In this sudden burst of young writers and poets, justified by the applauded emergence of the likes of Tolu Ogunlesi, Onyeka Nwelue, Jumoke Verissimo and even Chimamanda Adichie, comes this young poet, with a debut collection tasselled with overwhelming creative verve and promise.
Aside the covert musicality that flows through the poems in Notes From Ndaduma, faint measurements of breaths built the slim architecture of the poems, coloured by inert rhythms of pains, agonies, frustrations, bafflements, wonders, and seldom sighs of pseudo-victory.
Divided into six parts, the 50-poem collection ignites its flow of dense metaphors after an introductory line—Notes entangled in a valise—from where the poet announces his poetry and its mission: “Notes Swaying in the Pores of Studios…/ Melodies of erected studios”. Piteously, the songster in the poet becomes a mourner in “Bida”—once, an imperial city of the Nupe Empire of Northern Nigeria, but now “crippled” because: “I was told you danced makosa, salsa/ Even samba”. At this juncture, one begins to recognise the poet as a wanderer, sad and callow, with “desolate face”.
This runs into “Ndaduma”, a proposed state moved by the Nupe people of North-central Nigeria which the poet claims is his home, describing it as “Dark-eyed snail/ Wandering”. In the poet”s view, its “victory is entangled/ On a sea”, and innocently asks for the salvation of “Tsoede” to “drive up the next august”.
Section two opens with “The Posture”, portraying chaotic struggles to uplift the hope of a people whose failure results in “wails”. The poet resembles Maik Nwosu in The Suns of Kush as he declares his arrival at a point in life where “There is no ring road”.
The poet becomes calm again, decrying the fate of a hustler in a land despoiled by “These people/ Expert butchers of public purses”. These motifs of the bleak hope that paints previous poems run through: “It is Ripe”, “Love”, “Destiny”, “Dreams”, and “Our Roses” where the poet becomes a thinker: “And too much vision/ Fathers dark wisdom/ And that is the cradle/ That parcels temptation”.
The third section, captured “Every Organ with Her Carillons”, is led by a universal issue which the poet tags “swelter of sweats”. Sharply, the poet reiterates himself as a follower in a tone a bit bolder than Birago Diop’s Vanity. The 11 other poems that conclude this section carry strong redolence of the events that dominate youthfulness.
“The Rung Just Changed the Nexus” introduces us to section four. It opens with tributes to the poet’s late grandfather (“Gloated Siren”) and sister (“Your Death”). The former’s title is aptly a riddle. Similarly, the latters title carries a subtitle that suffers same bite, though this is forgivable, poetically! As the poet drifts onward, into the nostalgia of this much-missed sister, he borrows the tone and mood of Ahmed Maiwada’s “Since The Wind Began To Blow”. Interestingly, it is noteworthy that this young poet too applies the (post)modernistic technique of Ahmed Maiwada in building his imagery. “In The Morning” bobs as a reminder for the wandering protagonist but startles him to think deeper: “Father Why?” “Lull Me”. The 19-year-old poet forces one to remember the late Christopher Okigbo’s oath of eternal swoon with versification: When you have finished /and done up my stitches, /Wake me near the altar /and this poem will be finished… (Labyrinth, p. 23).
“Along the Way, There Are Vale and Haunch Moods” is our key to section five, where “Futile Romance” springs more rungs of lament, and hurriedly flashes back on a counsel, but still continues his old tunes of a seemingly forlorn life. A sip of the scholar/poet E. E. Sule’s poetry (as in Naked Sun) tosses out in “I Was Ill” with its narrative style a la a griot’s; straight and sharp, it wraps one in thirst and suspense.
The final part of this volume, collected under “These Melodies Are Writhing Inside My Eyes”, is a rather futuristic fantasy intoxicated by the hassles of today. “Dancing In The Orient” throws the reader into an experience that seems like someone (obviously a traditional African) stranded in a foreign land. A portrait of Christopher Okigbo’s line, “wake me near the altar”, boils out of Awaal Gata: “Let us ally at the altar” (I Will Pray). “Vision 20-20” rejoices, and yet questions the fate of the masses and the poet’s in the ongoing Nigerian government under Umaru Musa Yar’adua. The poem “Faraway” is spiced with the hues of an undisclosed person missed by the poet; and “Cry” corners the puzzles of life, and the search for its essence. The poem that trails this, even with its sprinkles of pains, awakens the spirit of courage, hope, joy and, prominently, trepidation. The last two poems of the collection pictures the poet in a tone and mood that suggests he isn’t dampened by all the travails, since they are other givers of joy- ladies, these are.
In “Nabila”, the poet handles a streak of erotic words with less poetic ferocity, pampering the quarry of his life whose spontaneity hovers in the final poem, spelled “Ciderella” (perhaps, Cinderella), a parting one that set the protagonist in the fire of love and apprehensions, hence the consolatory lyres: “The town crier omitted your name/ Don’t cry on the edge of the radar/ I have seen the tribe of your beauty”.
On arrival at the final poem of this collection, one nods to the promise of this young bard who has done his best to create a voice, style and dais for himself, guided and strengthened by the degree of influences of some daring voices in modern Nigerian literature: Maik Nwosu, E. E. Sule, Niyi Osundare.
As a debutant and, most astonishingly, a very young comer, one wonders the avoidable grammatical flaws, particularly the subject-verb frictions that hook the flow of the collection, coming from a publishing firm that has in its roll call of published writers names like Toni Kan, Maik Nwosu, Emeka Agbayi and Ahmed Maiwada. Some obvious abuse of grammar comes in: “Forces that wake(s) you” (Magic, p 39); “The hands swing(s)” (Choice, p. 18); “Fishes scale(s) (Leadership, p 23); Dreams stick(s) subtly (Ndaduma, p 5). Aside from these, a number of adjectives beg for a noun to qualify them: “Mammary” (Bida, p 3); “sensory” (Ladder, p 9); “Laurelling” (Waiting Note, p 35).
Most words used herein are not—in spite of poetic licence—apt, or tuneful; swanky and tinged with haughtiness that has since become the habit of neophytes or zealous young bards: “projectiled” could have been better as “projected” (A Teen’s Fugue, p 30).
Many of the stanzas—unpunctuated, and often with unfinished messages or meanings—die unnecessarily. Also, some stanzas have no artery to the stanza that immediately trails them. A few poems carry question marks where their application rather upsets the poetry. Moreover, the poet goes against self-imposed rules by decorating some lines with commas or semi-colons.
Similarly, a footnote on words like “diwali”( p 30) and “Jahilci” (p. 60) would have been wonderful. Knowing that the poet goes after the footmarks of revered poets in the cycle of Nigerian literature, one feels the unrhymed music of an oralist, of a grammarian, of a lyricist, and of a modernist—Niyi Osundare, Maik Nwosu, Christopher Okigbo, and Ahmed Maiwada.
One thing about the poet that amuses one is his penchant for having the reader sandwiched in confusion, especially where he storms out to elucidate. At various instances, the poet dives on interrogating his troubles by barging into more mazes of riddles: “Tomorrow is the Christ of today/ … / The trolleys carry haunted halals/ To reach after the dyke” (Dreams).
Comments on the back page by two poets, Benjamin Ubiri and Odoh Diego Okenyodo, hail Awaal Gata as “a poet worthy of his calling” and with “great writing career”. The emergence of Awaal Gata is a pointer to the truth of revolution of outstanding young voices in the terrain of Nigerian literature today.
Gimba Kakanda writes from Minna, Niger State. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org