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As PH spills poems, not just oil

Amu Nnadi’s ‘the love canticles’ throws a ‘Revelation’ and poetic resurgence in Niger Delta

Poetry shook the Niger Delta from Port Harcourt last week when the seventh book of poetry rolled out from the pens of the rising star of Nigeria’s literary community, Chijioke Amu Nnadi. He dubbed the entire episode as ‘Revelation’. The book ‘the love canticle’ attracted the topmost people in society across the south-south and east. Amu Nnadi hails from Enugu State but works and lives in Rivers State thus is seen as a man across two geo-political zones, a true Port Harcourt boy.

At the presentation which took place at The Dome, one of the newest but most exotic event centres in the oil city along the new happening route called Peter Odili Road, the author said the ‘Revelation’ is both a culmination and renewal, a declaration and an affirmation.”

He said the event began with time, which is both timely and timeless. He went on, “Somewhere in the love canticles, I had echoed that ‘Literature is listening to the breathing of God, and putting it into words.’

He stated that the artist shares a kinship with creation, one more profound than what any other professional possesses. The artist observes, captures, records and then ordains. For when God said to man, “Go into the world and multiply”, it was for what is physical as well as metaphysical; as much about procreation as it is about creation. The mind of a poet is god, he says.

He went deeper into esoteric realms, casting God as a poet: “Artists, no less poets, bear the spirit of the ages. From the beginning of time, when the first poem was written, and the light was revealed to defeat the void (and ignorance), he has interpreted and eulogised life. He has given purpose and illumination to life. For each poem that is written is light, each art created breath; undiminished and undiminishable.” He went ahead to name others that followed God’s poetic path, in song, dance, sculpture, writing or painting: Ovid, Homer, Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Neruda, Okara, J. P. Clark… they will never die.

Digging back, the Director in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), who attracted the topmost echelon of the intervention agency as well as governors and past ministers said; “My first book, the fire within, winner of the ANA/Gabriel Okara Poetry Prize, was published in 2002. My third, through the window of a sandcastle, published in 2013, rode a wave of international attention, particularly following its emergence as the runner up to the Nigeria Prize for Literature (2013), winner of the ANA Poetry Prize (2013), as well as the inaugural winner of the Glenna Luschei African Poetry Book Prize in 2014.

“Yet, almost twenty years after that first publication, this is the first time I would publicly present any work of mine. I’ll explain shortly.”

He revealed that he was always meant to write, “Even when I didn’t know that words lived within me. I was introduced to poetry in a rather rude fashion. I was on my way to my own Damascus, challenging a friend who I felt disturbed me (and all his friends at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka) with his scribbling. And I got a rude awakening, much like Saul’s. In the fire within, I had acknowledged that this friend said I was dead without poetry and I chose to live. Here, we stand witness to that truth.” That is what makes the seventh book a ‘Revelation’, the revelation of Chijioke as an artist instead of physicist the father was; revelation of the life in him he never knew, and the revelation of truth to humanity that true life is in life and life is about love, even if it drops in canticles.

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Since this Revelation that is in the circle, the author said it has been a journey of apostolic proportions, travelling many cities of the mind, casting out demons of nescience. “There are lots of good stories from this journey. Great wins. There are very low moments too. And Golgotha. They have all become material for my poetry, and life’s lessons. But then, every road has its smooth patches and its potholes. Its crown and thorns. As it is with life. As it is with art. As it should be. And so, it is all good.”

His journey manifested in realities; “In 2018, I was appointed the Resident Poet of the Port Harcourt Literary Society. That position brought with it a keener edge, and more profound depth, to my enjoyment, and understanding, of poetry. In the hall of the Society’s library, I have met some of poetry’s finest disciples. I have met young artists whose voices are tongues of fire and baptism. And together, we have discovered that old character of the poem, the kind which quickened Mariam to sing to God, as Israelites escaped Egypt: in every poem, there is a song.

He said this time around, he has added songs through an album which was performed on that day. “Today, therefore, besides unveiling a book of poetry, we are introducing songs created from my poetry, by these brilliant young members of the Port Harcourt Literary Society, with a talent as old as age. It was beyond poetry rendered to music and choruses. It was beyond spoken word or performance poetry. It was pure music. It was magical. This is everything beautiful! We have a total of 16 tracks in this album. There are 12 songs and four poems rendered by me to music and chants.”

He spoke like the Amu-Nnadi he is: “We had to make this public before they become public. We had to invite you to share in their beauty, in the magnificence of their melodious genius. You do not light a lamp and keep it under wraps. This is poetry with light. And lightning. For you will discover, through these songs, through these words, through these poems, fire and totem; everything beautiful about art. About life. And immortality. As I have.”

In a scintillating review, Onyemuche Anele Ejesu of the UNN said he tried to show the focus of African poetry. “I believe its most revolutionary bent is to be found in the way it solicits the African literary canon. The answer to the question asked above is inherent in the way African literature has been defined since the time of its modern pioneers, in the requirement of social relevance as the authentic mode of being for any work that seeks a decent place in the African literary canon. African literature, for a long time, has leaned towards the public, towards what could be described as the collective experiences of the African people.”

Poetry, he said, is the most private form of literary art, particularly the lyric form of poetry. “It is important to understand the interaction of two traditions beyond just the distinct immanence of love poetics and topo-poetics. This interaction plays out in the consciousness that drives some of the poems. For instance, in the poem ‘my earth’, we find that Brutus-like reality where land and love exchange identities to the point that they become indistinguishable from each other.

“The poems are not just about places and loves. They are in themselves created places and loves, so that the speaker in one of the poems speaks of ‘this lost being who crafts you into being’. To follow the poet in this journey, crafting loves and places into being, is to venture into an enterprise with plenty returns.”

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