Sunday, June 9, 2024

Botched Crossings


By Tunji Olalere

  • TitleFor Broken Men Who Cross Often
  • Author: Efe Paul Azino
  • Publisher: Kachifo Limited
  • Number of pages: 70
  • Year of publication: 2015
  • Category: Poetry

‘This is for broken men who cross often,
fallen soldiers born on the narrow path,
with fire in their bellies now clients of the broad way
who don drooping shoulders and scatter
their treasures on the streets of good intentions’.

The spoken word poet, Efe Paul Azino, recently published his debut collection of poems. He also tucked an audio recording of eight of the poems into a pocket on the book’s inner back cover. For Broken Men Who Cross Often is a bold attempt to straddle two dizzying spheres of poetic expression in one squat. Expectedly, one or two tendons groan and tear.

The book is divided into four parts, which are called ‘steps’. The poems of the first step, ‘Interrupted Narratives’, whether employing the singular or plural personae, lament the mauled dreams of youth in the claws of economic and political marauders; they mourn pupils lost to the savagery of Boko Haram, passengers on the unfortunate MH-370 flight that vanished without so much as a trace; and some personal tragedies, from the loss of a brother to a mother’s unrequited faith.

This first step, being one in spirit with the fourth step, ‘Arts in the Shadow of Protest’, has little reason to stand separated from it.

The second step, ‘Failed Experiments with Form, Love and Life’, is a pastiche of poems with variegated temperaments and preoccupations. Chronic bachelorhood, romantic misadventures, melancholia and ego dysfunctions find expression in its free-styling ambience.

It is in this second step that the poem from which the book takes its title, ‘For Broken Men Who Cross Often’, is lodged. A commentary on the fickleness of those bound in the manacles of their appetites, this poem is a weak rallying cry for the dominant theme of rupture that unites the collection.

The third step, ‘Too Long for Twitter’, has the poems closest to the ideal of concision and efficiency to which poets aspire. While they are not necessarily gnomic, these short poems often capture in picturesque movements a scene in the poet’s world and his reaction to it. In ‘Into the Din’, we read:

Lined against the wall and shot,
20 dreams died in Mubi
The page flips
The timeline refreshes.
Their memories dissolve into the din.

Words are the fixations of poets. The good poet strives to capture and communicate an image, to preserve emotions, and infect the reader with a sigh, a smile, or a scream. He strives to do so with the shortest arrangement of the mots justes. All devices deployed in poetry are an attempt to project the poet’s voice. And his silence.

Perhaps today’s spoken word poets realise the foregoing, perhaps they do not. For all the verbiage on its pages, Azino’s book could easily be mistaken for nothing more than an album sleeve for the accompanying CD. However, on the CD accompanying the book, Azino commits the spoken word artist’s greatest indiscretion: he abdicates in favour of the drums and the guitar. He lets them pace his words and his silence.

The words that emerge from a poet’s meditation are music. This is why the greatest lyricists, whose words even when shorn of accompaniment have a music all their own, have been anointed poets. From Bob Dylan to Bob Marley, and to Nas, one can hear the music of the bare lyrics. However, when Azino’s cadence leans towards reggae, when his speed of delivery quickens towards rap, the words stay jaunty without the alchemy of fermentation.

Nevertheless, the triumph of this collection is in its social consciousness and political engagement. To the same degree that it falters on craft, it rises on thematic engagement with the woes of the third world. The ambitious young man, seeking to better his lot, finds himself in hostile spaces where he is unwelcome. ‘Yesterday, We ran’ is about an illegal immigrant fleeing law-enforcement, and the poet gives us that netherworld of immigrant travails:

We ran
I bolted through the backdoor, flung myself down the
flight stairs
And leapt under the stars
My feet etching my resolve into the concrete:
‘I am not going back to Africa!’

The poems mine perennial anxieties and perplexities and the daily indignities that Nigerian citizens suffer at the hands of leaders who have neither empathy nor moral courage, politicians who seem stripped of the most basic of human attributes, being already lost to the dehumanisation of filthy lucre and wanton power.

Azino’s poetry is deeply indebted to history. His socio-political commentary, reminiscent of J P Clark-Bekederemo, Odia Ofeimun and Lenrie Peters, decries and mourns the unfortunate quagmire that our country, and indeed much of the subcontinent, appears determined to be interred in.

The movements of For Broken Men Who Cross Often attempt to map gloomy landscapes. Unfulfilled promises, unrequited generosities of motherhood, and economy-imposed exile are tragic themes that continue to plague this poet of the gnashing teeth. In ‘Our Mother Died Expecting’, we read:

All mother required was that we come back,
in city-sleek machines to whisk her away in full glare
of eyes and hearts awaiting their turn.
She waited,

For Broken Men Who Cross Often however concludes with an upbeat poem. Quite characteristic of a people who have survived all degrees of privations because of an optimistic outlook on the future, the poem, ‘Hope is a Nigerian’, begins with a satirical take on the national consensus on hope and its often paradoxically sedative effect on the citizenry. The Nigerian appears to have reached a sadomasochistic understanding with his representatives in power. The poet however charges:

So let Nigeria hope and let Nigeria pray,
Let Nigeria fight and let Nigeria say,
the substance of our hope
someday shall be.
Hope is a Nigerian
I know, because hope lives in me.

Perhaps as Neruda warned, the young poet should stay away from politics and love. It was the wisdom of hindsight. Azino’s adventures in verse may be ill-conceived, but too many things seem to have set the poet’s teeth on edge for him to wait for craft to ripen.

Photograph: ‘The Road to Adventure’ by Martin Heigan

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Tunji Olalere
Tunji Olalere
Tunji Olalere writes from Lagos.

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