A Tribute for Mohammed Ali – The champ is gone, long live the champ!

by

Noel Ihebuzor

 
I just learnt of the passing of this great man, this super athlete, this wonderful fellow who contributed in raising the status of boxing from that of brute pugilism to that of an art comparable to ballet. Yes, it is to Ali’s credit that he was able to transform what was before him an ugly physical sport into a delicately executed dance form with its beauty, its engaging fluidity, its glides and slides and its captivating elegance. Ali had this ability to execute what was a complex move with speed and grace and make it look simple!

The king is gone, long live the king! Here was a man who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. Here was the athlete’s poet to whom poetry came naturally and instantly and who bequeathed the world with strings of unforgettable lines. He sang and danced as he demolished Liston…he jabbed, jibed, jived and joked as he took out Foreman. With him boxing was art, it was fun, it was movement, it was strategy. And like all great people, he did great things and made them look simple.
He was the best, the prettiest, the smartest and the fastest. He even used his art, yes that was what his boxing skills became, to combat racism in his country and around the world. And this was no easy task – just read “To kill a mocking bird” to get a sense of the weight of racism that African Americans had to contend with in the states and which Ali (then Cassius M Clay) had to deal with as a young person. He refused to be put down by it, and even challenged it. When Parkinson’s disease assailed him, he parked it je-je in one corner and I remember watching him with moisture clouding my vision as he struggled bravely to carry the Olympic flame during the LA games!
Champ, gaa na udo! Iwu dimpka asato, okunrin mewa, iroko tree, gaa gaa na ogwu! You were that brave candle that defied the wind and whose flame shone in the worst of storms showing light to others and brightening lives.
Gaa na udo, Nwoke omam. The champ is gone but he lives on!
++ My unworthy tribute for one of the world’s greats!

 

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Review of Biko Agozino’s “Today na Today”

By Noel A. Ihebuzor

Title – Today na Today

Author – Biko AGOZINO

Biko Agozino 2

Publishers – Omala Media Ltd, Awgu, Enugu

Year of Publication – 2013

I have just been privileged to read a collection of poems  most of them in pidgin English by Biko Agozino. Onwubiko Agozino (Biko), is a Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA

The collection, titled “Today na Today” is made of 36 poems, 31 of which are in pidgin English and the last 5 in standard English. The poems treat a broad range of contemporary social issues in Nigeria from life in our typical urban ghettos characterised by “face me- I face you” type of accommodation to protests over the conditions of host communities in the oil rich Niger delta of Nigeria. The issues covered are indeed broad but a common thread of social relevance unites them all. Take the poem “Fire the devil”. Here Biko slams with very biting wit the rise in a theology that seeks explanations for social failings in the unceasing interference of the devil. Or consider “Black sperm” where the poet describes and takes issues with the social consequences of new developments and possibilities in fertility management and reproductive choices, especially the whole issue of sperm banks and artificial insemination.. “Time na Money” starts off innocently on the title of a song by Okri but ends up with a deep and shattering broadside on an enlarging cult of materialism. Poor people pay more is particularly disturbing and contains lines that etch their words in the minds of the reader

“Them fit prospect for oil self right inside we wife and daughters’ thighs

We only beg make them rub small oil for we cassava leaves make them shine”

These are strong words. These are powerful condemnations of the activities of the oil companies in the Niger Delta  (ND) whose failures and negligence along with other failures explain the abject poverty of the ND.

One cannot in a short review of this nature cover all the poems in the collection but a few deserve special mention – Dialectical dialogue, Yabbis, Capital punishment, Slum dwellers, Odyssey, Below sea level, Too Much Generals, Knowledge be privilege, Again born again, You be witch and Brain drain all stand out. Each in its special way takes up an aspect of our social life and our experience of it, be it as voluntary emigres in God’s Own country or as forced prisoners/participants in the gaols of our country where social services are almost comatose, social inequities and cleavages are on the increase, misery and despair so palpable and a tendency to play blame games on the ascendancy and dissects this with a blend of humour, sarcasm, irony, wit and some compassion. But for my concern not to enflame current sensitivities concerning the Igbos and the Nigerian state in the 1967-70 period and even beyond, I would also have mentioned “Forgive” as one of the poems that stand out given its plea to the Igbos to forgive the wrongs done them during the civil war. I will keep clear of that. The topic is too delicate, but the theme of Victory song, a poem which celebrates the victories of the ANC and Mandela among others, is not. Read it and rejoice with the successes of the liberation struggles. Read it but please do not say “Cry, the beloved country” for some of the failed dreams, unfulfilled expectations and matters arising in the present from those brave liberation struggles of the past.

The last five poems in standard English (is there such a thing, by the way) – Abu jah, Say Sorry, Massa day done, Con and Blue – are a delight to read. Abu Jah is troubling as it reveals all the shenanigans and shoddy dealings in our new capital city, a city, where for example, one family gets allocated 8 plots of choice land out of 16,000 plots in a country of 160,000, 000 people and the person who was principally involved in making the allocation is either unable or incompetent to recognise his guilt and to say “Sorry”! “Say Sorry” is a listing of our failings in society, failing we should be sorry for and to turn away from. I could go on but it is best I stop here to allow the reader discover and enjoy this collection of poems where art is used to project social conditions, contradictions and challenges for herself or himself as I have done.

Biko has certainly enriched the literary world with this collection of poems. Some of the poems betray his Igbo origins in their choice of words, cadence and rhythm! “My water pot it done broke” in its form, structure, especially repetitiveness of lines, has all the elements of the akuku ufere –  akuku ifo  (poem tale usually with a refrain) we used to chant as children during moonlight plays –  “Ebele mu akuwala”.

I just have one problem with Biko’s efforts to write in pidgin – Biko him pidgin no trong at all at all – him pidgin na oyibo pidgin. Him pidgin na “ajebo” pidgin.  He mixes correct English forms with pidgin forms (he uses “them” instead of dem, for example). This is a weakness and a “corruption” of our “ogbonge” pidgin. But we can pardon this “corruption”once we realise that this professor of sociology and Africana plus poet at Virginia Tech, VA, grew up inside Naija but has lived outside the country for more than 20 years in places like the UK, the Caribbean and the US. (Incidentally, his  pidgin orthography is similar in many ways to the style of Chinua Achebe who used ‘them’ instead of dem in many of his novels).

The collection is published by a small publishing house, Omala Medsia, based in his home town, Awgu in Enugu State, Nigeria, and it can be ordered from www.lulu.com but I look forward to when this collection can be re-published by a more renowned publishing house but this is beyond the control of Biko or any of us. Decision for that lies with the publishing houses whose choices on what to publish are driven less by literary worth of a manuscript but by consideration of economics and market realities. But here, I stray and dabble into the difficult waters of the sociology of publishing. Happy reading.

An additional treat is that Biko Agozino recorded nine of the poems, mostly at Harry Mosco Studios, Lagos Nigeria with just one recorded at Paramount Studios in Nashville, TN. To listen to the recorded poems, follow the link here.  Enjoy.

Noel A. Ihebuzor

@naitwt on Twitter

Hush the voice

nothing can
ever hush a voice,
not force
nor noise

nothing can
neither philistine jaws
nor grubby grouchy claws
not even green clammy creepy envy
nor raucous hollering of the loud mouthed

can choke
the delicate dimpled
dance steps of a voice
strumming, sometimes
fluttering, then prancing, now leaping
soft, delicate, yet piercing

rich in energy
strolling with poise
overflowing with force
brimming with sense

like joyful water jets
from a dam
fresh, full, gushing,
flowing, freeing and renewing,

inventing and reinventing
For Obinna and Susan, two talented voices!

Extended Dinner, A Duet

By Boomie Bol and Noel Ihebuzor

Spoon fed by desire
Nourished by lust
Lavishly drunk on love

Satiation soon
Repeatedly reached
In phases

Joy brimming as
Fingers, fork, tongue, mouth, taste buds
feel, feed and sweet fill

Nourished to the brim
My essence is filled
Full lips wiped in happy delight

This poem was born from my response to Boomie Bol’s poem; Untitled: Dinner. The first and last verses are Boomie’s while the second and third (italicized) are mine. Such a pleasure to do the duet with Boomie who is a great poet with a very warm voice. Please visit her blog for a delicious treat in poetry! O se, Boomie..

Duet Defined

Amicabe duel

of giving and taking

lines,  ideas, voices

colliding and colluding,

sometime skipping along gaily

sometime contrasting,  sometime complementing

always enriching,

wafting and walzing with mounting additionality,

perfuming the sky with rhythm!

A song for the mighty

 by Noel Ihebuzor  

What has made snails take on wings
and to trade their shells for sails?
Why this rush and stampede by millipedes?

Is it the rumble of thunder or the dark heavy clouds
that announce the gathering storms?
Is it the flurried fury of the beautiful ones in their impotent protests,
Is it the rage of the innocent
or the growing wrath of the wretched?

A parade of childless mothers hurries by
and soon the march past of motherless children
carrying totems of their once impotent fathers to their lively graveyards

The silent whimper of the weak grows large
their numbers also grow with each passing moon
but all this drowned in the strong assured voice of the righteous,
the correct voice of the mighty and the right

The raw raging roar of the mighty
rises high, hoarse and rough,
fills every space, crowds the waves
announcing swathes of freedom, liberation, redemption,
victory and defeat

The voice that defines night and day
also defines right and wrong,
as it clearly and cleanly
sorts out the right from the wrong,
the good from the evil
all this with power, passion, and failing conviction

The voice of the right erases doubts, suppresses doubts
generously traces and defines lines and boundaries of dissent
and discourages all rational efforts
who but the weak can distinguish expediency from morality in these climes and times
expediency, morality and necessity sleep well and deep

strong assured voices waft to assert and to correct
and where the voices are not heeded,
strong arms move to assert and correct
Scattering droplets of peace and planting the seeds of war,
Implanting signposts of order and the foundations of hatred and hopelessness

The lines are drawn bold and clear
Soon the standard bearers of the evil ones
will lie scattered in the dust of shame and defeat
And the standard bearers of the mighty and right
will strut around in celebrations of the triumph of good
soon the sparks from the voice and strong arms of might
will blight every sparkle from the eyes of weaklings,
will brighten the night with balls of flame and heat
and the flames burn, scorch and cleanse
and the deaf, and the blind, the lame and the weak
will swell in their numbers as the drumbeat and rumble and thunder of might arrive

The hymen of the neutral will be shabbily ruptured,
their emblems shredded soon to fly at quarter mast
as their voices and consciences wane weak
and their cowering voices speak with the same clarity of flames
from the wick of a weak palm oil lamp

The rising roar of the right and mighty wafts and floats,
grows and roars and soars
frowns at and drowns other voices
eagle eyes scan abroad for new signs of evil
The drumbeats and chest beatings become strident
Portending thunder from the earth and sky,
Announcing new storms, new downpours,

The approaching storms, the dark clouds announce the future,
they announce a harvest from which the snails now fly,
the lizards, the rats, the millipedes, the antelopes, the elephants are in preparing to fly
all abroad and in search of strong wings and kind winds

And I too should now learn to fly or fry

A song against gender based violence

by Noel Ihebuzor  

Short and simple – for the battered and abused –

“and the moon cried herself dark the night you battered me, and the silent stars sobbed and the heavens rained damp tears….and frowned at your flowers of appeasement”

Flowers, presents, clumsy sluggish contrition
Wham, bang, in, out and over
Short, quick and simple
And with this short and insensitive flourish,
this contrived contrition
failings are deleted, denied and wiped clean
and the slate is made clean

A ritual of voluntary and selective amnesia
is once again re-enacted
on an over-burdened and traumatized victim….
this abused, reduced, confused,
this ravaged, ripped off, ripped up,
this maligned, denied, defiled piece of womanity
for whom there is no longer peace
and life together empties of all reason and rhythm,
save a rhythm rich in thuds and thumps
which deflate the soul

The camel’s back is strong but growing sore
and the woman’s soul initially deep and rich
is now growing raw and red and full of rage
and the seasons they come and they go

and the woman’s hopes for change
soar and crash with each season
and the seasons weigh hard
and soon the back is bent with sorrow
as the eyes are baggy with worry and self pity
slowly she counts her beads of sorrow
as she bids her time
as her soul beats and looks beyond the cage that is her existence

(somewhere in the hard-soft corridors of truth,
mute angels ask in a mixture of angst and empathy
“ how do pearls get thrown to swine,
and beauty to the constant stings of scorpions?”)

the mighty strong ignores the hunger and needs of the dove
and the soul, beautiful but trapped by ugly cruelty
agonizes with each passing day,
imagination and ideals slowly ebb away
and hollow emptiness and eats away the inside
a calm soul now battered by the staggering immaturity,
by the still born imagination and emotional aridity of a partner
a clod, insensitive and immune to logic beyond the brawn,
beyond the mighty fist, the rod, the muscle

each day the soul is mangled by pangs of regrets
of an alliance without spice, without rhythm, colorless
and the once bright eyes are now sunken
dazed by impunity and slowly sucked under by her powerlessness
and the indifference of those around

and the clouds gather and darken, and swell…
and swell and soon to burst into homicide

and the partner blames the spouse
and the victim is the aggressor
and the partner massages an ever swelling ego and self-righteousness
with the puerile glee of the mentally challenged,
like one caught in the stasis of frozen and retarded adolescence

“and the moon cried herself dark the night you battered me, and the silent stars sobbed and the heavens rained damp tears….and all frowned at your flowers of appeasement”

A song along the beach

 

by Noel Ihebuzor  

I jogged along, hearing but not heeding tiring feet,

tuned into and turned on by my untiring mind

On the horizon

Where as far as the eye could see,

the awakening sky draped itself in colors

lent to it by the awakening sun

dipped into the wrinkled rippling ocean

The young rising sun painted masterpieces

on the canvas of a willing and wide sky

Here and there, it oozed through the sky

there it streaked through it,

cut through it

like a golden laser,

a dazzling jeddai sword

and over there it streamed

through huge holes

pouring gold-like rays like they were flowing

through a colored sky into the ocean

that rippled, danced and welcomed it,

regaling in the generous hues of rippling silver on gold

with which it was adorned,

The blend of rippling silver with a golden touch

beautiful to behold,

inspiring awe and wonder

And the slow moving ships

in different sizes and shapes

in measured paces and distances hung around

the harbor gates

patiently waiting their turn to be called into the harbor

And I wondered what lesson in life their patience taught us

to learn to wait our turn

For the ships are called into harbor

According to when they arrived, first arrive, first enter

and so each has learnt to wait

to sail into the harbor in the order in which they arrived

as I mused over this

my mind strayed to another journey

when people are called into the final harbor of life

and I wondered why this call

did not follow a logic as neat as this

where you go into the harbor

in the order in which you arrived

and then I thought I heard a voice

break into my thoughts

speaking with soft compassion

“my son, my aging son,

why do you seek answers to questions

beyond the confines of your mind

your restless mind strays

from the path of acceptance

away from the assured safety of trust in me

and the logic of faith.

must my logic and the harbor master’s be the same?

is the gardener not free to walk his garden at will

and to pick the flowers he planted as he wills,

randomly and by his own wisdom and logic

which are above yours

as the heavens are above the earth ?

can the prettiest and brightest of flowers

with its petals dazzling the earth and sky

challenge the logic of the gardener”?

How I miss these flowers!

How their beauty and feel haunt me!

How I miss them

I must have said it

Did I say it?

His question meant that I must have

For I heard the same soft voice say

“Or would you want to see these flowers, to feel them

For to do so, I must call you too into the harbor”

And at this,

I thought I saw the faces of those

whose voices I no longer heard

Whose voices I longed to hear

And whose smiles I longed to touch mine

Faces that I miss so painfully

shake their heads in unison

as if to say

“Say no”

And I saw their faces against the silvery skies,

familiar and loved faces bathed in soft glows of silver halos

Of those who sleep well….

As dear now even departed as in life

All who I once held and whose memories I still hold

All signalling by vigorous sideways shakes

Of the halo surrounded frames

“say no, stay on

Emeruo emeruo ka nma” ,

their silent lips all said, all sang

And I found my own voice

Heard myself saying

to the silent approving murmur

of the rustling speaking ocean

“Call me into the harbor

After I have run at least the three score and ten you promised all,

not before

For then my debts would have been paid

And I can sail into the harbor strong, free, strong, slow and steady

Mind free, soul full and spirit willing,

But your will, supreme gardener, supreme harbormaster, not mine”

I jogged on, the ships sailed on

In their order and logic,

The ocean rippled,

The waves raced to the beach

The rising sun now bolder

trying as if to drown the ocean with the intensity

Of its warmth and embrace

And I jogged on, in the embrace of life

embracing the living and

still remembering the departed.