By Chukwuma Ajakah
In a novel collection of poems titled: Paper Planes and Other Poems, Sijibomi Juba explores topical issues that resonate with readers across diverse age brackets.
Published 2020, Paper Planes and Other Poems is a collection of 20 lyrical-cum narrative poems, about virtually all aspects of life- relationships, career, marriage, family life, weather, education and culture. Poems featured in the collection are as follows: I will Rise, Blame, When You Are Young, Old Pa’ Grey, Gone, A Life Gone By, Memory Loss, Paper Planes, My Heart Is No Longer Here, Thirty-five Years, Why They Leave, Hope, Colour, Mirrors, Lizards, I have Risen, Things Too Beautiful for Us to Feel, Melanin, A.C or Winter and Two Friends.
Set in modern day Nigeria, Paper Planes captures topical socio-economic and cultural issues that people grapple with in their quest for survival. As the subtitles suggest, the poet delves into a panoramic exploration of multifarious thematic concerns with particular emphasis on the intrinsic squabbles and personal triumphs of the personae featured in the poems.
The title poem, Paper Planes, is an ode, celebrating a loved one whom the persona accords kinship and endearing terms such as Father, Lover, Husband, Friend, Dreamer and My hero. Paper Planes re-enacts childhood experiences from the perspective of a child, but embodies adult concerns. The poem has a mixture of playful and melancholic tones which place it in the border of a farce and an elegy. The following excerpted lines depict changes in mood: Four paper planes today I flew, / Each crested in black and purple strings/Rising high with your names in full/…Three paper planes till dark, yesterday I made,/For sulking tears beat me to the fourth/…With misty gapes, I dared to look,/At this carcass that lay on the glacial ground..”.
Paper Planes also features a folkloric narrative poem, Old Pa Grey which depicts the central theme of abject poverty and neglect. The poem tells the story of a poverty- stricken hunter who leads a solitary life as his grown children migrate to urban areas, abandoning him at home. His neighbours, preoccupied with personal matters, seldom spare time to check on him. The man, Old Pa Grey, lives and dies in solitude. Ironically, at his demise, the once negligent society wakes to organise an elaborate funeral in line with their ostentatious lifestyle: “…That very day, all his children came,/ And the neighbours gathered bearing cakes.
In “I will Rise”, the poet explores the theme of perseverance as a survival strategy, using a heavily punctuated, but short rhythmic lines that showcase the poet persona’s struggles for survival. In each of the three stanzas, the persona defiantly addresses an imagined oppressor in a sarcastic tone. The over-riding theme is realized through the combination of a wide-range of poetic devices such as repetition, imagery, apostrophe and metaphor. These devices can be gleaned from these excerpts: “I won’t cry yet/ I am a child of the sun./ Pass me your judging stares and heavy fists,/ Hit me with your words,/Fists,/ Curse,/Bite./Hit me, Hit me./ Tomorrow, again, I will rise,/ Strike me on your way to the hallway./Bully my ancestors, still, I will rise, / … I won’t ever cry…”
In the lyrical poem, “Blame”, the poet presents the theme of socio-political corruption, pointing out that the cankerworm has eaten deep into every segment of the society and concludes that everyone is inexorably guilty. Beginning with the rhetorical question “Who should we blame?”, the poem features a poet persona who satirically fingers the perpetrators of corruption, including artisans, neighbours, political leaders and the electorates who allow themselves to be deceived by the politicians. Insisting that none is innocent, the poet persona stresses the ignoble role the citizenry play in enshrining corruption into the fabrics of the society.
The poem, When You Are Young portrays the central theme of escapism. The theme is realized through the subject’s idealistic disposition which the persona satirically taunts, revealing that the young are often carefree and full of expectations, but their bubble bursts at adulthood when their dreams are truncated. While the youngster fantasizes, blaming older kinsmen the reality of the prevalent socio-economic situation overwhelms the now grown adult. The poem thrives on elements of sarcasm as mirrored in the following lines:
“When you are young,/ You think of adulthood,/ You would make short buildings rise,/ And stick your heart in the heart of Manhattan,/ Or any beautiful city in the world there is,/ You think you would fill your glass with honey…”
Themes of aging and retirement are captured in the poem “At Thirty-five” which presents the plight of a typical Nigerian civil servant who suddenly realizes that he is due for retirement, having put in the required years in the ministry. The poem humorously exposes the predicament of the prospective retiree in the following satirical lines: “Twice or more I’ve seen him pass by/ In old suits that should be long abandoned/ Running out of time and out of breath./ Today he’ll blow the candle/ Thirty-five years is over/ He’ll leave his desk at the ministry./ What will he do now?…/ He spent thirty-five years sitting/ Unfolding papers and dashing out petty talks.”
Celebration of nature is the dominant thematic concern in the poem, “Lizards” which portrays love for nature. This pastoral poem x-rays the enviable lifestyle of “Lizards” with embedded moral lessons on resilience, cooperation, unity and collective success. Like the biblical Solomon, the poet implicitly directs the reader to learn from nature as the following lines reveal: “I have grown/ To love lizards and the way they move/They put in everything they have/ With one goal in mind,/To reach the top./ I have seen/ Many lizards wait for each other/On the walls around my house/ Success is not a success if achieved alone./ I now know/ Why lizards do push up on walls,/… Nothing can stop them from reaching the top.”
Most of the poems in the anthology are of the narrative genre. The poet couches his message in sequences of narrative lines as though he were telling a story. Juba also makes elaborate use of imagery, metaphor,simile and apostrophe as instantiated in poems such as “Memory Loss” in which the persona passionately appeals to an abstract entity-his memory, as one would appeal to a lover, to return: “Come to me in my dream./In the silence of the night,/Come as the air I breathe,/ Or as the light of the flames./ Come as the sound of passing cars,/Or as a newly born cry…/ Come, speak your truth,/For only you know where it hides…/Appear to me as the blue flames,/ Upon a candlelight dinner…”
In another poem, “Mirrors”, the poet explores the central theme of domestic violence as opposed to family unity. Imagery is the dominant poetic device deployed in Mirrors which encapsulates the themes of destruction, separation and domestic violence as exemplified in: “shattering mirrors”, “breaking windows”, “blows deeper”, “fists…fiercer”, “leopards…change their spots” and “the other side of the door”.
The poem, “Hope” revolves around the concept of unrealistic aspirations as it harps on the theme of escapism with the persona shying away from reality to embrace a world of fantasy, where talent and not skill nor training is all one needs for success in life. The poet presents his message, using ironical and oxymoronic expressions that subtly appeal to the reader’s sense of reasoning as in: “… tonight I will lead the stage./ I can’t dance,/ But I know the steps/…why learn when I need not/… I meet a tale of talented dancers/ Those born with the skills…/Days when my mother was still a toddler/Tonight, I star against them/Those born with the skills/ Talent I have, skills they have/ But my hope will surely see me through.”
Moreover, the poet deploys images that amplify the messages embedded in poems such as “Two Friends”. This helps to enhance the reader’s understanding. Images like “a wedding ring” in “Two Friends” have cultural connotations that reveal the worldview of the typical African society in which the poem is set. Although “a wedding ring” is a vital component of marriage in western culture, the poet persona considers it too trivial when compared with a three-year friendship in value.
The collection ends with a classical allusion as Juba alludes to the work of a famous English poet, Robert Frost, saying: “I have never started a poem whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.” Most of the poems are presented in a free-flowing simple narrative style that readers will find interesting. Except for the metaphorical expressions that may be difficult for some readers, the language of the poem is relatively simple.