Life and Nigeria (Createspace Publishers, U.S.; 2012). While the popular artists’ spoken word art still exists in their imagination, Ekeghe has stepped up the rhythm in a book form. This is a major leap for the spoken word art; what remains to be seen is Ekeghe stepping forward to also thrill his audience with his verbal art. This would be icing on the cake.
However, for the non-initiate to spoken word poetry, Ekeghe’s book as a work of poetry would sorely disappoint on account of its prosaic language, which is only relieved, and indeed, redeemed by his consistent use of rhyming couplets, which solely lend a measure of poetic sensibility to the collection.
Nevertheless, there are flashes of brilliance here and there for those not familiar with spoken word poetry, especially in pieces like ‘Human sympathy’, ‘Blessed Nigeria’ and ‘Corruption! Corruption!’ This is more so because of the topicality of the issues Ekeghe treats.
Overwhelming Treasures brims with the poet’s vision of love for his beloved woman, his sense of enjoyment of life, his disappointment with the perennial failings of his beloved country, Nigeria and God’s unfailing love for mankind and His desire to draw man close to Himself so he can escape the path of self-destruct man seems set by his rejection of God’s love for him. These are the concerns of the poet, which he has put together in the spoken word tradition.
He calls the first season ‘Filos’ and the first poem is ‘Love or infatuation? (A love song) in which he pours out his love for a female persona (his wife), as he shuns love outside marital contract.
The poem drips with love syrup that sweetens to the point of boredom: Oh fair maiden, pure and sweet/How I long for us to meet/And share a love song so full of heat/That gives a melodious everlasting beat/On Facebook and Twitter, start to tweet.
The poet pours so much praise on this woman and recounts her many virtues and qualities and why she is the one woman that matters to him in the wide world. This poem traces a man’s quest for union with the woman he adores and a forecast of what their union will be if she agrees to marry.
Ekeghe concludes it thus: Little time remains/Please marry me in time so we make gains/Let’s give birth to beautiful kids named Junior and Jane/Who’ll never slack but be in the main/Of the faith, so demons are slain.
In a poem reminiscent of Odia Ofeimun’s dance drama, Nigeria the Beautiful, Ekeghe’s poem ‘Abiriba, the Beautiful’ praises his hometown and the milestone developments it has recorded in its march to the future. Here, however, Ekeghe succumbs to the lure of ostentatious wealth that seems to abound in Abiriba, a phenomenon that has bred the corruptive tendency so prevalent in Nigeria that he condemns.
In ‘Blessed Nigeria’, the poet gives a panoramic overview of the many fine qualities that set Nigeria apart as land of splendour and infinite possibilities. It enumerates the tourism attraction that abounds in the country, as he sings: To Zuma rock/The people flock/The amazing Gurara falls/Displays a great water wall/…
Ekeghe gets into his finest element in denouncing Nigeria’s biggest enemy to development: ‘Corruption! Corruption!’, which he calls ‘society’s disruption’ and the ‘nation’s dissolution’. He further writes: Conscience has gone to snore/To chop belle full is at the fore/Greed is the aetiology of this sore/Honesty she mercilessly tore/Wealth for unborn generation is the lure/Vanity sits at the very core/Naira is what they want more/The refuse to open the door/Of basic necessities to the masses…
Other poems in this section include ‘Rape of a nation’ and ‘The godfather’, which extend the corruption metaphor further.
The last season, ‘God is crazy about you’ is the poet’s vision of God’s love for mankind. It is his evangelical treatise to his readers to heed God’s free and unconditional call to repentance so the crucifixion of Jesus, the Christ would not be a waste. For the Christian reader, Ekeghe has touched a core of belief and he is a lot more lyrical in this section as well.
Indeed, Ekeghe’s Spoken Word Art is virgin poetic territory in this clime. His effort is to be commended. He would do well next time to be a bit more ‘poetic’ so as to win the hearts of core poets and not just those that hanker after pop art that spoken word poetry really is. Perhaps, Ekeghe mistook simplicity for simplistic or ‘prosaic’ writing, which is reflected in this collection. That way, spoken word art can also be made more enjoyable.