Reviews

Nigeria: Past, Present and Future

TITLE:               Footmarks: Poems on One Hundred Years of Nigeria’s Nationhood
EDITED BY:     Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo and Naza Amaeze Okoli
PUBLISHED:   2014
Reviewer:          Imade Iyamu

“Footmarks: Poems on One Hundred Years of Nigeria’s Nationhood” was published in 2014 to mark one hundred years of Nigeria’s existence as a nation, by reflecting the thinking and feelings of established and new Nigerian writers.”

footmarksReading through this anthology is like walking through a separate and shared collection of Nigeria- past, present and future. In “Cloudy Sky”, Marvel Godwyn describes political apathy and cynicism that’s almost characteristic of Nigerians with the clever metaphor of a perpetually cloudy sky that never brings rain. “Glad I Wasn’t Born Then” Ifeoma Nwalisi makes us question if anything really from Nigeria’s tortuous past has changed from military rule to democracy. In “Oja Bariga”, Samuel Olatunji captures the sights and sounds of a Lagos market and “My memory of you” by Naza Amaeze Okoli is a moving elegy that can concurrently be read as disillusionment with one’s hope in Nigeria or the death of the Nigerian dream.

One striking thing about the collection is how vastly diverse the poems are both in subject matter and form. It’s like a catalogue of the Nigerian experience and every part of that is represented: Boko Haram, elections, loneliness, longing, rape, gender, class, the Ogoni 9, going to school, falling in love, falling out of love, community, wistfulness and much more. Every poet has their own unique style and every poem is like an uncharted territory of Nigeria. Also remarkable, of course, is the amount of raw talent and piercing emotion that burns through every page. You may not like a poem or agree with its premise, but you can’t help but feel. For me, that is the mark of true poetry. Poetry after all, as Paul Engle said once, is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words. It is clear that a great deal of time, effort, care and emotion went into the collection. On a higher level, it speaks to the combined ingenuity of these modern Nigerian poets and is a testament to what the youth are capable of accomplishing with skill and unity of purpose.

As for the demerits of the collection, I did find that some of the poems were of a style I particularly detest: the cliché ‘African’ poem. Of course, nothing is inherently wrong with an African poem (i.e. a poem written by an African), but fans of African literature must admit there is a stereotypical style of poetry (and writing in general) that is so endlessly used that it’s become the norm. This is usually a long poem with run-off lines, no stanzas, little or no figurative language and a depthless regurgitation of what we’ve all heard before. It may be its own style, but I’ve never cared for that kind of poetry. Thankfully, there were so few poems like that in the collection that my reading experience was definitely not ruined.

For me, the highlight of the anthology and a poem that encapsulated both the Nigerian experienced and the spirit of the collection was a poem by Shittu Fowora called “We all are Waters”. In the most poignant of ways, the poem makes us realize that we Nigerians are all one in the grand scheme of things, much the same way that rainwater is collectively ‘rain’ and not each drop being classified and categorized. Even though some rainwater is destined for the ground and others are collected and distilled as drinking water, they are all the same because they have a collective experience of being Water. “We all are waters,” the poem says, “Not you, not I, but we; streaming/In endless pursuit on the surface/While selfsame-message, gathers like roots undersea.” I adore this metaphor because the execution of it in the poem is excellent- subtle but clear, as it should be. But also, because the message in itself is the perfect summary of the entire anthology and it is a message all Nigerians must never forget.

Nigeria has come a long a way, and sometimes fallen even a longer way. But one can only look to the future with pride and hope if the hopeful, brave soul of the poetry of “Footmarks” will be in it too.

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