By Chukwuma Ajakah
Nigerian poet, Uche Ikpe explores moments of darkness in his debut collection of poems, “Blue Journal: Darkness” which portrays the unpleasant emotions bottled up in the life of a typical African youth.
The anthology published by Coppell, TX (2019) consists of 21 poems spread across 41 pages. Focusing on “darkness” as the central subject matter, the poet asserts that “Darkness is a subject the entire world shies away from, a taboo to not be spoken of, to be hidden from reality.
We avoid it like a plague though it lives among us in thoughts, words and actions.” He stresses that the blue journal highlights the reality of darkness which most people tend to wish away: “We experience moments of darkness all around us, in the media, our homes and even our bedrooms; we laugh off its existence or ignore it.”
The poems featured in the collection include: The Dark, Noster Dominus Est Scriptor Orationis, Optical, Untitled4#, Timeless Lifetime, Ailment; Shivers, Wells and Woes, Textures of My Soul’s Depths, Said a Man of God, Forget to Remember, Dark Finale and Fear.
Some of the poems are in series as instantiated in Dark 01 to Dark 06 and Textures of My Soul’s Depths 1 and 2. Prelims featuring illustrative artworks and epigrammatic lines precede the main collections, reflecting a pervading mood of sorrow with titles that suggest the poet persona’s ominous stance: Funeral Thoughts, The Dichotomy, Muted Deafness and Darkness.
Blue Journal: Darkness encapsulates a plethora of lyrical poems laced with elegies and didactic verses that convey the dominant theme of frustration and disillusionment. In virtually all the poems, the persona ruminates on the vicissitudes of life and bemoans his fate as one who is inextricably trapped in an unending battle for survival. Consequently, a melancholic mood pervades each poem in tandem with the unfolding sorrowful atmosphere. One such poem is “Dark Finale” which reveals the theme of inevitability of death.
However, a glimmer of hope is embedded in the collection through expressions that paradoxically capture the hidden beauty of “darkness” as in the opening line of the first single stanza poem, “The Dark”: /The dark night shines/. Rather than being actualized, the expressed hope is short-lived as the succeeding lines-couched in an overriding tone of pessimism, depict a gloomy present ominously poised to herald a bleak future: It envelops my world/ As it would envelop yours/ It begins now. Also, a tinge of optimism appears in “Noster Dominus Est Scriptor Orationis” where the poet symbolically juxtaposes hope and fear in alternate lines.
The persona highlights the imminent dangers lurking “in the darkness”, but reposes confidence in the supernatural for protection: In the darkness, we are safe/ Say our prayers to the lord of the night/ Terrible the beings that approach/ From morn to noon/ Not all can be shown/Surely he shall protect us…Loud as the thunder, we hear his roar/ Protection from the earth and the air/His voice, we tremble/In our dreams, he brings the nightmares/Has no fear…
The pessimistic tone heightens in poems such as Timeless Lifetime, Ailment, Wells and Woes, Texture of My Souls Depths and the Dark 01-06 series, climaxing in “Optical” where the poet persona is depicted as one in a quagmire of misery and misfortune.
Reminiscing on his pathetic disposition, the persona catalogues the discomfiting experiences that have trailed him from the day of birth and surmise that the future holds no prospects: That’s how my life started, with tears/ Torn from my mother’s womb…/Looked at my life/ Nothing in it but strife/ My terrible fate I know shall end in tears/ All the fears, the years, and the tears/ All of them even tell the sorrow…/ To wake and be born in tears/ A sorrowful life to live/ To sleep and die in tears…
The phobia about life palpably clouds the entire collection in an attitude akin to Jeremiah’s lamentations. In “Untitled”, the thematic preoccupation swerves into escapism. Denial of reality occurs as the poet persona focuses on fantasy: If my dreams are reality/ I can’t wait to fall asleep/ To dream no more.
The poet reverts to the startling reality of futility of life in the poem, “Timeless Lifetime”: Life is bleak and full of sorrow/ We would wait till darkness rises… The last poem, an epigram, depicts the theme of Fear of the Unknown: Beneath ourselves, we have the thoughts that scare us/Above our thoughts we have the fears we wear.