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In new poetry collection, Nwagwu restates love for late wife

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Former President Olusegun Obasanjo; Prof. David Okali; the poet, Prof. Mark Nwagwu; Mrs. Owens Omogiafo; Prof. Jonathan Babalola, and Prof. Ayodeji Desalu displaying copies of Nwagwu’s poetry collection for his wife entitled Time Came Upon Me and Other Poems at its recent launch at the University of Ibadan… Ibadan

American soul singer Michael Bolton probably had Prof. Mark Nwagwu in mind when he sang his famous love song, ‘When a man loves a woman’. Indeed, when a man loves a woman he’d go the extra mile to do everything for her.

The scientist Nwagwu at 81 has written four collections of poetry or love songs for his late wife, Prof. Helen Onyemazuwa Nwagwu (1943 – 2018), who died a year ago.

The most recent collection, Time Came Upon Me and Other Poems, was launched recently at University of Ibadan, where the two taught for many years before they retired in 2012. The other collections include Helen Not-of-Troy (2009), Cat Man Dew (2012), and HelenaVenus (2013).

Time Came Upon Me is Nwagwu’s farewell love song for his dear wife. But Nwagwu was not alone in serenading his dear wife to immortality.

Other notable writers like theatre scholar and playwright, Prof. Femi Osofisan, using his Okinba Launkon pseudo name, also joined him in singing the virtues of the beautiful soul that Helen was while she was alive.

In the tribute section, Osofisan read a lyrical poem for Helen: ‘She offered us her friendship/In her eyes, that twinkled/like lanterns—/& that was always enough”. If anything, the excitable Nwagwu felt Osofisan’s poem deeply rousing a chord in him, and jocularly accused him of also noticing his late wife’s keen eyes.

The one year anniversary celebration of Prof. Helen Nwagwu started early at the university’s Catholic Church of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom on March 30, with a packed service as friends, family and former colleagues converged to pay respect to the departed.

One prominent figure, who graced both the church and the launch events of Time Came Upon Me and Other Poems, was former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who also had a dance with the nimbly Nwagwu.

At the memorial mass, Helen’s virtues were sung to the admiration of all from the pulpit as the priest enjoined the congregation to emulate her life that was devoted to the service of humanity.

The priest enjoined those in the gathering to live a life of the Holy Eucharist, saying such life not endears one to God, but makes living like God possible, adding, “In life we must try to live the life of the beatitudes, because the person taken from us is a very good person. We must be confident she has gone to the Lord.”

The priest would later console the Nwagwus and the entire congregation to remain steadfast in their faith knowing that someday everyone would also answer the inevitable call to join the Lord in eternal glory.

Chaired by the Managing Director of Transcorp Plc and delectable Mrs. Owens Omogiafo, the launch of Time Came Upon Me and Other Poems at Gamaliel Onosode Hall of the university’s ultra modern conference centre became a celebration that brought out the poetic side of many. They read their favourite poems from the collection and book of tributes devoted to Helen.

Although Omogiafo said she was surprised why she was chosen to chair the event, she nonetheless expressed excitement for the opportunity, saying the lives of the Nwagwus together were a study on how love between a man and his wife should be.

According to her, “There is no better textbook on how to love a wife than following Nwagwu on Facebook. When I asked Prof. why me to perform this role, he said, ‘I wanted a young woman, a professional, dynamic and beautiful woman and I know you know who I’m talking about,’” adding, “Nwagwu is a strong proponent of the girl-child!”

Obasanjo, a close friend of the Nwagwus for decades, congratulated the elderly poet on the launch of yet another book on his wife, noting, “I know you and Helen very well. You’ve always been a brother. I know how much you held yourself together particularly when Helen was sick. Although the bible tells us no marriage in heaven, when we see ourselves we (in heaven) will know ourselves. Love will still remain for those that we love and love us, whether marriage or no marriage in heaven.

“There are many parts in the collection that I love, like ‘Cover yourself.’ Helen was a success as a wife, community leader, university professor, and as a human being. In every way she had to play a role, she played her role very well. She wasn’t just Mark’s wife and confidante. Above all, she is in the bosom of her saviour. May she continue to rest in peace!”

Vice Chancellor of University of Ibadan, Prof. Abel Idowu Olayinka, who was represented by the Dean of Post-Graduate College, Prof. Jonathan Babalola, commended Nwagwu for doing the university the honour of returning to hold the book launch, noting, “This means a lot to you and the university environment appreciates you.”

Prof. Yomi Olorunyomi read Nwagwu’s citation that had his many pioneering efforts in biochemistry, where his laboratory at the premier institution was the envy of the science community. Profs. Ayodeji Desalu, Bode Lucas, David Okali and many others from the university community also celebrated the event with Nwagwu.

Book reviewer, notable poet and professor of English, Remi Raji, brought a lively aspect to the review that got the audience in stitches of laughter, as he coined new words to describe Nwagwu’s love for his beloved, late wife, Helen. He titled his review ‘How to Love a Woman Forever’.

As reviewer of Nwagwu’s first three collections of poetry for his late wife, Raji described Nwagwu’s efforts as “arguably a unique feat by any African poet,” saying the collection “does not fall into tedious monotony.” He also describes the poet as occupying a “Helenospheric stratosphere where readers will find the poet in wonder,” as the poet “is poignant and intense,” using many epithets including “Helen the ofe-Owerri” and further noting that Nwagwu “is a firebrand magician of the word,” adding that Nwagwu has “achieved immortality” for his wife.

According to Raji, “The poems are on various but interconnected subjects, of life and living, love and loving, of aging, death and transcendence, friendships, anniversaries, family scenes and reminiscences and, above all, the overarching and recurring subject of eternal affection of the poet for his wife and life partner.”

Raji concludes his enchanting review with, “Nwagwu teaches us how to love a woman eternally” and enjoined his listeners to emulate Nwagwu’s love for his wife: “Say it, write it and remember to write it again” that you love her!

On his part, Nwagwu, who is perhaps Nigeria’s best love poet, having written four collections for his wife, said ‘Along the Way Time Came Upon Me and Other Poems’ was the proposed full title of the collection, but he’d had to shorten it, saying, “The greatest thing that happened to me is Helen. I will always love my wife from now until I see her”.

He said his poetic style has changed somewhat, with his lines becoming a bit longer than before. However, whether long or short lines, Nwagwu has written his wife’s name in immortality with his admirable four collections of poetry, perhaps the best way a human being can ever hope to express his love for his or her beloved, dead or alive.


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