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Carlos Izzia Ahmad: The Man And His Poetry – An Essay by Omale Allen Abdul-Jabbar

Let me commence this stuff with a question: What is life if you have lived it without passion? What is life? If you have lived it, without neither fame nor fortune? Without progeny… when I die, feed my body to the vultures, let them enjoy my nutrient flesh… the moment, is fleeting… it is not death that I fear: BUT EXTINCTION! These are scraps from Olu Jacob’s only poem that I inherited in a file passed to me in UniJos 1996 on becoming coordinator of the Writers’ forum of the English Department .An obscure group known only to a few friends and lecturers. Owojecho Omoha, Olu Jacob, David Njoku, Helon Habila, Obinna Nwachukwu, Chike Peace, Toni Kan, Terh Agbedeh, I.K Akonobi, Abiye Krukrubo, Omale Allen Abdul-Jabbar e.t.c. The lecturers that nursed, befriended and fed our muse were: Zack Orbunde (R.I.P) Oyo Mahmudu (R.I.P) Obiwu, Aunt Kanchana Ugbabe …) Dul Johnson.

            Olu Jacob was Chiefly a critique. He never wrote anything other than this very piece as far as I’m concerned. But it has always remained with me. And its potency never in the least wavered.

Bury your impassioned Cry

in the soft susurrus of sighs

            Writing about Izzia, for me, is a most difficult, difficult thing. Tears rise slowly from my ankle and journey to towards my brain like an orgasmic release. I have positioned the above intro also as a delay mechanism. But I am determined to do this. I also want to be the first among all his numerous disciples, friends and cronies to say anything about him. In the poem THE WILL TO FREEDOM, Izzia had mused the earlier quoted lines and as my emotions threaten to overwhelm and undetermined this present effort:

I hear Izzia saying them to me.

            What does one say about Izzia Ahmad?

That he was a hermit? (for the greater, earlier part of the times I knew him) that he was a son of the living Jah? That he was every inch a friends of friends? That he was a lover and a Poet? That the joy of water auger-red his presence? (and he knew what it is to share a last glass of water – with a smile!) That he was a brother, mentor, dreamer and a role model? What does one say about Izzia Ahmad? That he was a teacher? A Christian? An excellent and flawless speaker of the English Language? A hell of a grammarian? A husband? A politician? (Considering his last involvement with his state government of Nassarawa, his last duty Post!) The question multiplies, seeking answers that only draw up more questions…. That he was a pioneer? A renowned, profound and genuine lover of literature (he could relish in talks of this for hours un-end). That he loved coffee like a faithful spouse? Worked tirelessly like an Albanian prostitute? That he was simply: Simply? A Humanist and Naturalist? A publisher? That he was effused with bounteous humility? Carlos Izzia Ahmad was all of these things and more, that very sadly enough; we shall no longer see.

            What? The question continues, does one say of Izzia? A rare genie like Obiwu said of him? That he was a fiendish lover of Bob Marley and Bob Dylan?

That he was uncle to Naan Pocen? And Juliet Tenshak?

            A friend of Dan Tenshak, Ibrahim Sheme,  Dul Johnson, Maik Nwosu, Odia Ofeimun, Uche Nduka, Obu Uduozo, Hyginus Ekwuazi, Olu Oguigbe, Ogaga Ofowodu, Emman Usman Shehu, Nduka Otiono, Steve Rampam, and even the obscures like myself? That he was married to Esther (a poem of tenderness who now bears the most burden of his demise!) that he was ANA Secretary – General and pioneer member of ANA Lagos? That he published a book titled: A SHOUT ACROSS THE WALL? That his final bus stop was Gudi Station in Nassarawa State where he sprang from , and his essence and was interred? (The earth that bears his artist bones).

Dreams and fantasies flicker in neon light

We shook up laughter from the tree of pain…

            That was Izzia, as Steve Rampam once sang in a Song! Indeed, he WAS SO GOOD WITH LAUGHTER – and laughter became him!

            “Look at this man carefully and see if he has a mark like yours” that was Dul Johnson in his office at the English Department of the University of Jos in  1997. That was how I met Izzia. He had a tendency to carry everyone along. And Oh! How he carried us along! Especially all who were   unusually fired by the love of the Arts. You could write it out this way. And give them to people at readings autographing them “ehen, autograph them na, what are you waiting for? That was I.K Akonobi”. That was the first work of Izzia that we came in contact with. It was called:

THE WILL TO FREEDOM (1995).

In the gray precincts of twilight

Where strange spices are mixed

By the secrets of the perfumer’s art

And opinions are gravely fixed

By the movement of the stars

And men perish under the wheels of a Cart.

Divine! That was the first stanza. It has never ceased to hold me spell bound. And the second continued with that tone of the master craftsman resplendent in all of everything that Izzia ever wrote!

In the diabolic incandescence

Of that tacky resinous hour

Shaken into liquid translucence

By the boomin’ chimes of a clock

There by the twisted, haunted tower

Life came to me at the crowning of the cock.

            Of all the contemporary or simply existing poets in Nigeria that I have encountered or chanced upon in my limited but much dedicated and steadily expanding ken as an apprentice of this trade (The closest which are: Toni Kan, Helon Habila, Obu Udeozo, Toyin Adewale, Odia Ofeimun, Remi Raji, Nduka Otiono, Ibiware Ikriko (R.I.P.) et al:) none has the same peculiar effect as Izzia Ahmad’s. As some lines reveal of themselves in this very analyzed poem:

She was simple, she was ample

Fleshed beyond the bones extremist possibilities

Such, is the poetry, and person, of Izzia Ahmad.

            In his numerous pieces of poems which he handed to me across the bounds of different times and occasions. In Dul’s house, (with his lovely wife: Ruth spoiling us more than a little with “maasa” . At my erstwhile office (Parable Communications) with Dan Tenshak (God bless him much), he concerned himself with so many divergent and hydra-headed issues, recordings of his own Keen inquiry into life and as custodian of the society in which he  found himself. Titles such as these live now to immortalize him:

THE NIGHT IS FRIENDLY AGAIN. (1992), QUEEN OF HEARTS (1991), LATELY (I’VE BEEN MISSING YOU (1990), PRISONER OF HOPE (1985), FARIDA/NA’OMI (1994), BLUE ANGEL (1991), VAGABOUND HEART (1993), THE LAWGIVER (1993), BLOOD (1993), DOVE ON DISTANT OAKS (1992), PURPLE SCENT OF DAWN (1990), SHAKE DOWN A BED FOR ME (1995), WILL TO FREEDOM (1995).

            In THE WILL TO FREEDOM, Izzia traced the very origin of life, from the primordial. Analogous to that very first time that God Almighty looked back at the world he had just created. And decided it was good!

                        Life came to me at the crown of the cock.

            Journeying down the labyrinth of this poem, life metamorphoses into a charming beautiful woman in stanza’s 3 and 4.

                        I caught her veil blown over my face (stanza)                       

I threw caution to the wind,

                        Took her by the waist

                        And walked down the boulevard

                        And as I threw her into a spin

                        She whispered as she touched my wrist:

                        “Be careful what foot you put forward”

            And the necessity of caution in this bitter-sweet transient life could never be over-emphasized, though we may let our spirits roam freely as we un-cover, discover many, many things. The earth is man’s after all…

            Still on life. And the very poem of current concern:           

Her warmth breath was

            A dancing, leapin’ flame

            … “All that is will pass.

            The child will tire of its games

In the 9th stanza of this 20 stanza-d poem of 116 lines, Izzia summed up his discovery. And admonition.

            Thirst for the fecundating God

            And shun the hoofbeats of each deceivin’ elf

            Let Truth hurt you into simplicity

            Or they’ll roll you up in your complexity

            Into a bundle of approximations

            And kick you down the dusty streets

            Perhaps it would require an entire essay of its own. This, THE WILL TO FREEDOM, for the lessons and messages interred are endless in their very twisted and turns and the beauteous/crafty metaphors of their creation, but I intend to scan through most of the poems already listed earlier as briefly as possible, so here goes:

            In THE NIGHT IS FRIENDLY AGAIN (1992), Izzia celebrates again, life, and all the joys therein to be had. This is a poem of happiness and bliss, innocence…

Who cares for the bed of ease when the stars are singing, And the Night is friend Again.

“Those days, on the street of Lagos. At 1:00a.m we could be found, reading and arguing vehemently about poetry. Ogaga Ifowodu, Uche Nduka, Olu Oguigbe, Maik Nwosu…”

            How many of us do this now? I like him. He never tires of literature. I feel the same. Just like Obu Odeuzo…

            In QUEEN OF HEARTS (1991) the aged throbbing trauma of want and denial comes to bear. And you wonder again, just like Freud, for the thousand and one time.

            What is it, that a woman want?

And you’re quick to realize

She don’t affirm the truth you

Believe in. no, she don’t speak the word

Your pure sounds conceive

And you throw your thremblin’ soul

Hard against her totem pole

But she keeps out of sight

And you know you stand wrong to the light…

            The same trouble continuous in LATELY (I’VE BEEN MISSING YOU) (1990), emblematic of our collective desires as body and flesh, perpetually in want and desire: love! Needing to love and be loved in Return:

(1ST Stanza -)

                        When will you come this way again?

                        When will we make our vows a new?

                        The letters I sent have been returned unclaimed

                        The travelers are back with no news of you.

3rd Stanza:

                        The kingdom we once ruled lies in ruins

                        Subjects and fools have grown wise too soon

                        The thrown that was once strong crumbles

                        To the ground. But I offer you my broken crown.

6th Stanza: we can still make our life

                        a beautiful song

                        And lately I’ve been missing you.

PRISONER OF HOPE (1985). Continues on the same subject, now bothering on the undying nature of the human spirit: HOPE!

(1st Stanza): … Holding tight to my dreams of you.

(2nd Stanza):   All these years together

                                    And we’re still strangers

                                    The hurt and pains are what we share.

            FARIDA (1994), he also named this NA’OMI, also NASIHA. He talked very compassionately about this one. I remember trekking down once from a reading at British America in Jos “we’ll make a movie out of this one. It is the story of a young girl butting/struggling with her identity. She’s caged by her parents. And she wants to be free to taste of the world”

1st Stanza:       When like ghosts dead love rise

                                    To press on us the Braille dots of memory

                                    And the shadowy mouth of a sorceress

                                    Shall prescribe obscure cures and remedies

                                    When fate like a classic concertmaster

                                    Shall spread his overtures and tins wares…

2nd Stanza:      You will walk down the blue river

                                    With a pebble under your tongue

                                    Lending sulphurus heat to fire

                                    … Prophecies shall die on your lips.

            “Haka! Haka!” nodding his head, Obu Udeozo would respond to lines like this one. And you? Does your soul gravitate towards the above as does mine? Please check yourself in you feel nothing, for poetry should evoke such in you.

            BLUE ANGEL (1991). A simple celebration of; Life. And urge, a call for freedom of the Spirit: (2nd Stanza)

                        Blue Angel

                        Leave Sorrow till tomorrow

But tonight let the cup of joy overflow

(Last Stanza)

                        Hide a fallin’ tear with you wing

                        They that went out weepin’

                        Let them come in rejoicin’

VAGABOUND HEART (1993)

            It is said once, that the “Heart has it’s own reasons that reason knows nothing about” And this very poem amply augments that axiom. Perhaps you already have love, have flown on that nuptial flight (as I’m about to…) or steady in a relationship or have simply vowed, never to love again (which I think is terrible by the way, for we must always love again), but hey! That’s your heart suddenly set a – roaming. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Cupid?

Izzia Confesses herein:

                        Wish I could love you from before the flood

                        Till well after the second coming of the Jew

… like the wrigglin’ warm loves the flesh of you Time and time again, I lay my life on the line.

But, baby, I’m cheated every time by this

Vagabond Heart of mine.

Sweet beauteous Poetry:

                        Wish I could take you home as my wife

                        Pay allegiance with all my soul to you alone

                        Wish I could be faithful to you all my life

                        … but a fatal impulse keeps thwartin’ me

                        This Vagabond Heart will be the end of me.

 

THE LAWGIVER (1993)

            Here, the religious. And the Christian in Izzia betrays itself:

                        This is the hour of the lawless one

                        It will be till the Lawgiver Comes

                        The Prophet was by my window

                        To give his word of warnin’

                        He said, beware of the creepin’ shadow

                        I see the dog-star ascendin’

                        Fevers will burn in many brains

                        To drive many insane.

             Izzia urges us to take heed, stay strong. Do not be led astray.

 BLOOD (1993) addresses the innate in Kilt and Kin. This, he treated in many guises, but with reference to Cain and Abel in the 6th Stanza

                        I heard the first thunderclap

                        I saw noble Abel Slain

                        I saw the silver Cord Snap

                        And my soul hears the mark of Cain.            

            I think he talks about retribution. And again urges folks to beware:

                        You cannot run away

                        You cannot hide away

                        Someone will have to pay

                        When Blood calls for Blood.

DOVE ON DISTANT OAKS (1992). This particular piece is of Colossal Potency and retrospective in treatment and theme. Like the ones just before it, it is an addmonitive poem but differs as a chiefly socio-political comment rather than religious. It bothers on man’s insatiable craving for adjustment and improvement of his status quo ante. (This is especially relevant owing to the untold suffering encountered in Nigeria by the majority in the past two decades ushered by the terribly cabalistic agenda of the military Oligarchy (that is, the melancholy insane elephants) Corruption and all kinds of social vices have since been institutionalized in the country and the rope draws tighter on our hangman’s neck. “Water, water everywhere. And all the boards did shrink. Water, water everywhere. And not a drop to drink!” (The Ancient Mariner – Samuel Coleridge). Now what’s the common man to do? He curses, screams, cheats, kills and lies – to make it whichever way. ( I sorry for Nigeria/Africa – Femi Kuti). This concern, Izzia nurses in this poem:

            People waitin’ for their times to change

            Will rise up to things terrible and strange

            The beast in every man shocks and shames

            And men hide behind masks’ hopin’ to escape blame

            Life displays its wits in senseless practical jokes

            And every furrow must be plowed under the burden

            Of yokes… till the thunder balls begin to fall

            No – one ever heeds the warnin’ call of a

            Dove on Distant oaks.

Beware! Izzia says. Those who engage in vices to change their lot:

                        For every bleached bone on the burnin’ sand

                        A cry is heard all over the land

                        Of a Dove on Distant Oaks.

And the symbolism of the Dove is especially potent as we all know it stands for PEACE, a commodity which occasioned by the signs of the times is gradually enjoying extinction! In our body polity of Nigeria.

                        PURPLE SCENTS OF DAWN (1990)

                        She was up before the mornin’

                        To lead the sun in through the door

                        And the soft laughter of fishermen

                        Washin’ their nets by the shore

                        She claimed the sea for her own

                        And all of its secret dreams

                        And she waited for the purple scents of Dawn

            The woman is the mother-Earth. She is the custodian of the Earth and all that is within it. All causes and effects begin and end with the woman. This Izzia, pin-points lucidly and quite emotionally in the rustic nature of the rural woman who may well qualify to wear this garb perhaps. Better than her urban counterpart (The latter , though still equipped with that essential salt, has lost some grains of innocence to the dazzle of neon-lights and Candour of what the city brings).

            The woman, mothers everybody else, including the man from the cradle to the grave. And beyond when the man has taken the in-eluctible bow and gone. The  men dies and the women carries on with the house and propagated species. Her job is near done. This is piece recordings her fears, wishes, struggles, dreams, frustrations, hopes and aspirations, triumphs e.t.c.

                        She’s known life’s heavier blows

                        She’s felt the sweat break out on her brows

                        Her man and her Son. And as the

                        Evenin’ shadows fell. She knew all will

Be well. For she could tell by the purple scent of dawn.

            In this to say that she executes the world’s task alone? Izzia acknowledges and gives the much important contribution of the man in this as well. His supportive role along with his own deep-rooted struggle are both recorded in the pen-ultimate and last stanza’s.

            … As she faced the wailing wall

            She knew there’s one that walks by her side.

            And old man shakes to the bones

            As he sobs in the arms of a child

            (See, such is the powerful, lucid and terribly disturbing

            Imagery of Izzia’s Poetry!)

            His sacrifice bleeds on the stone

            Yet his dreams for his child have gone wild

            He’d reached the turnin’ point

            But lacked the strength to turn:

            And he cried for the purple scent of Dawn.

SHAKE DOWN A BED FOR ME (1995)

            This piece captures life; as a journey. And its hydra-headed struggles. That is the very idiosyncrasies that gives it character, cohesion/in-cohesion, comprehension/in-comprehension as the cases may be.

            Now you may pause this second. And ask yourself; can you turn to in the time of storm. As shaggy (American Musician) said in a song: life is one big party. But who’s gonna have your back when it’s all done? And from Izzia’s perspective; who is going to shake down a Bed for you?

            The cold, cold wind

            It chills to the bone

            The fatal hour will strike

            For each man alone

            And when I sink like a stone

            Into sorrows immensities

            You’ll shake Down a Bed for me.

            And so, this is a poem about TRUST. And the up-holding or otherwise of that trust. It is said that a friend in Need, is a friend in-Deed”. A friend in need is “tested and trusted friend”-who’ll “shake down a Bed for you” where the corn grows: hear Izzia!

            A true friend is a shelterin’ Tree

            In the howlin’ storm of life…

            That’s what you’ve been to me

            … when the twisted limbs of club-footed gods trip me.

            You will shake Down a Bed for me

            Not a man is left in me

            That pisses against the wall

            Not a withered sycamore leaf

            To cover the naked soul

            My friends spit my name into their beers

            Scornfully, But you’ll shake down a Bed for me.

            Izzia left for Nassarawa, where he continued discussions with the Governor, leaving our Plateau Chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors in shambles – fancy a herd of sheep’s without a shepherd . everyone was pissed with him. They criticized him. They said he was just talk. They said he was in-law to Dan Tenshak (my boss then, and benefactor) who was Chairman ANA-Plateau before him around the millennium convention and jettisoned his duties owing to mis-understanding and dis-enchantment (he told me). They said Izzia was of the same stork as him. I thought it was most unfair to say the least. And Izzia, just like Dan Tenshak had planned the whole year out for our local Chapter. Month by Calendar month and activities coinciding with the world creativity Day. Writers’ retreat at choice tourist places on the Plateau, readings in Hill Crest School, Jos as part of ANA outreach … an entire modus operandi including how to generate funds and ensure vibrancies and correct relevance to the society. Dan Tenshak pulled out due to dis-enchantment. Izzia told me. And Steve Rampam he was going to use his new position as special adviser to the Nassarawa Government to launch our chapter to its full glory (remember, among a few others, he started the Lagos Chapter. And they used to meet in his house!).

            His absence dimmed the fire and warmth. I always relished at our readings. It was a chasm that has not and could never be filled. “If Izzia doesn’t come back, I’m going back to leave this ANA.”

            I complained bitterly and Steve Rampam related it to him at one of his weekend forays into Jos and as Steve told me later on – he was very sad indeed and urged me to stay on, promising to be back fully as soon as he finished his assignment. And he never came back.

            “Did you hear the news about Izzia?” Dr. Klien had texted me one weekend while I was using delay tactics to waiting for lunch in a friend’s house. Leaving the lunch and hurrying on to Dul’s house I was told that he had severed all physical ties with goddam world. God how I wept! And that was the end of Izzia Ahmad. We had a wake keep at his home in Rayfield and I read the poem “LET US CRY”

            The only other good thing was that Obu Udeozo came back. Then Carmen whom I enjoyed a warm but transient friendship with for a while. A good editor and devout lover of literature. Dul is the bone of the Association. Dr. Klien introduced the Yahoo groups and networking for the group. There’s also Kenana. But as far as I’m concerned the Plateau Chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors has seen better days. We used to read at the boat house in Rayfield resort! With “Suya and Wine” bought by Dul Johnson. Dul Johnson was every inch a “father” then. Again a “brother”, mentor and finally “friend”. Now he’d give you a very stern warning when you err that reminded you he was FIFTY and you would shiver to your bones …

            Dr. Dul Johnson is still and remains the custodian of ANA Plateau State.

            “Ours is a tribe that sits on stones. Content to bring little pieces from home and read to a number of same old five. Opinions have become gravely fixed about persons and their works… and there’s hardly any excitement there for me anymore” This I told someone who asked about our ANA. There’s much more we could do, as Izzia and Dan Tenshak had planned.

1.         We organize a literary day at the University.

2.         We could visit the Government House and use literature (our reading) to inform public opinion and contribute to the restoration of the much needed PEACE on the Plateau (And be carried on T.V).

3.         We could single out Philanthropist and known individuals or groups who adores literature and pay a courtesy call, reading, and thereby raising some fund for our Chapter.

4.         We could organize competitions for and among Secondary Schools on the Plateau (Like Ascalf) and in ANA Niger.

5.         We could invite established and celebrated writers for a reading to invigorate and ginger our chapter and create liaisons between our chapter and others.

6.         We could compete among ourselves either daily during the readings like Dan Tenshak used to do at his donated gallery where the best work for that session either in poetry or short story got home with some token money.

7.         And million innovative others … but we only sit on stones in a circle (Kinda Cool though but sounds from passing cars makes reading and hearing sometimes a useless venture. I thought inside, in the cool ancient northern architecture of the museum was more ideal but popular opinion negated this).

            I don’t go to the readings much anymore… funny, I am now an “outsider” in my own very family as most of the siblings I tend to have parleyed with have had reasons to become absent. They are namely!

ü      Dan Tenshak

ü      David

ü      Obu Udeozo

ü      Super

ü      Steve Rampam and

ü      Izzia Ahmad.

            Let me conclude this write-up then, again, my tribute to a truly loved and cherished friend who has embarked on an eternal voyage, with how he viewed life and like this stage in this piece, when and how: it ends! In the poem VIGNETTES, GUDI STATIOM, Izzia noted in his usual elevated and thought provocating craft:

                        Such lines, such cruel lines

                        Scrawled with knotted finger,

                        On the underleaf, Defines Death’s

                        Fatal hieroglyphics, such spurting

                        Juices propel the worm that gnaws…

            We tend to die everyday. And  I always say we LIVE while we can, taking the gifts that each moment brings and blessing those moments for their gifts. Death is a gradual process that is only completed when you severe your ties with the physical world. Though it’s sad to note: each new birthday is another step towards the grave, and the final conclusion of activities of this earthly realm. This gradual process is athin to the action of the sand at the bottom of the sea. The sand eats up the sea and some day, the sea is no more. Hear Izzia:

                        Under the Ochre shade of mushroom cumulus

                        Death drinks of the sap dripping

                        From the broken stem of your leaf

                        Around his feet collects your debris

                        Your humus, dawn framed you against

                        The bolted door as you lifted a broken hand

                        To proclaim the benediction.

            And again, most interestingly, what another valued friend Chim Newton creatively described in a letter to me sometime ago, the logic of the illogicality, Izzia postulated herein as well. Death as pitched earlier to be an ending, is also actually, another beginning. (Like cycles in a gyre?) In the final stanza of the 7 stanza-ed poem, the following lines buttresses this notion:

                        The Earth breaks

                        Where a cow spreads her flanks

                        Digs in her hooves and drops her calf

                        Under the leveling force of her exploding

                        I breath. The matted meadow flattens beneath

                        The thin film of birth fluids

                        Beneath the seminal smell of afterbirth.

                        The essential cow totters knobble-knee’d      

                        It waits to be licked into recognition.

            He was buried in his home of Gudi village along your way to Abuja. The man that bore the name: Carlos Izzia Ahmad was no more. I wasn’t there. Although I should’ve been. But I simply couldn’t bear to see him: Dead!

            My memories of him is therefore secure. Devoid of that “Stupidity” that the morgue seldom imposes on men of goodwill. Izzia: Chubby Salubrious laughter that brightens the room!

THE END

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