By Ekanpou Enewaridideke
EBI Yeibo, an English language graduate of the Delta State University Abraka, indigenous to Ayakoromo town in Burutu Local Government of Delta State, Nigeria, now a lecturer at Niger Delta University, Bayelsa State, is a poet of this generation with MAIDEN LINES (a collection of poems) to his credit. The book published in 1997 has generated a complex of differing views among critics. To some critics, Ebi Yeibo is an obscurantist writer – an accusation I see as untenable and condemnable emanating from the unconscious modernist colouration in his poetry which only committed and serious – minded critics can discover – which Ebi Yeibo claims naturally as a reflection of the modern period he has been accidentally catapulted into
I hate cosmetic approach to any collection of poems. Cosmetic review of any collection of poems often produces two unacceptable interpretational possibilities: over-valuation of the worth of a work with “forced” facts not validated by the materials of the work, which rather shows shallow-minded critical exploration, and the devaluation of the work occasioned by the inability of the critic to give the complexities in the work a comprehensive organic whole – which consequently beclouds the worth of the writer and his artistic vision. So, I am poised to give a panorama of Ebi Yeibo’s MAIDEN LINES, pronounce an authoritative judgement on the work and set forth his artistic vision.
Ebi Yeibo’s famous obscurantist MAIDEN LINES has thirty-four poems, each with a clearly situated pathway. The first poem of the collection is titled “MERMAID”. Mermaid is portrayed as a symbolism round which the poet struggles in life. Mermaid symbolises Delta State University, Abraka (Delsu) and how the poet, undistracted, fired by the records of predecessors, toils to realise his academic dream and comes home crowned. As a student at the University he surveys the environment and with humility, without over-self-valuation, he engages his academic task devotedly.
As a newcomer, the poet draws strength and sustenance from the achievements of his predecessors. His preoccupation becomes that of how to excel at the university.
“… And your spread
Takes over my blood
Like the flood”.
The degree he obtains at the university is the crown he has. Crowned, he finds solace and strength from his alluring performance at the university. The poet feels at ease like a traveller home in his destination.
Ebi Yeibo did not only have second-class upper at the Delsu, Abraka, but has equally become a celebrated poet of his generation. Mermaid, traditionally a river god in Izon, symbolising here Delsu, has become a guide for hardwork and commitment. The poem captures his pride in Delsu as a centre of academic excellence. Symbolically, Mermaid has become the force from whose reservoir the poet will draw strength to face future challenges in his struggles.
In the poem, UNCERTAINTY, the poet posits that, as adventurous as man is in this life defined by vicissitudes, man’s glorious dreams can be only realised within the framework of destiny which no one can divine.
What the poem echoes is inescapability and invisibility of death but the poet is saddened and mystified by the death of people cut down in their prime. The poet sees no difference in fate between seeds sown and man. Both are helpless creatures uncertain of the future.
I CAN’T LEAVE HER
Academically nourished by Delsu in many ways in his university days, now full of a sense of appreciation and pride, the poet feels gripped by Delsu like a faithful concubine he cannot part way with. Here university is painted as place where student rely majorly on their individual efforts, with little input from lecturers, to go home crowned deservedly.
This poem celebrates reconciliation and re-union after a moment of battle caused by ignorance between hitherto united people. It also symbolically shows the separation between man and God in moments of sinfulness and acceptance by God in moments of repentance.
The poet shows his revulsion against extermination of humanity by criminals like Lawrence Anini and approval of government’s merciless wrath against them. Criminals are pernicious to society and which calls for their eradication by government. Mosaic-like, the poet sanctions the philosophy of tooth-for-tooth through the extermination of marauding criminals.
The poet takes a look at his childhood past and present adult life. He prefers the simple life of the past years to his present days marked by technological civilisation, resulting in war and mutual mass extermination. Nostalgic of the past, he captures the directionlessness of this world using images of putrefaction like Ayi Kwei Armah in The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born:
“And all about us is the vexed debris
of an unkempt lavatory flourishing with hordes of giant flies”
Conversely, he captures his nostalgia and captivation with the past using agricultural image:
“To those great beginnings we
But so full of life like
Cocoyam leaves in the rainy season”.
The poem centres on how privileged people make this world shaky, unpleasant and unprogressive by their sadistic war profiteering gimmicks – which causes a universal doom, plague and stench symbolised by carcass. The common man who bears the full brunt of the stench tries to exterminate it but privileged individuals in either government or private sector, vulture-like, create and perpetuate the stench – which dramatises man’s indifference and inhumanity to man. The poet captures it thus:
“The vulture on the white altar sings the lead hymnal – – –
The unending feast begins
Fanning the embers
Of our interminable doom”
Symbolically, the common man becomes the carcass the privileged individuals feast on sadistically for economic and political leverage.
THE PURITAN’S DAUGHTER
The poet satirises the puritan’s claim of eliminating immorality in women by merely being inquisitive about their activities. By implication, for an adult, acceptable moral behaviour can only consciously come from within because to the poet:
“Surely repression breeds covet manoeuvring
Because night is bigger than day
And even the whitest chalk
Is tainted by the warm embrace of night”
There are many unmentionable things grown-up girls do unnoticed under the cover of night. The pregnancy of Bekere, the puritan’s daughter, exemplifies the poet’s claim sarcastically presented.
Echoes the inability of man to recreate the ideal state of existence subsequent to the disappearance of the white invaders. The attack here is on any independent African country and her failure to recreate the shattered glorious past. Critical of the present society, Ebi Yeibo is plagued by nostalgia concerning the past glories captured poetically here:
“ As she finds no sober refinement
In the whirlwind of groping feet
Mourning the walls of the beginning”.
KERNEL IN THE SHELL
Paints a picture of empty promises made to develop the Niger Delta. He portrays the under-development and exploitation inherent in the Niger Delta. The poet is optimistic that, just as time creates the discovery of crude oil tapped to the detriment of the owners, time shall equally produce a messenger and put an end to the exploitation in the area. Could the poet be the messenger? Like a kernel in a shell, the Niger Delta is yet to be touched developmentally.
THE UNEMPLOYED UNDERGRADUATE
It is anchored on the personal experiences of the poet in search of employment. It is his dashed hope of employment in a company having written application letter and had oral interview. Purchasing five naira worth of pop-corn (guguru) from a Hausa man, he discovers that his application letter is used to wrap it. Dumbfounded beyond verbal description, he concludes that it is the bad Nigerian leaders who create and perpetuate the monster of unemployment.
Shows the poet’s belated consciousness that many atrocities have been unleashed on him by people he regards as friends. With the discovery of the perfidy and sadism of his friends, it is probable that the poet would change his attitude towards them.
The hypocrisy of a priest from whom many have come to seek salvation dominates the poem. Attitudinally hypocritical towards God, converts cannot find solace and salvation from his crusade. The priest’s relationship with God is clouded by his hypocrisy; so in vain he searches God. The poet captures this thus:
“ The kingdom recedes fast . . .
Like a single pin among a thousand needles
Coconut does not sprout in cocoa trees”.
Insulated from prying eyes, the priest does things that contrast sharply with the ideal Christianity as it is captured in stanza one. The priest flaunts Christianity and embraces occultism.
Unfaithful and unrequited love dominates it. In a dramatic moment of “anagnorisis”, the poet discovers that the lover he has been proud of, rather gaily, is indeed a prostitute and his heart gets suddenly broken by her. In his reminiscent moment he prays against a repeat of this biting circle.
Saddened but disgusted with recurrence he appeals to the god of love (cupid in Greek mythology) to protect him from such impetuous love drama.
“ O cupid, life!
Before thy mercy, I lie prostrate:
Shield me from that awful garden of old
That arrow of horror
That bramble-paved brook”.
Fascination with nature features here. The poet is fascinated by the way River Forcados flows solemnly, begetting ebb, full tide, calm and rip tide respectively. Fascinated by the activities of the fishes and the animals in the river, the poet stresses that while mermaid saves drowning people at sea, shark and crocodiles feast on drowning people – creating a picture of attitudinal duality in River Forcados. Amidst the fascination, the poet is puzzled, like Dr. Gabriel Okara in “Call of the River Nun”, by its impenetrable complex contrasting configuration:
“ O my murky-thicket river
of inscrutable contrasts!
Can water run out of thee
As the hen runs out of water?
Centres on the picture of a responsible and caring mother, highly respected in the village for her unrivalled choreographic and musical skill displayed at a given times in the arena, but alas she dies untimely. This explains why the poet is full of tears, reminiscing over his dead mother to a rather romanticised dimension.
Shows the poet’s love for God’s creation of clowns and their relevance in society depending on the prevailing circumstances. He draws an analogy between the clown, Ayoma, and the fourth masquerade, clothed in the evening during Ayakoromo Okosu-otu cult masquerade festival, that sports with every spectator settling imaginary scores. Just as the fourth masquerade gamesomely entertains, so also Ayoma entertains with his babble. Rather than be dispensed with, the poet says such persons must be accommodated because they fill their vacuum in the society.
Success does not come by magic; solid foundation laid begets it. Certain rituals are associated with success and it is only when these rituals are religiously followed that success can smile on one. Toil and sweating dominates the poem as a foundation of success. Success comes through hardwork, the need to toil to beget success is the message for mankind.
The anchor is the portrayal of the fragmentation, hopelessness, hostility, moral decay, absurdity, frustration and the perpetual doom in this world wrought by man and the need to re-invent, constructively, a new world – which will form the basis for the dreamed flowers to grow “tall and healthy in living spring water” –- to salvage man from the abysmal mess.
THE GOLDEN BIRD
This is a celebration of courage and determination as the source of success or goal realisation found only in adventurous mind. Courage and determination begets success and success begets grudge from envious people and this explains why the poet, having hunted down the golden bird, becomes the target of attack and envy.
This poem is a portrait of River Ethiope in Abraka as a pleasurable spot visited out of pleasure by people from different parts of Nigeria and the danger that lurks behind its celebrated grandeur. Here again the poet shows his attachment to nature.
The focal point here is the invincibility of death and how man, no matter the level of fortification, bows to his beckon. The poet is saddened and puzzled that not even the fabled NDORO BOU forest, noted for mysterious supernatural powers, can pre-empt death. Here he showcases his fanciful philosophy of a world devoid of death.
CROSS – ROADS
The hypocrisy of a priestess once respected knocked off her pedestal because she abuses her priestly call dominates here. The priestess swears and predicts doom but the poet defies her imprecations and proves her wrong – thus dramatising her emptiness. Portrays a priestess in the twilight of her traditional priestly career due to abuse of power. Conscious of her evanescence and insignificance, she struggles strenuously, though to no avail, to regain her traditional dignity captured thus:
“Sweating to cover up that black image
Of bounteous canaan dejected –
Deep in a confused bout of empty statements”
THE KING’S DAUGHTER
Portrays a sadistic king who makes his daughter’s suitors dare a rare thing –- swimming and surviving in a crocodile –- infested pool. Successfully swimming across a crocodile-infested pool is sadistically made a precondition for marrying his daughter. This is a sadistic exercise that occurs only folktale. This shows the poet love for folktale and its preservation. To the surprise of the king, after the consecutive death of the six contending suitors, one “freakish spectator” pushed into the pool by his friend, staggers out of the pool unhurt and eventually marries his daughter.
WHEN A LOVED ONE DIES
The loss of a loved one is unforgettable is the anchor of the poem. By implication, May Ellen Ezekiel Mofe-Damijo, Nigerian journalist, novelist and publisher who died in 1996, to whom the poem is dedicated, will forever escape effacement from the memory of those who love her because the inner tears are always still fresh.
“For when a loved one dies
Though tears that flood the eyes
Eventually cease to flow
Those that inundate the heart
The poem appeals to Christians to be as faithful as Joshua, who by faith, commands the sun and moon to stand still. The poet frowns upon the “double-casting” of his friend, who claims to be Christian, and directs him down the narrow path treaded by true lovers of the kingdom.
BRIDES OF THE NIGHT
Showcases a world plagued by absurdity, hopelessness, fragmentation, frustration, hostility and disenchantment beyond redemption. Hope of survival built on the assurance of the brides crumbles, and stared by a hostile world, people become disenchanted with life and yield to gradual death like Aids – stricken patient. Modernist in conception and vision, the picture evoked is like the one in Becket’s WAITING FOR GODOT. Ebi Yeibo here paints a world where everything has crumbled beyond salvage, caused by a broken or shattered moral order.
Portrays the poet’s fascination with the clown’s capacity to use his sense of humour to create sober moments of reflection in reasonable men – which further confirms his assertion that clowns have their own relevance in society.
TALE OF THE ROSE
Paints man as an empty creature despite his pride and fanciful thoughts. Man’s unbridled pursuit of vanities is painted here and that with his pride and fancies, he still shrinks to nothingness before God. The poet captures this thus:
“ He finds himself hollow
A mere mortal, entrapped in
CHILD FROM THE MOON
Evokes a picture of how the poet’s attempt to save a drowning child in trench practically costs him his life. Finding an apparently innocent child from the moon helpless in the trench, he is propelled by humanity to rescue him but the child metamorphoses, rather dramatically, into a malignant serpent. He quickly shoves him off in consternation. The poet’s experience Parallels Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Christabel” though in “Christabel” the helpless creature succeeds in wreaking havoc on his helper (Christabel).
Dramatises the chasm between the gods and the people. Because the people have lost direction, the gods have equally removed their protective cover and thus the poet becomes helpless, beaten by the scorching sun. Indeed, the god, offended, has taken the form of a pitiless sun that scorches them punitively for the breakdown of the acceptable moral code among the people.
The poem is an exploration of the myth traditionally associated with twilight. In Ijaw mythology, twilight has deceptively a strange power of attracting beautiful girls into the forest beyond the reach of the visible world. Forest workers have been tricked far into the forest beyond rescue by the apparent faint light deceptively thrown on the earth by twilight when in actual geographical time measurement, the day has gone feeble. Aware of this age-long disaster, the lioness hastens to maul her prey, the poet’s mother too comes home in time to escape the looming disaster. At such time, spirits are known to simulate forms to lure people into the forest beyond rescue, and for this, people ignore voices and tales heard in the forest supposedly made by spirits.
To the poet, the activities of the lioness, his mother, the spirits and many others point to the strange disastrous power of twilight – which confirms his mythological exploration as a guide for this generation – captured appropriately thus:
“All helrading the misty bright day
That guides living souls
To the greater life yonder”
The poet’s mother stresses the decay and directionlessness in the world and the need for rebirth through jealously guarding the claypot. The mother tells the poet what he should and should not do. The poet, amidst other things, is reminded that she is chilled to the marrow by the claypot recklessly broken into fragments by his generation. The claypot embodies the wisdom of the age and is the lodestar for the poet’s benighted generation carried away by the lure of western culture. The appeal is to the poet to respect tradition, find his roots and religiously stick to her words. The following lines capture this well-intentioned appeal:
“… But carry these worlds of the soil
On the centre of your head
As permanently as maidens
Carry flowery lines
On their alluring stomachs”.
Claypot is a poem possessed of a modernist temper and sensibilities. It captures the absurdity, and directionlessness in the modern world caused by the smashing of the claypot into smithereens. The broken claypot has become the plague in the world. It is only a new world that recognises the worth of the claypot as the only dependable formula for existence that offers the prospect of survival. The poem raises existentialist question.
Ebi Yeibo creates picture of a world absurd, hostile, meaningless, fragmented, directionless, plagued by universal doom, occasioned by total breakdown of the acceptable moral order. A world where nothing seems to work perfectly. Nauseated virtually by all he sees around him, the poet artistically pines for an invention of a new world with a sacrosanct moral order. This is a modernist artistic vision that parallels only that of D.H. Lawrence’s THE RAINBOW.
I must confess that the language of Ebi Yeibo is rather complex; but, interestingly, the complexity stems from the images used to communicate his vision, which is the hallmark of a committed poet. MAIDEN LINES is predominated by agricultural images and images drawn from the Niger Delta. Specifically, besides the agricultural images, as Professor Kay Williamson observes, “Ebi Yeibo evokes the Izon riverscape and invests it with his feelings and reflections on life”. These images from his landscape, philosophically and metaphysically coloured, give his poetry very complex colouration.
However, from the preponderance of lexemes like “stilting rays”, “flood”, “shores”, “tide”, “wall-gecko”, “green leaves”, “nets”, “brooding chick”, “fish”, “dewdrops”, “sprout”, “shrinks”, “flowers”, “canoe”, “rocks” and “sun”, it is clear that geography, agriculture and biology define the poet’s field of discourse. And this shows the vastness of the poet’s frame of reference.
With the modernist sensibility and colour predominant in MAIDEN LINES, Ebi Yeibo’s poems, THE KING’S DAUGHTER, THE PURITAN’S DAUGHTER and TWILIGHT, are not thematically striking. These poems generate questions as to whether Ebi Yeibo’s MUSE was asleep when they were written. Besides, I equally question the suitability of the titles of these two poems, BRIDES OF THE NIGHT and TALE OF THE ROSE.
Ebi Yeibo is an exiting and gifted poet of this generation. He pays meticulous attention, unparalleled, to the minutest virtually forgotten aspects of Ijaw culture, with his gripping poetic spontaneity, and amazingly invests them with a significance beyond their usual traditional glow. Despite his condemnable but reversible occasional stray into insignificance in the choice of materials used, evident in the PURITAN’S DAUGHTER, the KING’S DAUGHTER and TWILIGHT, Ebi Yeibo is indeed an exciting poet of this generation who would gain international repute, if not already now, much like Wole Soyinka, J.P. Clark and Gabriel Okara if he consistently maintains his original artistic maturity, tempo and vision displayed in MAIDEN LINES.
By Ekanpou E.
enewaridideke @yahoo. com