By Ekanpou Enewaridideke
Ebi Yeibo, the poet who lectures at Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island Bayelsa State, has just announced his maturity and commitment to his craft in the literary world with his second collection of poems named A song for tomorrow and other poems published respectively in 2003 and 2008 by different publishers. Ebi Yeibo’s latest collection contains forty-two poems and these poems outnumber the poems in his maiden collection of poems titled MAIDEN LINES. It is interesting to note that it is perhaps in acknowledgement of Ebi Yeibo’s poetic sophistication and commitment that A song for tomorrow and other poems has deservingly won series of literary awards since its publication. However, the poems in this collection are correspondingly subjected to critical physiotherapy in their order of appearance in the book because this is the path through which the critic can professionally identify and distinguish dislocation, fracture and debility in the body of the poems and recommend potent therapy.
Portrays a visionless, directionless and retrogressive nation where the people are suffocated because it is being besieged by decay and disorder, shrouded in darkness.
“When night sits unabashed on a nation’s breath
The result is profuse sweat”
A blind and wasted generation portrayed. The people will have to grope having lost sense of sight from the rainbow. Mothers no longer breastfeed their children; even the gods have abandoned the people. The generation is gone; the people only hope for a better tomorrow they are not too certain of:
“So we learn a new song like children learning to walk with unsteady, uncertain steps for a new tomorrow”
Portrays a generation that is out of touch with the values that will make progress. Abandoned and wasted society, mortally wounded by self-inflicted stasis is the picture painted.
Draws attention to the poet’s love for nature. Birds, monkeys and eagle in celebratory mood. People enjoy the ongoing spectacle around the creatures. Then suddenly the eagle is shot dead. The poet is saddened over the dead eagle. The poet enjoys nature and questions the destructive intrusion. The poet says:
‘But alas! A bullet from nowhere struck.
Sunk really deep
Its big head drops, drips pitiably
A riddle, a grisly riddle
But people say it shot itself
O’ It’s sad, so sad
Watching it fall’
Symbolically, it is a pointer to the intrusion of the Niger Delta by oil companies and Federal Government who destroy the Niger Delta and pauperise them, creating pollution and turbulence in the river.
A crumbling nation that only celebrates “dry leaves,” “dead tress” and “flowers drooping”: Visionless nation down the path of destruction. The poet says there is nothing to celebrate in such nation. The decay is caused by it because the nation chooses the wrong road and fails to befriend the good road. The poet sees gathering clouds as redemptive force for this crumbling nation but they ignore it. The poet says:
“So when heavenly clouds gather again in the deep blue sky
The innocent sky that sings
Spirited songs of solace across the land
Do we not cover our ears?
Do we not choose to be blind?
Do we not hang belief on a rafter?”
This poem throws up the picture of a nation not ready for redemption and regeneration.
A dry and hopeless land populated by hopeless fishermen and farmers is unveiled. The land yields nothing. The people are often frustrated. This is the land of Niger Delta where oil has destroyed farming and fishing, where the air is polluted. Captures this from the outset:
“The wind blows across the land
Bereft of breeze’s soothing hand
And a feast of flood everywhere
With not a single fish in sight.”
Saddened by the pervading environmental pollution and hopelessness, the poet poses the question:
“O when will the promise of day
Ever break on us again?”
This captures the poet’s disillusionment and his awareness of the darkness around them.
Re-awakens the days of military dictatorship when assassination, detention, exile and humiliation of pro-democracy activities are the order of the day. The atrocities of the military era are saddening when recalled. They are despotic leaders who ruin the country. The ruination of the country by the khaki boys runs through the poem in these lines:
“And green men holding a whole world
To ransom, deaf despots
That inflicts crafty pestilences
Of every mould and measurement
On every soul that breathes in the sun”
TEARS IN THE HOM
The evils of dictatorship here. Dictatorship is anti-progress. Even with democracy at hand, it is all lies. Nothing good has come. Tears of underdevelopment and exploitation are everywhere. Niger Deltans are painted as full of tears.
“Poets sees no difference between the soldiers and democrats.
Poet appeals for divine intervention in the form of “budding sun”.The poet
sees the sun as agent of change.
“May this stirring sun
Mop up the maddening murk
And stem the stream of tears”
Also appeals for a situation where patriotic people will emerge and dictate the pace of things in the democracy and clear the mess.
“Let the chorus of saints
Bury the canister of lies
Daggers of memory, with ancient harvests.
Poet opts for a change in the present crop of leaders parading as patriots.
SEASON OF DROUGHT
Portrait of a sweeping picture of decay in the land where hopes are dashed with reckless abandone. Depicts a season of biting poverty, decay and pseudo-patriotism. Earlier prophets are part of the decay. The civilians in power are part of it. All over the place are empty promises of prophets and politicians. The poet’s heart bleeds nauseated by the bad things around. Even with a bleeding heart, the poet calls for collective action to clear the mess and start a new untainted life. Believes in the potency of genuine collective action to redeem the land.
“Then let us adorn it
Like a bride at dawn
Let us sweep it spick and span
And flower it with fresh furniture
Etched with tip-top tapestry”
“Let us defy the unholy past
And deify the global prayers
That flood the gates of the fresh heavens
Dispersing boundless frills and thrills
A cross the land”
The poet interrogates both the past and the present and find both stinking. His concern is about the future. Nigeria is the likely country.
Portrays a country that has destroyed the pillars that would have marked its progress. With this mess, the poet draws attention to endless coups, endless transition, reckless looting of the national cake and the parading of different dreams created to attain growth but insincere, the dreams are rootless and become mere promises to trick the people. An independent African country that has failed to follow the footsteps of their founding fathers can never make progress. Thus the poet says,
“We can all see, friends
The festering sores on or our neck
As walls of freedom
Crumble on unsuspecting flex
Shaving off ancient beards of hope”
Because the nation has wilfully thrown away her pair of moral compass, they are doomed. They have no prop again. Poet captures this thus:
“Or can’t you remember, friends
That depraved morals are being less souls
That dare not fly
Even beyond the whirlwind
Of crashing hopes”
FOR OUR SONS WHO ARE PATRIOTS
Gives a blueprint to patriots to adopt. In a land where dreams are killed and nothing works, patriots should mobilise and dislodge the forces that retard societal growth. Patriots are not people who fold their hands and watch their land sink by degrees without action. Patriots must be Marxist in approach. The poet clearly defines patriotism for more patriotism to grow. The images of ‘tebesonoma’ and ‘Malcolm’ reinforce the picture of patriotism.
The poet brings to light his rural roots – days in the village where crickets announce daybreak and the poet and his kind go about fishing, using nets and hooks. With their haul, barter fish for tapioca and starch with Urhobo traders. This is pure love for simple past. But today oil has destroyed the fishing industry. The poet portrays a glorious past now subverted by oil. The evil of oil exploration in the Niger Delta. The poet captures this thus:
Fishermen sweat for nothing
Oil has poisoned the river”
Portrays church as a place where unholy men of God hypnotise rich men with miracles and exploit them. Such men are also seen fighting one another over who will succeed the other. Poet paints them as people who believe in the potency of dreams and rituals and uses them for their purpose. Men of God are busy piling up treasures on earth when they are supposed to lay treasure in Heaven. Sees them as tricky people. Poet sees them as agent used by devil to achieve his designs on earth. They are not of God.
“Our memories are mere misgivings
A ceremonious tapestry of Satan’s wiles
A gratuitous accident, written with water”
THE LAND OF CANAAN
Canaan is supposed to be a land of everything but here the poet sees a land that is empty and deceptive. All the sacrifices made to reach there are in vain. The poet first captures the futility of the trip. All sacrifices would the poet says
“This is the green beginning
Of a voyage through deserts
Ending in colourless revelations.”
Focuses on a nation that has become independent and democratic. But all what they portray are mere shadows. It is a deceptive land of emptiness and glamour where things don’t work in actuality. Captures the complete darkness that characterises the country.
“O see shadows all over the place
In sleek coats of gold
And bats flying everywhere
With elegant wings of doves
Only to pull the rug
Right under our feet
Sliding us off on a floor
That looks not slippery
But can one tell the face
Broken in the dark?”
Draws attention to the imprisonment and execution of Ken Saro wiwa on framed-up charges. Sees Ken as the harbinger of a new dawn. The crushing of a voice like Ken is a loss to all Niger Deltans and to the country at large. A reservoir of resources for intellectual growth, his death deprives us of this opportunity because when an African dies, according to Prof. G. G. Dorah, a whole library goes with him. A writer brings to light the secrets of nature and teaches mankind. Lamentable that death removes all that and the poet draws attention to the caging of Ken using the image of a bird poised to sing for mankind’s direction:
“The skylark is caged
With spiked blanket
Spread over barbed wire
For unveiling sinewy sums
In the middle of night”
Poet establishes the loss linked to loss of his craft and the benefit and the dawn it signals.
“But we shall be the losers
For the secrets of the land
Beyond the skies
Shall remain with the land
Beyond the skies”
His resources are now out of reach. This is painful to the poet. Thee writer as the voice of vision, killing Ken throws up a society that will not move forward. Stagnated society. Directionless society.
Portrays his country as a place where elections are rigged though papers create impression that all is well. A country where people rig their way into office. Poet scorns the hypocritical claims of leaders on the pages of newspaper. Says that the true position of things in his country must not be judged from papers. Sees nothing good in the land . Any successor on the throne of the country manufactures more wayos to exploit the masses.
“O let us remember too
That every successive dawn
In this white-washed coven
Only turns a hallowed hatchway
To more stratagems.”
A land beyond redemption is painted.
EVEN BONES ARE MIGHTIER THAN US
Portrays servants of God who have selfishly forsaken the path of Christ and only exploit the people and reduce them to bony structures. Men of God are hypocritical. In another angle, the federal government and oil companies have exploited the Niger Deltans so much that they have become weak, bony, brittle and fragile – a situation that further reinforces their predisposition to exploitation . Saddens the poet that people who should brighten up the Niger Delta developmentally are the same people who exploit it.
“O it’s sad, sorely sad
Watching supposed servants
We stuck out necks to endorse
Snob our will
Then eat all the flesh
All the oil and all the head
Concealing even little crumbs
Dry bones and scrawny tales
From us morsels of mortals
Dunghills and garbage dumps
Perhaps to make us remain
Like motionless waters,
In the pool of perpetual…”
Here poet says the people we voted for are the people killing us.
GHOSTS I N THE IVORY TOWER
Says that before the discovery of oil – a time people are married to their traditional occupations, nobody cares about the existence of Niger Deltans. With the discovery of oil, different people have emerged depriving the owners of the wealth. People who do not understand the feelings of Deltans now claim to be committed to their plight and under that pretext exploit the people. Captures this thus:
But can’t you see men
With leaky baskets fetching
Golden waters from the great river
While native women carrying water jars
Are locked out like the foolish virgins?
LAGOS NUGA GAMES
Portrays conflict, war and petitions that characterise the Lagos Nuga games. People clash and protest because the rules are not followed. The poet is saddened that petitions and protest are registered because he expects nothing good from it since Nuga is a component of Nigeria. Sees petition as waste of time. It is the spirit of the country where only bad things occur.
“But I laugh a mirthless laughter
And turn away my face
From such unfashionable nonsense”
Brings out his picture in the next stanza:
“You see, when palm fruits
Slip into a bowl of palm oil
Is it not the same homeland?
In NUGA not a strand of society?
Is UNILAG from the moon?”
WARRI CRISIS I
Fight over oil, politics and history portrayed. Paints mutual destruction of lives and property. Under the pretext of curfew during communal war, soldiers descend on innocent people, arrest, flog and imprison them in the name of war. Markets are deserted. No business, confrontation between lads and mobile policemen is common. Lads no longer listening to cease-fire. Bodies not pierced by bullets, except oath broken. The insincerity of leaders who are not ready to end the war is showcased.
“O black leaders and cosmetic rhetoric
Couched in conspiratorial window-dressing
Wouldn’t it ever end?
Can sweet sugar
Ever cure malaria fever?”
The poet further that even the gods are not happy about the prolongation of the war.
“Needless to say then
That even blood-starved gods of war
Wouldn’t ever bless a blood bath
Without end …
Bleeding with pregnant hate.”
WARRI CRISIS II
Evokes the season of oil wealth when it is movement and pleasure over the land. Men and women cruising together. All that is displaced by crisis making it possible for uniformed men to mount road blocks, humiliating and exploiting people in the name of curfew, killing innocent persons. Then after all the harm, the leaders will appear with fake rhetoric without solving problems. The oil has become the bane of the people because it is part of the war. Because of war, oil companies fly to other lands, even people migrate to other land for survival. The people brood over lost ones and property. The three tribes become antagonistic to one another.
“For laughter’s of chirpy birds
Never flow freely in crimson creeps
Dripping with biles, pulling the legs
Of the tripod on which the city stands
Far, far apart, who now see
One another as poisonous lepers”
The poet at first nostalgically captures the pleasures of the past when the three tribes are happy:
“This is the spot
Where the tripod stood
With bondless good will”
Bemoans the glorious past and become leaders for crisis prolongation.
A NEW NAME
Criticism of the present democracy. Via struggles, military has been pushed away. New democracy takes over. Khaki is aberrational. Poet says even the present is not the answer to our problems. We are still exploited .
“But this clement neither
Has a false face that deflates too soon
For we are yet in another dark alley
Which spurns our flowers
And even dreams will not germinate.”
Captures further this:
“O look at our new name
Tied to a stake
A grisly skeleton
Even this will not perch”
To the poet the new name is a new chastisement/torment.
THE INNOCENT LANDLORD
Tells story of two mobile policemen who seek accommodation from a couple who embarrassingly turn down their offer because he does not want to harbour mobile policemen. Some days later, some security operatives take him way, handcuffed, for detention on the charge that he embezzles two million dollars of a German oil firm, his employer. The Golden city news carries the whole story.I do not see what this poem teachers us. The poet does not prove that the landlord is guilty or innocent or the security operatives are right or wrong. The poem teaches nothing. Only reports. Not a good poem.
Poet hyperbolically depicts his love for a woman. The woman means the whole world to him in many ways.
“In your eyes
I find solace
Your glowing seducing eyes”
The poet shows amazing capacity for love. Sadly the love he shows over the place is unrequited by the woman. The poet is an impulsive lover who does not look before leaping. Captures unrequited love thus:
“But the grizzly face
I see beyond . . .
Remorseless heat of man
More than ever before.”
Depicts chronic religious hypocrisy .Portrays a devotee of God who shows identical depth of enthusiasm in both church and worldly activities. She does church work devotedly and also goes to club with men, snatching friend’s boyfriends, drinks stouts. Goes to church on Sunday morning. On Sunday afternoon and night, goes to club for enjoyment. She is in swanky dress. Yet when she sees others similarly, she portrays them as bad girls. She says:
“Now I see sleek damsels parading about
With seductive habiliments
They are actually advertising
Mouth-watering wores-heavy hips
And big, big boobs.”
She casts aspersion on the girls thereby unknowingly showingher directionlessness like the Duke in the poem.’my last Duchess’, cast in dramatic monologue.
“It is disgusting, so disgusting
That my companion and I
Retire into a clean chalet
Right in the Isi-ewu joint
To avoid these girls without
A moral compass, see them
No scintilla of shame”
Having positioned the girl to reveal her weaknesses herself in dramatic monologue, the poet shows the moral thus:
“You see, my sisters
We born Agains must find
An escape route from this kind of mess”.
Flamboyance, hypocrisy, directionlessness, arrogance, corruption and manic tendency to amass wealth and rhetorical pronouncements prepare the ground for evolution of militancy. Such hypocrtiical behaviour throws people into laughter and infuse revolutionary blood into them. The poet’s position is that the attitude of bad leaders breeds revolution and militancy.
“And how they lullaby the soul
Of a serenely giant pregnant
With inviolate possibilities
Into a boneless cloln
Choked with fatal gaps
And blood-letting coughs
In a seemingly endemic cycle”.
Sycophancy is portrayed as being worse than devils. The tendency to be sycophantically chameleonic to fit into every system is what is being attacked here. The use of power of oratory for sycophantic end. Man cannot trick God because he is all-seeing. Talks about Abacha regime. Death sneaks in and takes Abacha. When he dies, those who once parade him as a good material change position and say that nemesis has caught up with him. These are the people poet sees as worse than devil. Poet also says that Aso rock is penetrable by God and death. It is not fortified before God. This is the lesson he wants people to learn from this poem. People that use tongue to confuse leaders in throne need to change.
Paints picture of a poem that he wants to write which he is unable to recall. The poem disappears. The poem appears in his dream but waking up he cannot recall it. The poet is touched by this lost poem. This lost poem teaches nothing and ought not have been part of this collection. It is a private experience and so there is no need to share it with us.
The poet maintains that when we recall our simple past throwing up innocence and memories, we tend to celebrate them. In the celebration of this past, when we recall what we fail to do at that, now beyond redeem, we are cold and saddened.
MARKS IN THE SKY
Poet bemoans the death of a literary artist– which is a blow to the literary world. A priceless stone, cut down in his prime, he is a source of inspiration and will forever be remembered forever based on works left behind. Poet says thus:
“And no gusts of wind or showers
. . .
Dare quench the world’s soothing camps”.
Captures the grief that greets his death and portrays the immortality of a writer captured thus:
“ O the sky bird is gone, the nightingale
That nightingale that carries
That sings ageless songs uncaged
Alas, the salt of the naked season
Is silenced forever”.
A tribute to princess Diana who dies in 1997. Paints as a great woman who touches the whole world positively. A positive force that shines everywhere she goes. She has a kind heart felt everywhere. Hyperbolic portrait. With such heart, the poet wishes she were insulated from death.
Celebrates the tradition of placing poems on notice board – a tradition they start as pioneers of the department. He goes back to Delsu and finds the tradition revived with good poems. He is excited and recalls his days:
“ I remember my days . . .
Venting visions fair and foul.
Paints Ila-orangun as a pleasure spot where he goes to spend time. His moments are unforgettable.Enjoys good meal and drinks with rural folk. He says thus:
“But can I ever forget their nights?. . .
Palwine and women
O those nights . . .
IF I WERE GOD
The poet wishes he were God so that he can create a way to create his wings and eyes in his own way infused with passion. This is a fanciful thought borne out of dissatisfaction with the way God has created them. Questions God.. Modernist strands that echo the The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence.
“If I were God . . .
In height beyond the skies
Sees the present world as a
Barricade to fulfilment of his vision.
Wants God removed from the path.
Nostalgically recalls pleasant moment spent in the countryside. But those moments are no more. Dreams gone. The poet enjoys this moments and recalls them in rural areas. Portrays countryside as a pleasurable place of good memories. But I don’t see what we stand to gain from this poem. What does it teach?
Shows his love for nature. Fascinated by the bird on trees singing. This soothes him. Loves watching the bird. The bird flutters, branches, trees quenching, singing gives joy:
“Quenching our scorching garment
For just a match flare moment
In rainbow hearts”.
The poet says here that his well-crafted time that explores the darkness will create a linkage between the suffocating darkness and light – such that the light takes over the darkness like Saul re-awakened to a good life by the light.
SECRETS OF THE LAND
For the safety of the secrets of the land, the village decides to banish parrot. Goes to parrot’s house. Wife says parrot is out. Messenger outside wet in the deluge. Parrot arrives from tale-bearing wet; ushers the elders in. Entertains, makes fire for them. Kola and food. The rain reduced. The elders tell parrot that he should not tell everything he sees. They leave. I don’t see any wisdom or lesson here.
WHY I SING
Poet says a minstrel sings to guide man on the right path. Directs man to find his roots and lead good life. The poet also writes to direct man. Poetry is didactic. The poet educates and directs. This is what he means when he says:
“So songs in verse
. . .
To lace him up with sobriety
And I lullaby him to stir
As a compass for his reign”.
The poet says tomorrow is looking for a place to perch. Tomorrow carrying misted eyes has not found a place to perch.
“Tomorrow,fresh and fecund
Smiles from the world yonder
Surveys the expansive earth
With misted eyes
For a place to perch”
A dim picture is created here.
FOR MY SON YET UNBORN
Darkness is upon the land. Villains have taken over the land with choking breaths killing dream. Scorpions and rogues have taken over the land, destroying the land choking genuine voice of vision. With poetry he has manufactured cure for this madness to wash away the dirt so that the next generation will walk on the ideal path. Specifically, he has woven this songs for his son and by extension every unborn child:
“That our children may find
The tickling harmonies of old
When they come”.
With blood of assassination in their hands, destroying all the stars that can guide us. When we stink, variously inhibited, not ready to change, still full of rot, the poet says this generation has nothing to teach our children.
“Why do we tread the same path
Strewn with ashes and rot?
Portrays a society floundering, unable to guarantee a future/hope for the next generation.A wasted generation. A generation beyond redemption. The poet is singing for attitudinal change.
A SONG FOR TOMORROW
Poet says we should bury our past completely so that a new tomorrow can come. A new tomorrow can only come if we bury the past. We can collectively build a new tomorrow that will brighten the life of our children. Poet sees conscious collective effort as a basis for a better tomorrow. Let us change. We do not need prayers by priests only practical action. Sounds constructively marxist. Modernist in colour betrayed by his passion for a new order. The poem shows the poet’s passion for a secured tomorrow. This explains why he sees total break with the stinking past as a basis to guarantee progressive tomorrow . Cares much about the future captured thus:
‘The wisdom of the weaver bird
Cannot break the calabash of sacrilege
For when a plague of history
Sheds not its mournful leaves
Tomorrow is sure profaned…
Will build a mansion on this land
And a fence,a sober bulwark,
Against a doomed handshake
With general dirges
In the coming ages.’
Ebi Yeibo’s A Song For Tomorrow and other poems is predominantly a compact portrait of the dictatorial tendencies of the Nigerian democracy, the deliberate exploitation and under-development of the Niger Delta region by the Federal Government and the oil companies, religious hypocrisy, love for nature, his nostalgic attachment and obsession with the simple past, danger of inter-tribal wars and war- profiteering and loss of loved ones in their prime. Ebi Yeibo questions the achievements of his generation, giving it a factually verifiable portrayal as a consciously wasted generation that badly needs redemption. His opening poem “NIGHT” captures this dim picture just as his last poem, ‘a song for tomorrow’, captures his commitment to his redemptive vision. Ebi Yeibo artistically sticks to the vision that his generation is hopeless, directionless and wasted; the picture is that of a nation that can only be redeemed via conscious effort and strong will. Stuck to this vision, Ebi Yeibo becomes worried and alarmed by the future of the next generation. To salvage the next generation from the present ways, Ebi Yeibo calls for practical attitudinal change from all so that tomorrow can claim transfiguration as a progressive heritage. His preoccupation is with that of creating a secure future for the next generation.
The progressive vision of Ebi Yeibo in A Song For Tomorrow and Other Poems, which naturally demands applause from any good reader/patriot, appears apparently obscured by his predominant elliptical structures,rankshifted clauses, verbless clauses, proverbially cast deep images from his Ijaw myth and cosmology coupled with his overly imagistic ornamentation of some of his poems. This makes the language somewhat inaccessible but maximally enjoyable. Though characteristically Ebiyeiboic, his language in this collection is much more accessible and readable than the language of his first volume MAIDEN LINES.