Lamentation and lachrymation have become integral aspects of African literature. In the mold of jeremiad, African writers lament slave trade, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism and bad governance. Thus, lachrymation and the “tonality of monumental pessimism have continued to be the dominating motif and the defining principles of the writings” of the 20th century. In These Last Tears, a collection of 36 poems, we see optimism as the dominant thematic thrust – As Africa marches into the 21st century, the need to hope and aspire for better existential condition and to transcend lamentation and pessimism as the dominant social vision in philosophy and literature is encouraged. The 20th century witnessed the colonization and decolonization of Africa. With the deconstruction of colonialism, a new kind of colonization emerges. This time, African political leaders serve as mere stooges of their erstwhile colonial overlords. This necessitated the rise of the poetics of lamentation in postcolonial Africa. While African intellectuals live in postcolonial Africa, African leaders live in what is fit to be called neocolonial Africa. However, lamentation as a mode of expressing the pessimistic condition of the mind becomes a colouration without actively pulling Africa out of the doldrums.
In the poem, “Upon Being Born,” the world is viewed from the consciousness of a newly born child. The child ponders on “going back and staying.” This confusion is as a result of what the child sees “as my infantile stare/Confronted gleeful faces/Steeped in misery” (14). The living condition of the subaltern class where the child is born is grim and bleak. The child sees “The scabrous face of the earth,” and “The sorrows” in the faces of the people. All the people hope for is “That the clouds/Shall come with/Trickles of honey” (29). This aspiration is captured in the poem, “Lonely Tears.” The image of sorrow is evinced in the tears of the crier as his mouth is “cankered,” his skin, “sun-smoked,” and his face “pox-riddled.” The persona is a synecdoche of the people who wallow in penury and impoverishment. However, the poet persona is hopeful that things will change when “The cannibals will flee/In fright at the approach/Of their doom” (29).
In poems like “Vampires,” “Odorous Gods,” “How shall I know,” “Frizzled Dream,” “Orphan,” and “Exiled Singer,” we are shown the portraiture of the monsters that retardate our advancement and exponential growth. “Odorous Gods,” exposes the irrelevance of the gods in the affairs of men: “These vicious gods/Are not saviours/But impotent villains” (27). Man is the sailor of the ship of his destiny, “We are not servile worshippers/But gods unto ourselves,” therefore, “The season of sheepish/Devotion is past.” The gods in traditional societies have held the people “under siege,” it becomes imperative for all to abandon them and figure out things for ourselves. The gods in the poem could also be the political class who occupied the zenith of power. The need for the populace to create their own world without depending on the political elite is imperative. While in “Vampires,” the rulers are seen as vampires who dine and wine on the hope and future of the country. The poem however admonishes a common action against the forces of evil and retrogression: “But we can’t sit and watch/Our pregnant evenings/Aborted at prime/And our playground/Turned to plotground” (33). Thus instead of sleeping and folding of arms, the poem encourages, “We shall duck behind hanging heaves/And pick pebbles/To break the grated cauldron.” To strike back at the forces that holds society captive will “form the core/Of our new song.”
“The dream,” and “Orphan” are poems that capture the crudity and cruelty of the political class, they come like angels but later metamorphose into demons and vampires. In “The Dream,” we see “An Angel-like figure descended/And became a giant vulture/With a staff of authority” (17). These leaders arise after a coup d’etat or a rigged election. However, in the poem, the ‘angel-like’ being is a military junta who seizes power paralyzing the chance of progress and democracy. In “Orphan,” on the other hand, the populace are described as orphans, who are left uncared for by the leaders “Worse off, are the rainmakers/Who failed to make rain/For this yearning seed/At the heat of intense draught.” (61)
The poem, “How shall I know,” the persona is hopeful that at the turn of the new century, Nigeria will change for good but who will be the agents of change. Using extended rhetorical question, the poet asks series of probing questions: “How shall I know/Whether those beasts/Of yesteryears/…/At the square/Have come to scuttle the dance” (25). Those who are true patriots and looters are indistinguishable at a time like this when those who were once leaders have failed the people but have not retired from active politics. Another question is, “How shall I know/The henchmen from plunderers” and who will be the savior of the country: “Or like shepherd/Would they minister to their flocks/Whose grace gave them their regalia?” These questions turn to a supplication and an orison in the poem, “The Bosom of God” where the persona, “weary of this insane world,” (22) prays for nourishment of the earth and love upon all mankind. It is malnourishment of love that makes a man steal and loot public treasury, live in affluence while his neighbors wallow in misery and abject poverty. The persona prays for three things, death so as to live with God in heaven or love upon all mankind or “Let he who has not gone/Mad yet, come and save us now!”
The poems that project the thrust of hope, regeneration, optimism and restoration are, “These last tears,” “Rebirth,” “A Shower of Redemption,” “Solitude,” “A Moment of Cheer,” “Come Back.” Those in exile are admonished to come back home to help rebuild the broken walls. The era of military rule in Nigeria has brought untold pain and hardship to the people but with the rise of a new century, the need not to shade tears but to hope in blissful dawn is imperative. In “A moment of cheer,” we read in the first stanza, “A fresh breeze bathes me/In a lonely baptism/This is the moment to cheer” (42) while in “A shower of redemption,” we read in the third stanza, “Dry bed of the earth/Shall be moisture and/Regaled in coloured fringes” and in “Rebirth” we see the expectations of the poet: “I seek renewal/And veneration of my embattled land/And act forth its nourisher/Like a field/Made lush after mowing” (30). The poet lashes out at writers who see nothing good capable of coming out of Africa: “I am not scared/Not scared/By venom of wroth-writers/Whose fingers seek/To maim revival” (31). To this end, he has become a “man,” (26) who has chosen his own path and his own social vision.
The poems “Letter to Ummi” and “Letter to Muminu,” are love poems. The first from the man to the woman while the second a response to the epistle. However, after a careful reading, the poems could be given extended semantics – a political interpretation– the first is from the political class to the people (manifesto). When they want the vote of the electorates, they descend to the people telling them that they “seek for the consecration of our soul/That we shall dwell forth in bliss” (67) but after voting them into power and they have left for Abuja or government houses, they turn their backs on the people and it is at that point that the scale in the people’s eyes vaporized. Thus, “Letter to Muminu” could be seen as the expression of disillusionment and the anger in the electorate who are deceived and bamboozled by the rhetoric and lies of the rulers: “But how could I have known/Being trapped in your coated honey/Like a bee tamed in the hive/That this romance will end thus” (71). It is this romance between the leadership and the followership that often is betrayed by the leadership. The people are often “Being grossly violated/Being reduced to infra-dig/Beside being punching bags/Beside abdicating your role.” The leaders abandon their responsibilities as they amass unto themselves wealth to the detriment of the followership. It becomes imperative for the followership to rise up to the challenge of demanding equity and justice, and above all, “imbibe the new spirit,” (76) of curing themselves of “the stigma” of weakness.
B. M. Dzukogi’s collection of poems is a shift from the existing paradigm. The existing tradition is that of lamentation and lachrymation over the postcolonial inanities and anomies. However, his poems are hope-inspiring and a diatribe against traditionalism. He is a poet whose poems point at the future with optimism. His poems are close to what I called futurist realism. However, some of the poems like “Shepherd,” “The Vision,” “Lost in a Mire,” “Out of the Mire,” “A Whore,” lack profundity in imagery and metaphor, elegance of thought and diction as the last two poems in the collection “Letter to Ummi” and “Letter to Muminu.”
Dzukogi, B. M. These Last Tears. Ibadan: Kraftgriot, 2009. Pp. 78
Akwu Sunday Victor is a Poet and Critic at the fringes. He holds a degree in English and Literary Studies and has publications to his credit.