From Plato to modern times, philosophers and literary theorists have speculated on the functionality of the poet and poetry to humanity. Basically, to look at poetry as an art is to see it as existing for its own sake. That is, it is a beautiful object, sufficient in itself and self-contained. This is basically the view of aestheticians and art-for-art-sakists. In Africa, on the other hand, poetry has its utility, often; it is a tool of social awakening, rebirth and incitement. In the poetry collection, Punctured Silence, the poet, Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom sees poetry as a means of reaching out to the people just like the ancient griots who used their verbal poetic repertoire as a channel of speaking to the people and for them. In the preface to the collection, the poet categorically states his vision as an artist “In this collection, silence is punctured to provoke ceaseless flow of irrepressible emotions seeking the redemption of humanity.” This explains that, there is a dominant tradition in existence in society and that is ‘the hegemony of silence.’ To speak out is to speak against the culture of silence. Thus, the poet is not just a parrot but is a speaker, speaking against silence.
Silence is the fuel that fans the flames of impunity in contemporary Nigeria. This sentiment is expressed in the poem, “From Whence Comes Liberty:”
We are the masses- the udders of a cow
Milked dry, bereft of hopes, deprived of rebirth.
Our faces are squeezed like a drenched mantle
To be dried beneath rays of the exasperated sun.
The poem is significant to the collection. In the first stanza of the poem, the poet describes the ‘masses’ as ‘the udders of a cow’ and they are ‘milked dry.’ In the third stanza, we are told that those who milk dry the masses are ‘masters in the guise of leaders.’ Because of this, the people, the poet inclusive, are ‘bereft of hopes,’ ‘deprived of rebirth.’ Indubitably, the people live in a state of lachrymose and disillusionment as it is registered on their faces, ‘Our faces are squeezed like a drenched mantle/To be dried beneath rays of the exasperated sun.’ The silence of the oppressed started during colonialism and when eventually the colonialists left, another form of colonialism which is officially tagged ‘neocolonialism’ but nick-named ‘native slavery’ by the poet began in Nigeria. In this light, how can the people be rescued if the culture of silence persists?
The poetry collection is thematically meaty and diversified. Although emphasis shall be placed on sociological and political poems, mention must be made of poems that deal with other themes such as love, discipline, “Papa A Gladiator” (18) the value of education to the advancement of Africa, “A Black Soil is never Barren,” (17) courage and determination, “I Fall No More” (21), celebration of mothers for their love and sacrifice, “Choiceless Potters” (22) hope and rejuvenation, “Let the Rain Fall” (24). However, in the poem, “The Forgotten Ones,” the poet considers an arm of society that is often neglected and left in the doldrums – the orphans, the hoi polloi, and the wretched of the earth. These are the voiceless, the hopeless and the homeless in society. Split into five stanzas, each stanza captures a specific class of the destitute in society. The first set of the voiceless are the ‘battered people.’ They are battered by the harsh and discordant economic condition of the country. The second category is the ‘children’ and ‘Their tomorrows billed for sorrows/With sustenance in bowls of coins/Earned by desperate pleas’ (25). They beg eat and they end up sleeping in the marketplace. This reminds the reader of Faceless by Amma Darko. The third category of the voiceless in society is the prisoners: ‘Their joy locked up in bottles/To be drunk by their oppressors.’ The poet being optimistic dreams and visualizes a time when discrimination and social antagonism would come to an end ‘Visualizing the extinction of marginalization.’
“The Eagle is Gone,” is a tribute to Nelson Mandela. Mandela was an outspoken critic of apartheid in South Africa. He was imprisoned because he broke the cycle of silence. In the poem, there are three things Mandela lived for and fought for and they are encapsulated in these lines: ‘Freedom pasted on his forehead/Equality wore him as cloth/Courage strapped to his sandals.’ In this context, he serves as an archetype for younger generation of African revolutionaries to tow after. What gave Nelson Mandela the impetus to confront the machinery of apartheid oppression was education. However, in Nigeria, education is being systematically strangulated by the capitalists who collect money from parents in exchange for ignorance: ‘Crooked socialists and bloated capitalists commingle/To take hold of our educational system.’ What is the more worrying is the incessant strike actions embarked upon by schools across the levels, ‘Our children, like electric switches, go on and off as/they study’ (31). In this light, Nigeria is producing “Future Rots” and not future leaders.
The poem, “Punctured Silence” was early this year critically studied by the reviewer. It is a poem with multiple layers of meaning and dense with imageries. That poem is a testament of the poetic and social vision of the poet and it reeks of his authorial ideology. In the Marxian tradition, the poet sees himself as a fighter who throws his weight on the side of the subaltern class: ‘I am a warring poet/My words are swords/I slay the woes/Of humanity with them…’ Words are the weapons used in puncturing silence. It is obvious that the poet is not a soldier who uses swords. However, with words, he can, ‘…tear the veil/That shrouds cowardice’ (40). The reason why silence must be shredded is, the masses are extremely exploited and oppressed and there is no justice on their side. In the poem,
“Reviving Justice,” justice is portrayed as an entity that is under siege in Nigeria. The emergence of inequality after the oil boom era enthroned injustice: ‘Injustice creeps in like a thief/Looting the stalls of justice.’ It is clear in the poem that, the foundation of every society is buried in justice, equity and fairness. In Chinua Achebe’s The Trouble with Nigeria, he also identifies the aforementioned as amongst the root causes of Nigeria’s rot. The poet maintains: ‘Justice is homeless/The nation is clueless.’ The entrapment of justice makes the country clueless and without direction. Corruption is but the foster child of injustice. Where there is injustice, corruption surfaces. This sentiment is authenticated in the following lines: ‘Corruption is empowered to reign.’ The reign of corruption ensures the plundering and looting of the nation’s resources. What is worrisome is the abuse of power and the use of the proceeds from corrupt practices to stifle justice, thus obliterating the voice of reason and protest: ‘Ashes poured down throats of the poor/ voice to declare their choice, lost.’ The poet, however, insists that there is still hope for the subaltern class: ‘Beaten by the winds but not broken/We can withstand the odds, rising up in unity’ (42). Indubitably, silence is the reason why the malady entrenched itself in the country’s political system. Thus, rejecting the hegemony of corruption with a united front will help in the restoration of sanity.
The poem, “Pity Us in Our Pit,” is a poem of lamentation dedicated to the Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Boko Haram is a violent and religious extremist group which struggles to carve out an Islamic Caliphate from the far north. The group became virulent in 2009 as it engaged the Federal Government’s military systems. The country is plunged into darkness as a result of the activities of Boko Haram. The struggle for power and the use of religion as means of attaining political power in the country gave religious extremism the needed impetus. In the poem, a disheartening portraiture is captured and in the centre of it all, is the young secondary school girls who were kidnapped for over two years and no one on earth could rescue them. Injustice and hypocrisy have been identified as the reason why these girls are still in captivity: ‘Ah, injustice builds a skyscraper/On a land treacherously sold.’ Those who campaigned for the release of the Chibok girls became hypocritical as they merely wanted to be seen as champions of human rights. The protests waned with time and the girls continue in the captivity. This is an indictment on mankind, the generality of humanity and not on the ‘clueless present squeaks’ (46) ruling Nigeria. While the poem, “A Negligent Father,” is also a diatribe against Nigeria, a country where human lives are cheap and could be taken anytime, anywhere and anyhow without the government investigating or taking decisive measures to avert future occurrence of such tragedy.
O’ nation, your children, like sheep
are snatched away from your feeble grip
by wolves you ignorantly reared
are you fit to be a shepherd?
“Cancerous Corruption” is a continuation of the poet’s lamentation on the adverse effect of corruption on Africa in general and Nigeria in particular. The poem is a collaborative effort between the poet and another: Marshall G. Kent Sr. Corruption, however, is portrayed not as just African problem but a global one. It eats ‘lands shore to shore.’ Capitalism is fingered as one of the roots of corruption. The bourgeois class and the political oligarchs loot natural and natural resources ruthlessly. Thus the question is posed: ‘Are we to rape God’s angels/In unholy pursuits?’ (50). Nigeria flaunts itself as the giant of Africa and one of the richest oil producing country in the world. It is however ironical seeing the populace wallowing in abject poverty. This makes the poets to quip: ‘A nation clothed in extravagant robes/Flaunting its wealth to attract external termites/But ironically has its citizens feed on crumbs.’ International capitalists flock into the country looting it but adding no value to the citizenry. Their concern is to,‘…milk the nation dry/To nourish their insatiable greed’ (51)
The assault on corruption, injustice, exploitation, and oppression is sustained in the poem, “I Know a Country.” Nigeria, the nameless state is portrayed as ‘A fortress of justified injustice,’ ‘A sanctuary of desecrated altars’ and ’A den for corruption.’ It is above all, a country ‘Where truth is brutally butchered/For the sustenance of falsehood’ (52).
There are poems of encouragement in the collection: “Down but not out,” “Wow,” “Questioners,” “It is not over,” while the poem, “Ibadan” captures the environment and its configurations. Poetry can be used in mirroring or reflecting happenings beyond the shores of the poet’s. In the poem, “Where are the Elders of the Land,” the poet calls for peace between Israel and Palestine. The poet makes use of alliteration and assonance to send his message. The pandemonium unleashed by the warring parties is so gargantuan that to resolve it much efforts has to exert. But a rhetorical question is asked: ‘Where are the elders of the land/to resolve the dispute of the land?’ when tensions are high, however, humanity needs to wade in and protect the voiceless and the powerless. The poem “Black Accusing Fingers” (88) on the other hand chastises Africans and urges them to stop pointing accusing fingers at the West and try to move forward. Some African thinkers like Walter Rodney have placed blames on the West for the underdevelopment of Africa. But Achebe has in the postcolonial epoch hinged the blames on the bad leaders. It thus becomes imperative that, for Africa to move forward, it has to look forward and not backwards.
Perhaps, it must be emphasize here that, the poet has done great things with words. His poems are thematically diverse and his handling of poetic form is superb. Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom has constructed poems that will stand the test of time. He has mastered his chosen medium of expression – English Language as this could be seen in his evocation of beautiful imageries that speak to all of the five senses. He is a social realists and human rights crusader. In his struggle for a better society, the tool to use is not arms as proselytized by earlier Marxist poets but words. It is thus lucid that he believes in the dictum: ‘Words are mightier than swords.’ Nevertheless, in the preface to the collection, the poet makes a statement. In itself, the statement is good but looking at it from another angle, there is a fault with such statements. Perhaps, let us consider the statement then place it in context:
In my inventive attempt to clearly reach out to my readers, I frowned at obscurity by throwing an addictive look at coherence. Therefore, a reader can courageously and judiciously try to find the depth of each poem without drowning in the ocean of ambiguity. Without communication, the essence of language is lost.
Professor A. N Akwanya in his Discourse Analysis and Dramatic Literature (2012) says, “Language in this high formality is what is known as literature: Language beyond the function of communicative action” (2). In poetry, the motivation is not majorly ‘communication’ beauty is also an imperative. Thus, two aspects of the human body are needed in the reading and enjoyment of poetry: Emotion and intellect. Hiding under his communicative manifesto, the poet churns out some poems that are not laced with tropes and heightened imageries. Poems like “The Ground Runs,” “Untitled,” “A Bruised Head,” “Stupid Faith,” “Better Owes Sooner,” do not have internal cohesion and elegant subject matter. They are terse and lack poetic elegance in heightened language and imagery. Some of them are to some extent nursery-rhyme like. Above all, the poet uses one poetic structure in most of the poems. The poems are structured or built at the centre of the paper, thus absence of diversity in phraseology, experimentation in form and structure.
Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom Punctured Silence. Nigeria: Speaking Pen International Concept, 2014.
Akwu Sunday Victor holds a degree in English and Literary Studies and is currently pursuing his Masters in Literature. His writings cut across the three genres of literature. He is a foremost critic of contemporary African writing.