Title: Footmarks: Poems on One Hundred Years of Nigeria’s Nationhood
Reviewer: Nelson C. J.
Genre: Poetry (Anthology).
Publisher: ICS Services Ltd / Weavers
Editors: Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo and Naza Amaeze Okoli.
They do so because they have prepared to stay; they have taken their time to figure out the empty spaces in our minds and souls, places they know they cannot be chased out from.
This is the sort of effect poetry can have on you. This I found in Footmarks, a thoroughly enjoyable poetry anthology that defiantly works its ways through the diverse yet collective language of our nation’s soul, questioning passive situations, shedding light on obscure issues, redefining the narrative around known issues and artfully elevating our spirits to a place of deep thought.
With 72 poets and over two hundred poems, the volume compels a long, reflective read. Each poem seems to give life to – or authenticate the views of – the other; the topics ranging from corruption and toil to religion and migration.
The anthology is a collection of prominent and up-and-coming poets, buttressing further a diversity identifiable within the country. Even more significantly, the collection works as a kind of travelogue, telling stories of less represented places in Nigerian literature, as in Dumejes Momalife’s “Maiduguri”:
The stars, the sun and the moon
Dwell safely in their
The mountains stood on the back of the earth,
The earth complained not…
In the same way, Daniel Etim Inyang, in his poem, “Bar Beach,” elevates a popular hangout spot in Lagos to the height of poetry and rhythm and sensuousness: “You yellow long lip / Of the Atlantic mouth / Golden cleavage of the land and sea….” Also, Chijioke Amu-Nnadi, in “Abuja,” takes us beyond the glamour of the capital city, revealing the deceit and hypocrisy that lie beneath it:
Your lights Abuja
Are shattered pieces of glass,
Strewn bright and luminescent
Across Nepaless junctions
Through which I cannot pick…..
And in “Zawan, Du, Laminga,” Ifeoma Akabuogu Chinwuba explores the rich landscape of Nigeria’s North:
How beautiful your hills and valleys
How serene your mien
I see veggies sprouting again,
On your verdant hills..”
In many others, simple everyday scenes are imbued with significance and used to interpret complex realities in society. For example, in “Okada” Mike Ekunno draws subtle, yet politically charged comparisons between law-breaking motorcyclists and corrupt power wielders: “Making short work of potholes / What is traffic without you?…” Ismaila Bala’s “Going up to Lagos” is a poem about desperation and longing; it starts out with what might seem like a declaration of unabashed lust, but easily morphs into a kind of willingness to compromise:
How I longed to laze like a portulaca,
Beside her as she slept…
How I longed to be reformed
As her godson
Go up to Lagos and set up with some willing widow.
Victor Azubuike’s “Back-Street,” paints a ghetto community in disrepair so well that it brings to mind Ajegunle or Ojuelegba, where dissipation is rampant – as well as the stifling of inspiration, the corrosive eradication of sober reflection due to the stress that comes with the rising of every sun, the expected discomfort of home, and the constant yearning for the ideal:
Walking in these waterlogged backstreets…
Gives no room for reverie
Or traveling back in time…..
For poems like Greene Okome’s “Yesterday,” there is an urging for a reflection on the past. Okome offers a calmer, nostalgic imagery of Nigeria, and reminds us that there is a lot to glean from the things we once took for granted:
Where are the smiling faces…
Where are those chaste women
Who made the men
Anxious to live on to a new dawn?
Likewise, Francis Famadeji in his poem “Ebo” – a Yoruba word for “sacrifice” – offers some thoughts on the grand (but fading) customs of traditional worship and sacrifice, as well as a vivid description of the process:
There, where three roads meet,
Stands each earthen bowl
That bears the provisions
For prayer to a deity…
Expectedly, there are many poems that mock prevailing social and economic conditions in the country. In “Paris is Hell,” Stephen Adinoyi satirically yearns for the unpleasant, but familiar life in Nigeria, while in Paris. He makes us wonder how much of our pain we have normalized without knowing it:
My sojourn in Paris was hellish,
Paris NEPA flowed ceaselessly
Throwing me into boredom
That robbed me the bliss that visited me
Whenever Naija NEPA suddenly beamed
His light after many days of darkness
Yes, there is an abundance of the usual Nigerian humour – the irony employed in discussing corruption and social ills as pleasant; the savvy conversation between young people yearning for political power, and aged politicians refusing to let go; employment of situationally coined words as in these titles – “Elongation versus Corruption” (Adinoyi); “Ping-pong” (Akinwole); “Much Ado About A Piece of Cake” (Okiri); and “Naija-Deatha” (Okome).
Several poems stand out in their bold language, daring techniques and audacious styles – Tolu Akinwole’s “Ping-pong,” on the need for youth leadership; Alex C. Asigbo’s “Praying Actors?” on dissimulation and hypocrisy; Michael Oluwatobi Ogunjobi’s “Ajala,” on diaspora issues discussed with light, springy language; Christopher Raphael Okiri’s “Laissez Faire” tackling corruption from a progressive viewpoint; Jekwu Ozoemene’s “I don’t Want To Go Home” that relays fear in its most plausible shade; Wale Owoade’s “Till the Resurrection of Truth” tackling hope, using an experimental form that also appears in a few other pieces.
The list is indeed endless. Also, I found a few others rather over-sentimental, but somehow they find balance with the others. Also, some appear too critical of government and express little or no hope. However, social ills are highlighted as a wake-up call to persons in power, to the everyday Nigerian, complacent and unwilling to agitate for their full privileges.
Long after I am done reading this collection, long after I believe I am through with the words and ready to clear out space in my head for new occupation, I find my mind running through the experience that was the reading – the issues, the fear and the hope. These thoughts remain; words that just wouldn’t leave. That’s what poetry does.
It leaves footmarks.