by Sunmaila Umaisha
(IFY OMALICHA’s collection of poems, Now that dreams are Born, published by Kraftgriots, 2011, p.141.)
The Nigerian literary scene is fast becoming famous for churning out promising writers. Ify Omalicha, a master’s degree holder in Theatre Arts from the University of Ibadan, is a veritable proof of this fact. Her new collection of poems, Now that Dreams are Born, does not only portray her as an imaginative poet but a promising writer on a highway to international limelight.
This collection, which is the third of her poetry works, could be described as the best of her works so far in terms of the packaging and the contents. Kraftgriots publisher, no doubt, did an extra work on the book; very artistic cover design and reader-friendly prints on quality paper. The 64 poems of varying lengths and forms, covering 130 pages, are great works of arts in every sense of the word. Usually in a collection of this size one would find many pieces that are substandard. But this collection seems to break that ugly rule; every poem is worth the space it occupies, making every page of the book a delight.
Poetry accessibility has always been a subject of debate. While some critics feel the more difficult a poem is the more it portrays the intellectual stuff the poet is made of, others feel the less inaccessible a poem is the more popular the poet and the poem would be. In this collection, Omalicha seems to balance the equation; she is simple without being simplistic and deep without being difficult. In fact, some of the works are so deceptively straightforward that just when the reader thinks he has grabbed the message at the first reading, he begins to see other hidden layers of imports and connotations unfolding in the subsequent reading of the same works.
Thematically, the poems cut across every facet of human situations, particularly the place of man in the celestial and material scheme of things. In specific term, the poet’s major preoccupation is birth and death and their consequences on human existence. This is well captured in the first poem in the collection, ‘You have come’. Some lines of the first stanza of the poem, which is in six parts and spans 7 pages, 14 to 20, speaks more of life-making than love-making thus:
When the night squints in slumber
When the night’s snooze lingers longer
Men dig for new life in the loins of maidens
The walls are deaf to the groans of passion
Calling for escape
Men and maidens ruffle their mats
Their veins pant in their bones
Bones quake in their marrow
Blood boils hot in its pipe
Bound in ecstasy
They touch the heart of bliss.
What comes after birth is the poet’s subject-matter in the poem titled ‘Paradise Path’ on page 24:
… running down the river bank
Whistling tuneless melodies
that spurn the strings of a guitar
Where is paradise?
Paradise is living through
the passage of time
under the wary guard of those
who have walked the path of Paradise.
While speaking of life and death, the image of mother and child runs through most of the lines. On page 30 to 31, for instance, two poems, ‘My Mother’s Sweetness’ and ‘Nnenne m’ speak of mother’s love for her child. In the same vein, ‘The Child and the Coo Coo Bird’ (p.48), ‘They say I’m Lost’ (p.106), drive home the vital roles of the mother in the life of the child.
Some critics have observed that Omalicha’s style of writing bears a striking resemblance to that of the renowned poet, John Pepper Clark. ‘The Child and the Coo Coo Bird’ seem to confirm the assertion, for, both in form and content this poem sounds like Clark’s famous ‘Streamside Exchange’. Read these lines:
O sweet child
Why do you giraffe
Through the window crying all day long?
O Coo coo bird
Why do you stay over the fence
Singing all day long?
My mother went
To the stream to fill her pot
Just like your mother….
Like most writers, Omalicha draws her inspiration from personal experiences, hence some of the poems in this collection read like versed autobiographies. The poems, ‘When I was Born’ (p.27) and ‘Passing Through this Door’ substantiate this reality. The second stanza of ‘When I was Born’ reads:
She called me Omalicha
The name of a beautiful soul
Chanted to bring forth the season of rain
When I was born.
Those who know the poet would agree that the struggle, hope and determination expressed in ‘Passing Through this Door’ is quite characteristic of her. These traits could be seen in her struggles as a student in the University of Ibadan, in her performances as a professional theatrical performer and, above all, in her production of this unique collection.
Apart from the themes, which are universal, timeless and particularly relevant to the prevailing social realities, the poet’s application of poetic devices also contributes to the artistic finesse of the work. Techniques like alliteration, personification, oxymoron, etc, are appropriately deployed towards making the collection a rare work of art.
Omalicha is equally very experimental in her forms; some of the poems are written in such a way that their structures add to the imagery of work. A good example is the second stanza of the poem, ‘I Am Running’ (page 80):
I am r
n i n g
R u n
out of ant-holes
Into boundless meadows….
With this form, the reader could ‘actually see’ the running – helter-skelter – out of ant-holes! If a picture speaks more than a thousand words, as they say, then Omalicha’s form speaks more than a thousand verses.
In terms of language, the poet’s style is equally exceptional; she writes in standard and pidgin English as well as Igbo, her native language. Some of the poems, like ‘Chere m’ (p.89) and ‘Kpam Kpam’ (p.90) are written entirely in Igbo, while ‘Wetin I dey Talk?’ is written in pidgin.
While some critics may see her use of indigenous language as a shortcoming that tends to block readers who do not understand Igbo from enjoying the entire collection, other might view it as an aesthetic spice that offers those educated only in the Igbo language the opportunity to share in the noble messages of the poet.
Omalicha’s Now that Dreams are Born would have indeed been a perfect work but for some few typographical errors. For instance, the line, ‘nibble at the rim your sleep’ (p. 91) should have been ‘nibble at the rim of your sleep’, ‘You fills the pages of our lives’(p.93) is supposed to be ‘You fill the pages of our lives’, while ‘Wearing a hoodover a dark face’ (p.126) ought to have been ‘Wearing a hood over a dark face’. It is hoped that the author would get rid of these blemishes in the subsequent edition of the collection.
By and large, this work is a must-read, because, as the famous poet, Niyi Osundare, put it, it is “informed by a wise, rooted consciousness…” capable of appealing to the intellect and emotion of both literary scholars and the reading public. In this book, Omalicha has indeed given us “a voice to cherish and dreams to share”.
(c) first published in the New Nigerian newspaper edition of 28/1/12, and reused from http://everythinliterature.blogspot.com/2012/02/rythms-of-life-and-death.html with permission.