Reviewer: Ojo Olumide Emmanuel
Title: Corona Blues (An Anthology)
Author: Edited by Ismail Bala and Khalid Imam
Year of Publication: 2020
Number of Pages: 160
Publisher: Whetstone Publishers
ISBN: ISBN 978-978-58335-1-5
One constant factor about life is its transient nature which affords humans the opportunity to place a demand on words in order to interpret the language of their soul. Of course, poetry is always the perfect medium through which these inner rumblings are ferried into the world. It is difficult to tell if a poem is the witness or the poet but since art outlives its creator, we can assume the former.
Corona Blues is a bilingual anthology of sixty-eight poems by fifty-four poets in English and sixteen poets in the Hausa language who lived through a turbulent period in human history. It is turbulent because as Africans and Nigerians to be precise, the ethos of our identity lies in our communal life and we re-enforce this spirit of communality by the effervescent relationship we share with one another through visitations, greetings, ceremonies and every other thing and events that drags us into folds at intervals. And then, out of the blue, a virus suddenly appears; bringing everyone into protocols that must be duly obeyed or die. It is in light of this that this collection of unique, sincere artistry which is carefully crafted documents the poetic tales of different poets scampering for healings and succour as the whole world went through a turgid period of trembling and shattering under the excruciating weight of a pandemic.
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Someone said that “As writers, artists, our work in the midst of a flood is to consider the colour of water.” This collection is grandiose with each poet exposing the colour of the water around them as its flood ravaged their hearts and neighbourhood. It is also important to state that this review will only provide a tit-bit on the English section of the collection and the focus will be on the meaning of some poems and not an in-depth analysis.
In ‘Snapshot 102’ by Niyi Osundare, the poet flings the door open into the collection. The poet described people as walking plagues and by keeping a sterile distance in Six feet apart may just be the antidote for six feet under. He further visualized the new world order of “virtual brains, heart which threw man into an unfortunate situation hide and speak.”
‘The New Loop’ by Ismail Bala examines life, man and how a virus humbled man to the point that animals declared independence by romping the street like a bird that escaped out of snare of the fowler; a total mockery of man’s “godship” over the earth. This unseen foe has brought haughty humanity to its painful knee.
Tanure Ojaide’s ‘Why Should I Not?’ makes a reference to the #Blacklives matter movement’s protest for the killing of Floyd to address racism. The poet made a contrast with Covid-19 asserting that it can be managed and a vaccine can eliminate but described systemic racism as an endemic pandemic which he desires to stamp out and be a hero forever than Covid-19 which has a 2% death rate.
‘Sweet Scent of Life’ by Mahmud Zukogi explores the concept of naturalism by appreciating the breeze and its therapeutic prowess compared to the oxygen from the ventilator. The poet also considers rain as a source of redemption to wash off evil viruses from the land.
Corona Blues’ by Ola Ifatimehin examines the consequence of Covid-19 especially “Social Distancing” on lovers “now she is naked to kisses and sneezes, but he is locked down, confined to stay home.” His second poem in the collection makes an allusion to the biblical Goliath bragging over mountains, plains and valleys: a similitude of the virus bragging over the world. The poet concluded that we must arise against this goblin and sling a shot to its forehead by staying at home. The irony of the poet’s strategy is that a war is not fought at home except the Covid-19 war but the poet was quick to declare that that is the sure strategy to defeat this viral.
BM Dzukogi’s ‘Covido’ explicates a stylish titular reference to the football maestro “Cristiano Ronaldo” whose sleek strikes have continued to dominate international football. And like this maestro, Coronavirus is also dominating countries; pushing everyone on the defensive and the world’s defence line-up have continued to falter into confusion under the continuous skills of the virus. The poem further lacerates the self-denial of humans about the virus “you hid behind our follies to burst on us…, incubating death unlike the hen whose incubation produces life.” He further described the social consequence of the virus “are you not done tearing apart bonds and bounds, the tiny spirits of our souls.” Finally, he admonishes the virus to “walk away now, you dark ball of death or we work you out.”
‘A Tale of Two Poems’ by Raalia Maijama’a recaptures lock down, being out of the daily bustle of survival and its psychological effect. Home although with an ever open, waiting arms becomes one, one wants to leave “home I now long to escape back to the drudgery of my desk.”
Ahmed Maiwada’s ‘People & Machine & Humans’ re-examines the scepticism of people as regards the novel virus and how this scepticism sometimes may not be an intelligent posture for one who remains on the fence for a long time. What if the fence suddenly crumbles while seating on it? The poet also juxtaposed the doubt of God by certain people as human error but the adoration of an unseen virus, and also the punishment meted on erring individuals who failed to obey the Corona protocols. “You have sent head rolling.” His second poem ‘I Read Some Facts about You’ speculates the different conspiracy theories as to the origin of the virus “is 5g your creator, look straight up, are you made in china.” The poet also desires to know the end of the pandemic “how will you exit, with your belly full of humans, with the last trumpet behind you.”
Yusuf. M. Adamu’s poem acknowledges the humbling nature of the virus “an organism, so petite, our eyes cannot see, yet so humbling.” The poet concluded with a prayer and hope “we shall outlive the outbreak and contain it.”
Aj Dagga Tolar’s ‘The Old Death of Falsehood’ takes a swipe on the self acclaimed miracle prophets who could not heal those affected by the virus, rather their focus is on amassing more wealth even in the face of the pandemic.
‘Hey’ by Phateema Salihu also takes a bash on the virus as being jealous of the crowd, that is social relationships. She threatened that “just like you came unaware, so shall you leave like the thief, shameless, stripped and powerless.”
‘Covid-19’ by Abubakar Othman depicts the various misconceptions and allegations by Africans, especially Nigerians, on the virus. Rather than consider the virus as a threat to human survival, they ascribed it as a strategy towards reducing their population “a metaphor for the murderous G8+ organizations.” The poet is a master of figure of speech, shifting his paradox to irony in between alliterations.
Khalid Imam’s ‘In Fear of the Dreadful’ spotlights the aftereffect of social distancing and what it represents for everyone, lovers to be precise “this dark cloud of the monstrous virus grudgingly bans all the papaya fruits in us to flock together not.” His second poem in the collection ‘In the Quick Sand’ captures the societal impact of the virus on the common man “our self-isolated cages are homes to abject poverty…chains of hunger and wanton want.”
And to climax the common man’s problems is a virus he described as a “merciless monster of serial death” and the survivors of the virus he described as “stinking bodies with only dry bones left.”
Rhetorical Questions by Yusuf BM throws ajar a dilemma the world cannot answer “Dear world what do we do, when handshakes no longer say peace, when hugs are becoming sins to our dear souls, what do we do?”
Ojo Olumide’s ‘House Arrest’ is a message of hope as the world lived under the virus “to the infected I painted my heart with get well soon wishes, in these hearts I deposited rubies of words for the medics, knowing they are the true heroes out there.”
‘Caging the Gods’ by Murtala Uba Mohammed exemplifies how man is brought low by an unseen virus “the tiny unseen has turned into a god, for the mosques and churches, he had closed, the casinos and cinemas he had banned, new laws were introduced, the hunter is now the hunted.”
‘The Cord of Discord’ by Aisha Umar portrays the new world order “No embrace or hugging, they say, For embrace died among lovers, Hugging became a luxury that even the rich can no longer afford.”
In conclusion, the anthology is aglow with stories of how different people lived and survived through a pandemic. It is said that whatever one does not record did not exist. This collection is a collage of deep thoughts and reflection on human survival, the different interpretation of issues as it relates to the virus, the post-covid thoughts, the new normal and how the world will continue to thrive after this unfortunate period. Corona blues is a good read and deserves to be read by everyone.