By Chukwuma Ajakah
In this anthology of introspective poems, Mcphilips Nwachukwu explores the vicissitudes of life as a personal voyage fraught with thrills and frills.
The poet navigates through the varying experiences he has had in life, capturing the defining moments in fine lines of poetry crafted under divers titles and broadly divided into three parts: Memory Space, Moon Songs and Journeying.
The collection of poems published in 2014 by Bookdoctors Press, Nigeria, encapsulates earlier works of the now late Mcphilips including those featured in the literary journals of his alma mater, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and University of Lagos as well as the popular, Okike founded annotated by the renowned African novelist, Chinua Achebe.
Some of the poems have also spiced the art pages of notable Nigerian daily newspapers such as The Guardian, The Champion and Vanguard where the journalist cum poet worked as the Art Editor before he died in 2013. As if the poet had a premonition of his demise, most of the poems in the anthology depict the overriding theme of death as an inevitable end for all mortals while a few celebrate the sunny side of a transient life fraught with uncertainties and disappointments.
The poems crafted in the similitude of Kofi Awoonor-Williams ‘Songs of Sorrow” contain predominantly lyrics of lamentation as elegies mourn the premature demise of members of the family with the pervading mood of intense loneliness and dejection. The elegies in Memory Space which forms the first part of So Long a Night include: “Garlands for the Serial Killer”, “Badge of Honour”, “Is This the Way of the Faithful?”, “Easter Ash”, “Disconnections”, “Laughter in a Season of Agony”, “Son of My Father”, “The Jungle Carnival” and “Reincarnating at the Carnal”.
The second part of the anthology subtitled, Moon Songs provides a sublime-albeit temporal comic relief from the avalanche of misfortunes with titles like: “Timeless Dream”, “Return of Early Risers”, “New Song of Life”, “The Moon, My First Love”, “Rain Song’ and “Time of Reckoning”. But, even in this segment, there are poems alluding to certain calamities experienced within the nuclear and extended family setting. These include the following: “Evening Benediction”, “My Exiled Hero”, “In Search of Udengalasi”, “Unfilled Earth”, “Betrayal”, “Angelus” and “Ismail, My Brother”.
In the last part, Journeying, the poet presents five poems, namely: “Pretorika”, “Homage”, “Different Strokes”, “Out of Place” and “Remembering the Jazz of Azania”. In Journeying, the poet recounts experiences garnered from his travels especially within Africa where the people seem to share a common heritage of underdevelopment and backwardness. Journeying-as the title implies, is a travelogue that chronicles the poet’s observations on the state of cities in African countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Congo and Cote d’Ivoire. While the allure of cities like Durban makes them tourists’ delight and haven for immigrants, the poet decries the deplorable living conditions of the natives as well as the spate of violence, criminality, indolence and flagrant disregard for traditional value system prevalent in these supposed prime cities.
The verses presented in Memory Space and Moon Songs are largely traditional while Journeying, the concluding segment can be categorized as contemporary poetry dealing with topical current socio-economic and political issues like the exploitation of the masses depicted in the following lines of Remembering the Jazz of Azania:
But the mistakes of many decades
Are still fresh
Populating the cities of Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town
And all the streets of Azania
In these born again provinces
Old wounds still fester in the air
Putrid smell of man’s wickedness to man
A legacy of violence…
The language of the poem is relatively simple as the messages are presented in a narrative style with easy to understand words. The poem has a dominant melancholic tone intermingled with sarcasm-as in Garlands for the Serial Killer which sarcastically derides the household enemy that derives pervasive pleasure in the deaths of members of the personae’s family. The poet reveals an attitude of pessimism to life in most of the poems.
Except for the later part that portrays a tinge of optimism, So Long a Night can safely be described as a localized adaptation of George Kofi Awoonor-Williams’ “Songs of Sorrow 1 and 11” especially with regards to its message laden with wailings and style of presentation.