POETIC LICENCE: A COLLECTION OF POEMS BY ITA O. UMOH
Poetic Licence is a collection of poems on a variety of theme, ideas and lessons written by Ita O. Umoh, a song writer, recording artiste, poet, script writer and custom officer. The poet has vast experience in poetic writing, artistic description and imagery. You can read up his bio on the book cover.
I welcome you to explore his artistry on the collection entitled POETIC LICENCE and yes, I have a Poetic Licence to review Poetic Licence. Are you ready?
My Town makes use of poetic dialogue where the poet narrates the atmosphere that characterizes where he is from. He starts with a greeting, welcoming the readers into his world of reflection over what has become of his beloved town.
The poet starts the conversation by calling our attention to the very nature of the biggest metropolitan state in Nigeria, Lagos. He says that like the famous Eyo masquerade which is also symbolic of the Lagos spirit, Lagos is two-faced with the good and the not so good. Then he goes on to make bare the contrast on the two opposite sides of the Lagos city. In Lagos, the poet uses contrast to look at the riches of Lagos on one hand and then the abject poverty in the face of these riches. He also gives a sneak peek of the kind of lifestyle lived in Lagos in the following lines.
“A city that wakes up in the early dawn,
But never goes to sleep in the dusk.”
The use of descriptive terms also enhanced the beauty of this particular piece and the blend of imagery and symbolic word-construct, makes this an epic poem that celebrates the Lagos spirit. In between, the poet expresses hopelessness at the irony of the subject side-by-side the lifestyle of its inhabitants. He also believes Lagos is a place of love and hate. What do you think?
At the end, the poet concludes that our dear Lagos is at the brink of precipice, ouch.
My Town thrives on repetition, a constant contrast and metaphor and some other devices I have mentioned below.
A city of…
Irony is chiefly the undertone of this poem. We see Lagos as a place that is pleasant but then ironically, it is also a queer locale. The comparison and contrast established throughout the poetic piece helps to reinforce the idea of an ironical state of existence which have become a symbol for Lagos – a land of plenty and yet abject penury. Eko oni baje ooo.
Lagos: Lagos is constantly addressed as a being present in the course of the poetic action. We have a feeling that the poet is addressing this locale as the subject of his thoughts.
Lagos is addressed as an animate object functioning as the subject of the poetic action.
Line 4… A city that never welcomes visitors
Line 9… A city of deep ocean waters
Line 13… A city of flatland
Line 17 and 18… incredible poverty amidst stupendous riches
Line 67… Unfaithful faith fools
Line 14: And man-made mountain-high hills.
Line 15: …crisscrossing
Line 66… self-serving
Line 73, 74… Flog their foolish flocks
…feasting upon their false innocence
Line 3: …Tafawa Balewa Square
Line 2: …Two-faced city
Line 3: …Eyo Masquerade
Line 71: …Snow white righteousness
Line 21, 22: …A city where to live is to die,
…And to die is to live without dying
Line 41, 42: …Looking for something from nothing and nothing from something.
Love and hate
To live is to die
Incredible poverty…, stupendous riches
BEWARE MY LAND
The third poem in the collection is a reflection on the reverse effect of oil boom age to the Nigerian society. Nigeria is not mentioned anywhere but the idea is well laid out in the narration. This piece is didactic and written with great care for rhyme and rhythm. The constant BOOM made me zoom to my book to write this review. Are you feeling me? It has an established rhyme pattern which is what really stands out for me apart from the message. And really, we have had the woes of oil boom, Beware my land, My land Beware.
AAAAAA, BAAA, CCCC, DDDD, EAEAAED
Common literary techniques employed are:
This oil boom, This Oil,
Boom, dome, doom, bloom, loom, gloom, tomb
Boom boom boom
Like a bomb in a hollow dome
Will this land put asunder?
Has this land plunged in carnage!
Ibadan the poem is an epic in praise of the ancient city of Ibadan whom the poet says:
Yet among all the towns, she wore the first gown.
I bet you’re not thinking of an actual gown, are you? It’s a metaphor interpreted to mean the City Ibadan is the cradle of Nigerian civilization and Yoruba-land ancestral home of power, wealth and splendor. I remember that my first knowledge about Ibadan is related with Coco production from my Macmillan primary school textbook and that of having the tallest building in Africa. This poem lighted my heart as I read and I repeated it just to savor its richness. I especially love the way the poet rendered it. It makes you want to know Ibadan if you haven’t and for real, I am visiting Ibadan this year. Yes, that’s the effect of reading this, a longing appetite will be aroused in anyone who reads this poem. Take some excerpts below.
Scattered brown rooftops
Far beyond the stretch of the eyes
Cascading down hilly terraces
Like staircases down the Babel.
I know you are longing for more but no, you need to pick this book and see the creative juice dripping from the poet’s ink. But I want to add these mouth-watering lines from the poem. Go below.
The city of Amala
Served beneath ewedu and gbegiri
Orisirisi and pomo
Ogufe and eran’gbe
Soaked with red oil…
Now, that is something only a fan of Yoruba food can relate with but if you aren’t one, please take my word for it, these are not just lines, they’re lives living on the pages of a book. But Yoruba people like oil no be small. Eweso Ibadan!
And to wrap this poem, the poet passed a clear-cut message:
You cannot change a people’s tradition
Otherwise, they go into extinction.
That’s some wisdom for us to ponder on. Next!
SMILE (INSPIRED BY OBAMA’S VICTORY IN 2008)
When I read the first line of this poem, I can’t help but remember A.E. Houseman’s To an Athlete Dying Young, one of my favorite poems back in secondary school. It talks about celebrating a young athlete who left when the ovation was loudest but what connects for me is the idea represented by these two poems – Victory and the use symbols like laurel, standing on a podium. In Houseman’s, the people carried the athlete on their shoulders in his hour of victory.
I’d love to call this a unity poem but it’s more epic than that. It’s a narrative epic poem that celebrates the victory of one as victory for all. It starts by calling on the land which should be Africa to smile, wear her laurel, show off her plaque, ascend the podium and relish in her glory and pride because she has won the long battle against the oppressor.
The mood transcends from the happy to the remembrance of the woes of slave trade, colonial rule and the racial wars that has lasted the last century to this. In connection to Obama’s victory, we see a metaphor for Africa and even in the altering mood of nostalgia we find hope, we find a people strong enough to hold the centre stage at every turn of life.
This is a poem of hope, hope that nothing impossible is possible. You heard that, I said nothing impossible is possible. Please consult Soyinka for more meaning, smiles.
There’s the strong use of metaphor in addition to the deployment of history in the poetic plot and other literary devices.
The poet had to make us read to the end before we get to know who is doing this seduction and I can’t tell you till you read to the end.
Seductive city is rendered as a romantic elegy, I don’t mean romantic as romance. Romantic is from the term romanticism which is a style of art in this case poetry that talk about imaginations and emotions. This movement started in the 18th century and has continued to herald the world of art and literature.
The poet thinks back to the early days of this city when things were in their raw form. He compares that to the timid innocence of a girl and like a flower just budding. Reading Seductive city, we begin to fathom a girl blooming like a flower well into adolescent and then when she’s fully grown, she become like a dragon queen, high in her exalted estate but in the facade displayed by her glory lays the ugliness of solitude. Those who were once her mate can’t access her again.
That is the exact case of this Seductive City called Abuja. Behind the glory lies what the poet calls “unnumbered ugly cysts ravaging her supple skin” but because of the seeming beauty, we still reckon with it as a place of immense grandeur.
The poem celebrates the fantasy that lures Nigerians to Abuja but also critiques the decline in her giving succor to the commoners like she used to in the days of her blooming.
MY WIFE HAS GONE MAD
This is one of the didactic poems in the collection. It makes plain the effect of neo-colonialism manifested in the women’s hunger for African men to become everything they watch on Telemundo. The poet is embittered that his wife had reduced his meals to salads and leaves which for the African man are mere appetizers to spur the real hunger for something heavy because African men don’t like something light.
The poet also bemoans women’s desire to have their husbands and men behave like the masculine characters they watch on the foreign television networks.
Here is a worded clip of the part that struck my heart:
Line 25, 26, 27: Tell her, African men, by nature are communal
Tell her, individuality is a poison to our community
And tell her, illusion can never eclipse reality
Women, we have heard it, let’s tamper on our desire to model our men after the characters in Mexican movies. And thou o man, get thou a six-pack, it won’t hurt you. I trust you’re smiling. Get yourself to download and read this because, my chest is burning somehow after reading this poem and truly we need to free them men. Women if you like the movie characters, go and get them, free men. What else? Next!
LOVE IS BLUES
Hold on, we aren’t saying love is color blue but that it has the same effect that blue have on us. Love is Blues explores all the shades of love and the different emotions and feelings that come with being in love, hurting in love, finding love, losing love. It talks about the different places we can find love, and the kind of love we will get from those places. This poem will make you happy, make you sad, give you nostalgia and leave you thoughtful especially if you’ve had scars or you have had a love encounter. It’s deep, romantic, sad and happy mingled together.
Love, a sweet song,
Sung by an enchanting heart.
Love, a sad song,
Chanted by a wounded heart.
Sometimes the long scars of love
Smashes and etches,
So deeply unto your heart,
And you wished,
You were dead than alive.
Who seeks love,
Never finds love.
And who finds love,
Never seeks her,
Love is a jellyfish,
Hard to hold.
Sobs and sighs! Love is many things in blues.
One of the several love poem in the collection but no ordinary poem. As a reviewer, one of the things I try to do is to relate with each text I am working on whether it’s from an experience or an event I saw. So, Onome strikes a personal cord and it’s really sad. Have you ever loved someone, they love you but you can’t be together? That’s the kind of poem Onome is.
It’s a ballad telling us of the poet’s unfulfilled love and desire for companionship with Onome, the goddess of his poetic adoration. He worships her, talks about her beauty and his desire to lay with her every night. The poet can see through his mind’s eye the past up to the time Onome turned down his offer of them being lovers.
The poem ends on a sad but realistic note which many of us can relate with.
The apt use of imagery makes Onome sensational and sensual. Though we didn’t encounter Onome but we know her through what the poet tells us. She’s the idealistic epitome of African beauty, however, I will say the line – memory of your breast, full and huge and hard as a grape is cliché. Do all African women have big breasts etc? Should we agree that probably, this is an apt representation of what African men think and desire of women? By and by, it was effectively used to meet the effect intended. Read and tell me what you think.
ODE TO JENNY
Hmm, Ode to Jenny is a deep reflective poem written by the poet to his mother as an appreciation for her efforts in raising a man like him. This is not only nostalgic but hits you at the heart. Maybe at times, we easily forget what pain we were as kids and the sacrifices our mothers made to turn that pain to purpose. Many times we easily grow up to forget who mother is but this poet doesn’t, for without mother, what, who would he be?
Thanks for the lessons learned and peradventure some of us have lost our mother, God rest their souls, we can still sing their praise like this poet. Mothers are nature’s gift to humanity and they are priceless. A good mother who can find? For her rewards are invaluable.
Aye! Aye! What hope is there for a land raped? How can we repair the wounds inflicted on us by the same people who should protect us? Will our tears ever run dry when we have been sucked and left with nothing to rot like a cursed island of garbage? What’s happening to the very places that brought us what we have today? Why? Just too many why’s about our dear Oloibiri. And sincerely, I am lost for want of answers. Why is everything queer?
Oloibiri is a community in Port Harcourt where oil was first discovered in Nigeria and for years it will serve as the exploration field for foreign oil companies. Fast Forward to our present day, the community is left in shambles and her people bemoan the injustice and rape done to the land. The narrator is in the same state of mourning the land for the injustice done to her.
Just too many ills going on in this land and the bloody leaders turn a blind eye. Oh, of course, they raped the land to start with, so sad.
Will the big-fat tears ever dry from your eyes?
SHINE YOUR LIGHT
Shine Your Light reminds me of the song “this little light of mine, am gonna let it shine.” It’s in two stanza and tells two different stories. The first part is about Caroline who the world around her thought was ugly but she defied them to become a supermodel. It’s your light, flaunt it says the poet. The second part is about Stella, a girl who wanted to be a music star. The opportunity avails but she was stunned – unprepared and flunked, now she’s a pimp in the street selling drugs. Two people, different mindset and hear ye the words of the wise poet:
Success is a thing of the mind
So, mind the way you think
Know that your attitude
Determines your latitude
If you say you are good
Definitely you are good
Yeah, so me say Queen Esther I am damn good. I am best at what I do, winks and I am going to wow the world. No fronting, but I have to flaunt it because I am really good, can you beat that? I expect you to do same as you read the poem, Shine Your Light and don’t forget to be a “Caroline.”
I sometimes wish writers and poets ruled the world, you know why? Because they or rather we, yeah, we speak the truth without fear or favor. One apt lesson I will dwell on in the poem Money is that “You won’t take it to the grave.” So why is the world in so much confusion and restlessness in the quest for more, more, more money? Let’s take it easy and relish in this:
Cause money is relative to the time
You have to spend it
One of the shortest poem of eight lines, an octave with rhyme of ABCDBDEE, it’s a reflective poem urging the reader to remember that our lives are as short as can be.
‘Cause it won’t be long
We shall go back where we belong.
SONG OF HOPE
In the mist of all the political sabotage, hopelessness of the land, rape and murder of our lands and resources, we will still hope. Because when love fails, we can be sustained by hope, nevertheless love is the greatest but can love survive without hope? Find out.
So, we come to the crux of the matter, the Excellency of labor, POETIC LICENCE and trust we are examining this together.
This is where I write a note to the poet and to the fault-finders. The poet – general term used, feels he has the poetic licence which he does but the critic also believes he has some right which he also does. I find the poem really expressive of some of the recent debates I have heard about writers and reviewers. So let me say this with respect to my profession as a creative. Every work of art is subject to review and criticism which is a means to bring out the true state and depth of its artistry, aesthetic and creativity, however, it goes wrong when lay-people without the basic understanding of how to review or make a critique pick a book and go on a fault-finding spree. Literary appreciation is about aesthetics, criticism and appreciation. None of these should be sidelined. And another thing is, when we review a work, we are reviewing THE WORK not the OWNER, so a reviewer or critic has no business referring to the person of the writer or poet.
Another thought is this – that an African writes in an African way doesn’t imply the work is substandard. You know what I mean, like there are things we express through the use of lingo, jargon etc that are peculiar to us but to the western folks aren’t, making use of such peculiarities in driving home the message shouldn’t suggest that the work – poetry, drama or prose is substandard in comparison to its western contemporary. It is the duty of the critic to discover the hidden values of the work. Bashing a work is totally unethical and unprofessional as some do hence the poet is right to the degree of this.
And about the conformity of style, the argument will never end. When Aristotle wrote the poetics, it was accepted as the standard for Tragedy and the evaluation of all tragic work but Arthur Miller chose to say, there’s a tragedy of the common man and it doesn’t have to correspond with Aristotle’s view. That’s still a debate in academic circles.
Likewise, poetic styles should be determined by the poet and not by foreign rules and blah blah blah.
GENERAL POETIC DEVICES
As a critic more than a reviewer, I am always looking out for the element that makes any work ‘art’ and that’s for me the whole purpose of reviewing a work in the professional sense of it. At the start, I gave a detailed description of some of the poetic devices employed in Poetic Licence hence I will do a summary here.
The book collection Poetic Licence is quite vast that if we are to analyze each poem, we’ll be writing a thesis. So take my word for it, this is one of the best collection I have seen in ages from one poet. I say kudos to the poet, this is exceptionally sublime and I believe this material should be recommended in schools.
I speak not to patronize but trust me to take my time to review any work I am called upon. Therefore, I know the nitty-gritty of what I am saying.
Without much ado, let me give out some of the best devices used in this collection which you should expect as you get a copy to digest. It’s a worthy investment, take my word for it.
Metaphor: You will find almost 80% of the theme and idea revolving around the metaphorical. The poem might focus on a place, person or thing but with a deeper reflection, we can see you and me in those thoughts. I love metaphors.
Paradox: All the poem reflecting on life, the state of the nation, Oloibiri, Lagos, Ibadan, name them are paradoxical. Just look at Nigeria for instance, a place of plenty and penury, sighs.
Enjambment: There’s the use of run-on line throughout many of the poem used to merge the poets narration.
Hyperbolic Expression: Used quite often to describe a poetic action or character e.g big-fat, big breast etc.
Other expressions and devices include:
Assonance and alliteration
TYPES OF POEMS YOU WILL FIND IN THE COLLECTION
Romantic poem: Love is Blues
Ode: Ode to Jenny
Narrative poem: The Initiation, My Town
Dramatic poem: Selfish
Pastoral: Riverine People
Didactic poem: Shine Your Light, The Victims, My Wife Has Gone Mad Again
Satirical poem: Baba Erred
Descriptive poems: The Hero
Political poems: Letter To The Masses
There is the exploration of diverse theme in the collection from fate, to deprivation, to poverty to unfilled love, political rape, death, love, romance, war, bloodletting, social decadence, man and woman’s role in the society and home front, hope etc. It’s a well-rounded collection that will leave readers yearning for more.
The efforts of the poet and publisher are commendable hence I find no more than fewer things to write a critic on. More so, poetry is a field you do more of appreciation than criticism hence you will discover that most time a lot is overlooked. And as the title suggests, all poets have the exclusive right of Poetic Licence, there is little a critic can do.
On that, I’ll just point out one or two observations and we wrap it up.
In Shine your light, the poet says “she was ugly like a swine. I thought the adjective for a swine was dirty instead.
Then like I already mentioned, there is the use of cliches in some part of the collection.
Life like every endeavor comes to an end somewhere so does this. It has been a new experience for me and I must say, works like this are what makes literature what it is. This review however doesn’t cover all the poems which are over a hundred, so you can explore more and let me have your opinion. In my own little words, I hope Poetic Licence or some selected poems go on to be featured in curriculum, get awards and the rest. Till I come your way again, don’t stop reading, and I’ll be anticipating your comments and appraisals.
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