Afejuku’s A Spring of Sweets… Of poetry, deeply personal and lyrical
PROFESSOR Tony Afejuku’s third collection of poetry A Spring of Sweets (Mace Books/Sunbird Africa Media Limited, Lagos; 2014) is an intimately experiential exposition of a poet who looks at the broad spectrum of life in a lyrical narrative. Although life isn’t all sweets or spring, but the poet persona has experienced a measure of sweet or spring to make it a subject of poetising. Here, the poet persona’s love experiences with a woman is the focus of attention of this collection alongside other critical issues such as despoliation of the environment, crisis in the fatherland and more.
The poems are set out in sections called ‘Options’ and range from one to six and they vary the subject of discourse. The first poem ‘You Are Not Mortal’ sets the tone for most of the poems. The poet sings of the rare beauty of a woman, the object of his desire, whose beauty he contrasts with the dying beauty of his fatherland. In fact, the beauty and the rarity of this particular woman’s character are the sort that is hard to come by again in this particular clime that often hankers after vanity.
The second poem is a lament of betrayal by time and country. While time has aged these lovers who have still kept their love alive, their country has also betrayed them possibly in aborted expectations. As he sings, ‘These are fleeting days, and our country/has betrayed us; or maybe our fleeting days/have betrayed us/…but our flame must endure in our hearts/of love of old, our chaste love of desire…’
In ‘Her Fire and Flame’, the poet is enamoured by the beauty of the woman and the sheer peace he receives in their enriching union. ‘In the fire and flame of her bosom/I feel the peace of ages, agelessly so -/I swim in dreams in the centre of a stream’; there’s the poet’s evaluation of flame of love emanating from his woman being is ‘as Big Warri River’ and so is his ‘loin’s music/As both merge in signs…/more blissful than bliss and higher bliss’. This is erotic love as its highest as can be imagined, the merging of two souls in a realm of love so immense.
An so when, as all lovers know, there’s reason to doubt, the need for assurance becomes acute, as in the piece ‘The Forgotten One’ in which the poet persona is in doubt and fears he’s been forgotten. So, he wails, ‘I can see that I have been forgotten./I can see that I’m now the forgotten one’. To absolve her of the charge, he asks his lover to ‘…send/me a mango-mail rightly denying/I’m the forgotten one, and pen and pen/I’m your banana and plantain…’
The poet’s love also experiences complications as it is mixed with concerns about issues of national importance such as environmental issues. In ‘A Fragile Boat’, we see the calm and peace in the mangrove forests which he’d known all his life before the oil workers arrived and the despoliation started and ‘In our mangrove homes of oil shrubs/of desolation and pitiless desolation/where fish and turtle and periwinkle/for water’s lack die of thirst/surely imprinting the devastation/Of our oil-land of abandoned love and beauty -‘.
‘The Song of the Sea-bird’ also continues this lament for the despoiled land for the greed of others other than the owners of the land. It’s a poem that cries for the restoration of the lost forests and aquatic lives to their former state of tranquility. The sweet ‘carol of the sea-bird’ that has so enthralled peoples of the riverine areas is halted by the workers of oil, whose activities threaten the flora and fauna, as ‘….the oil men came/and the oil workers came…/the path by the mangrove/to halt the carol of my bird/and the pines and the slips and the strokes/became forlorn and so still…/and the shore of peace heats and dries/and the faiences of our shore and forest/are shorn of divine beauty and blessings’.
‘I Can Smell My Mortality’ ends this option as it appeals to his ‘lady of sweet springs’ not to make his journey home unpleasant with ‘no anguished/tears as the boatman rides me home’. He enjoins her to be ‘…my divine/and immortal choir, my Alerosa of delights…’ as his time draws near to return to his God and the gods of his ancestors.
Option 2 continues this love relationship perhaps with some intensity, and then we get to see this mysterious woman called by her name ‘Fumwen’. In ‘O Sweets’ he sings, ‘Admit me into your springs of nectar,/My sweet of sweet-some limbs…’ It’s an invocation poem that intermingles exotic love with ancestral offerings and returns with his love for his woman, which he ends with ‘And healing are her tones and tunes…/soft, sonorous, sublime…’
Option 3 is a dedication to persons beloved of the poet. First is M’ Clister O, himself a singer who passed on unsung; the poet does a generous job of singing him his memory back to life again. There’s also ‘To My 400 Level Class of 2007, A Wish’, of a teacher remembering students who passed through his hands, and describes them ‘O you today’s little masquerades/Roll into new seasons/Roll into new dusks/Roll into new dawns/Bearing ripe fruits/For devouring forever and forever and forever…’
And one such praise poems for Anire, a daughter in the night of her pageant, ‘My daughter sees herself floating in rain-drop:/ she sees warmth, she sees gaiety, she sees beauty/ Of her past, present and future in golden lights…’
Option 4 is on love’s delusion and the pain it brings, and its betrayal, ‘Of your love now tasteless without pity’, as he sings in the poem ‘Gone Is the Scent’. There’s also the poem ‘Farewell…’, a signifier that even sweet love might sometimes come to an end, as the poet persona rejects what his lover wants him to be, ‘Not your male bee/am I/to be burnt/in a fatal coitus with you…/Your name fatal passion and oblivion.’
Although a great lover, the poet persona also understands the wreck and ravages of time on his lady, his object of great beauty, the spring for whom he sings so sweetly, as he writes in the poem, ‘How Beauty Dies’. ‘How beauty goes and dies:/Creased face, crumpled back and shoulders, emptiness/Of thought; disappearing hips/And shriveled vagina and breasts!’ This was a lady who ‘In time past she was sweetly beautiful,/sweetly beautiful…/How your beauty fades and dies’.
Option 5 is a tribute to certain persons whose path the poet crossed and with whom he has fond memories. Option 6 is his love song for his fatherland and his native Itsekiri land. ‘An October Ballad for Fatherland’ is his lament for the pain his country has become as yet another independence ushers signifies unfulfilled dreams: ‘Another October…/What a fiesta of merriment in pain/And pain in merriment/…Another October/And fifty seasons and pieces/Of changelessness as the gangsters gather/In grey Eagle Square and lavishly foul Aso Rock…’
The poet also zeroes in on his nativist patrimony of Itsekiri and sings ‘An Itsekiri Militant’s Song’ as a revolutionary counter-force to the brigandage of land thieves and the need to chase them away to retrieve lost patrimony. ‘…How we are guarding richly/Many nights now of rains of bullets!’ by way of warding off ‘This night of rains and bullets/For fatherland and motherland/Taxing us to undo land thieves/Stealing, raping, killing, spoiling, burning’.
A Springs of Sweets is a lyrical collection of poems that gives the poet a handle to sing of things personal and deep. The lyricism of Afejuku’s craft is unmistakable, and it enriches the poems in this collection. A Springs of Sweets is an accomplished collection that will reward the reader immeasurably.