Title of Book: Do Not Preach To Me!
Author: Charles Akinsete
Publishers: Kraft Books Limited, Ibadan.
Cradled in golden palms
Of God and ancestors,
Refined in fiery furnace of unfamiliar acumen,
Begotten blood-birth of ancestral space,
I know my God,
I know my ancestors too… (Do not Preach to Me!, p.14)
From Okigbo, Soyinka, Osundare, Ofeimum, Ohaeto, Raji, Dasylva to Gbadamosi, the first lines or those at determined points of a debut or subsequent collections are predictably either propitiation-clad or tribute-accenting. Thus, Akinsete, in the first segment of his collection intentioned as ‘Tribute’, like the retinue of voices in the Nigerian literary scene, does not jettison a supernatural signatory to his poetic take off. This is a ritual in poetry and for this poet; it is only apt to begin with its corresponding rites. But unlike his creative forebears, he takes the unusual pulpit bow acknowledging God as ‘Christians’ would. And, as if to balance his Western leaning with his deep-seated African consciousness of one who is not ‘early sequestered from his tribe’ as Clark’s persona in ‘Agbor Dancer’, he draws on his progenitors—his ‘ancestors too’, who transcend precursor biological relations to academic and literary craftsmen in encrypting the polyvalence of his traditional obeisance to cultural panegyrics, academic acolytes’ through scholarly footnoting and, Christian configuration.
Akinsete’s debut collection is powered by red-hot anger of ‘elegiac’ proportion which at first, is directed at his home country Nigeria with her endemic vices that are particularly visible in the religious and largely echoed across the socio-political spheres. Second, he takes his poetics beyond Nigeria, to Germany, where he draws relevant reminiscence of similarities and differences in line with his journey through both. Whether there is a balance in the critical attention of both will be a matter of a more extensive focus.
To set the tone for this poetics of swipes, Nigeria becomes Akinsete’s, first drop by. The recalcitrant attitude and common, directionless socio-political trajectory of Nigeria takes the prime focus in the poem, ‘Unknown’, which is couched in the second section, marked ‘Nationhood.’ The persona’s country is afforded a degree of satiric compass, either as erring object of social reticence in the poem, ‘Bring back our history’, or puritans loud with scriptural practices without the sanctity tailored on spirituality cursorily revealed in ‘Do not preach to me!’, the titular poem, where Akinsete’s persona’s vitriolic language seethes with the candour of a patriot-persona. The poem kaleidoscopes the filth of religious leaders, political shenanigans and connects seamlessly with a recent global political scene that spotted America’s Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump which acts as a referential idiom of the poet’s anger directed at the West, in terms of her complicit post-colonial sponsoring and engineering of the padded contrasts-racist machinery, global violence and, suing for individual’s freedom and global peace- while exposing the hypocrisy inherent in their efforts.
Returning his lens to Nigeria, Akinsete takes another swipe at individuals that exhibit or endorse such ‘collapsed morality’ ushered in by her neo-colonial reality. In ‘No Difference’, the random and common sight of robbery and its kin, ‘roger me,’- the language of bribery- on the road by perhaps, the police and other bribe- trotting security agencies, collapses as inseparable collocation other than what the persona describes as ‘the uniformed robber.’ With the poem, ‘The illiterate’, the poet persona’s censure of a Nigerian society with a similar dialogic and graphical view as ‘No Difference’ details how young people, ‘a gaudy loud boy’, as suggestive of many insolent young men, most apparently untutored by their so called rich parents, who also have no moral exemplar and in effect, do no ‘real’ parenting but sponsor their wards through ‘ill-digested education’ rooted in arrogance and reeking absolutely of warped morality.
The poems ‘Muderous Knights,’ I speak to you’ I Speak to you again’’ are persistent in rejecting deceits, and sounding cautionary gong to an impervious unknown object, supposedly referential of leaders as elements of nationhood that the poet captures here. He also does not mince words when he pillories leaders further in the poem, ‘Slaves of the Throne.’ The poet persona reveals in ‘Biafra,’ the dissonant voices in a persuasive reenactment of the divides in the politics surrounding her secessionist’s resolve. What may not be easily left out of this collection is its probing of the individual filth that signals the pathetic base of wrath somewhat of a perennial concern about a country like Nigeria and, particularly as this is badgering for revamp to poets who answer the call of Akinsete’s nature. In ‘Do we go back’ the lingering question of a nation at its trajectory of triumphs lined on with apprehension and gloom, makes for a compelling contrast that aligns with the nation’s socio-political life.
If the folkloric past has been forgotten and buried in the distant grove of a collective unconscious, Akinsete, through the trickster’s fable via the lens of the tortoise archetype, resurrects the tales often told by moonlight. He does this unearthing of this folk communion through songs. The reader experiences the world of now, reshuffling back quickly in time to the pre-modern era void of television, Twitter and Facebook but rife in the poetic resonance of moral tales. Like in Osundare, Launko, Raji, and Dasylva’s poetic offering, Akinsete digs into the folk repertoire for cultural wits: ‘‘Listen/ to silent songs of tranquil tortoise,/ Listen,/ To patient words of cautious tortoise, O s’oko Yanibo/Ose’ale Yanibo,/ O se Ijapatiro ko…’’The effect to which Akinsete puts this song, is as well cautionary as he predicates on the cunning characteristics of the tortoise to raise awareness of what similar ‘tortoises’ the deceitful politicians scheme in the land. To survive the present harsh situation, it is interesting that the poet persona reconstructs an identity in tune with rational economic paradigm. Thus, he beckons people to become ‘the tortoise.’ The enormity of the challenges posed to the masses by tricky political situations, forces the poet to impress in the mind of the people, the tortoise’s nature which is intended as a survivalist wit. In that guise, he does not seem to hound wisdom on exile in the present harsh economic situation.
Poetry is valorized as necessarily emotive and the third section hinges on’ ‘Emotive Rhymes’ to properly place this in perspective, the poet rides on empathy in the first poem, You have come so far’. In lines that broil excruciating and pitiful semiotics- ‘perilous times,’ ‘trials,’ ‘pains,’ torture…’ the persona captures the threads of anguish that seem to feature prominently in the life of his mother, suggestive of ‘ye mi,’ an endearing term in Yoruba that means ‘my mother.’ This emotion-brined section, especially in its intimate streak with personal relationship continues in calibrations of great and equally damp moments of laughter, struggle, pains, woes, conquests, inordinate ownership, love and war, and contrasting memories of people and homeland in poems like: ‘Unique, ’Prized Possession,’ ‘Woe of Men,’ ‘Greed,’ ‘For her,’ ‘A touch’ ‘Love speaks,’ ‘War and Love.’ ‘I hate to remember,’ ‘I love to remember’ ‘Stings of silence’ ‘To an unseen friend’ and ‘Oka.’
The fourth section of the collection is a re-negotiation of memories of the persona’s Berlin experience, showing snapshots of his oversea adventure. The poem, ‘Berlin 2015’ apart from hinting at the specific year of the experience recalled by the poet, the journey just come feeling and the contrasting sides of Berlin at the persona’s arrival also take on a defamiliarising poetic stature insistently by its repetitive trope: ‘This was the welcome/ Such was my welcome.’ Akinsete’s Berlin’s experience creates a momentary displacement of seething tone and fixation on the romantic allures of his new environment. He settles quickly to how he might have fared with his Byronic proclivity, tending to idyllic glorification of nature, particularly when not having to reject voices of hypocrisy that seem to fire up his imaginative consciousness as expected in the dictum-arts for life’s sake.
‘Verses of Berlin trees,’ ‘Do not preach to me’, could be aesthetically reversed, Preach to me about Berlin’s greenness. ‘Berlin guard of honour’ is imbued as tributary of a kind to a prominent African/Nigerian poet of the third generation, Remi Raji who is much travelled and seems to have taken a second nationality in Germany with Berlin as a city of frequent visits. The poem circles the persona as having been in the tutelage of the Scholar-poet, Raji and upon the latter’s prompt, the cloak of a greenhorn had been put off with exposure and experience gained. Another close scrutiny of the poems in this fourth section, reveals that they take on double-edged stilt of thematic expressivity-recapturing the thrills of a visit to Berlin and the contrastive laments of the trenchant dearth of these delights in Nigeria, the home country of the persona-this oscillates on exilic note, a thrilling estrangement of some sort, or temporal reprieve likened to the feeling of Dennis Brutus’ easement within the Apartheid context ramified as a ‘mechanical’ rain of anguish in his poem, ‘Sun on this Rubble.’
The final section, ‘Inexorable Departures’ extends beyond just the elegiac and the usual gourds of gratitude and tributes to exemplary humans, whose genius have taken the nation or world by storm, to very deep reflections on the ephemeral, even of the mortal frame of man tending to nothingness despite strides that are awe-inspiring. This very much underscores Akinsete’s efforts in ‘Man of Dust,’ a poem where he summarily ponders on the aftermaths of intellectuals, musical as well as global/national, political and literary legends, who exited the world leaving nothing else but their names behind. That vanity breathes on the lines here reaches its climax in: Generations of clouded dust,/ sweeping over our unprotected heads, slowly inching all/towards welcoming graves/ Dust to man,/Man to dust…/ All that would be left is our name, (p.75). The elegiac accent of Akinsete’s collection is critically ‘branching off’ in two ways. First, his depiction of his society makes one recoil at the demise of all that is pleasurable, so much so that a country and her citizens witness elegiac ‘tributary’ to its dead relevance, its existential paradox of beingness not preceded by essence, perhaps as a way of exhuming its life to a meaningful rebirth. Second, the sad recollection of a friend and relative whose death provides the normal impulse of the elegiac; unlike the first which is a different kind of elegy that appears resonant in the second section of this collection, ‘nationhood.’
Akinsete’s poetry is undoubtedly experimental as a debut collection should be. As such, some lines too also experience seeming ‘stylistic death,’ seen here as less than the elegy discussed earlier. For want of better quality, rather than quantity, perhaps, there are some poems that should be left out rather than included in this poetic outing because they contest the space almost unfairly with other poems that are couched in effective lines. Poems like ‘Unique,’ and particularly, in the case of ‘Murderous Knights’ aside the little poetic refrain,- ‘do not come to us by night,’ lay languid in seeming metaphorical nudity, lacking as it were, in the artistic sensibility through which some poems earlier excited pleasurably as not lacking of the poetic character. In the main, ‘Do we go back’, ‘Greed,’ ‘for her,’ and ‘A thirst for a name’ have such resonating struggle for craftsmanship about them. Again, should Akinsete be excused on the possible argument that not all poems in a collection should read exquisitely like some memorable ones in the same output? Some readers and critics can answer that.
However, potentially great poets are not always fully made from their first collections; they may be accused of shoddy inventiveness and laborious syntax in their maiden efforts, but with greater attention to the dynamics and peculiar stylistic demands of poetry, they ultimately reach canonical status as national bards. One enduring truth is: the poet has emerged in Akinsete and, of course, from that legendary city of Ibadan. He has the clear affordances of excellent architectonics of poetry as Africa and the world know where Ibadan is, in the history of perhaps, the best of the best engaging poets and writers: Christopher Okigbo, Wole Soyinka, J. P Clark, Michael Echeruo, Niyi Osundare, Harry Garuba, Okinba Launko, Remi Raji, Hyginus Ekwuazi, Ademola Dasylva and Nelson Fashina who are just enough, rather than to mention others, whose pressure will keep Akinsete’s fire of poetry alive. In all, poetry enthusiasts can rest assured of steady and evolving fearsome quality in his subsequent appearances if spirit possession is anything to fathom.