A String of Sweets is an anthology of poetry written by Tony Afejuku.. The anthology comes to us as a phoenix of varied human thoughts recollected in moment of tranquility. A Spring of Sweets, can better be described as a diary of diverse human experiences in lyrics. Also, one may be correct to say that the anthology validates the immense capacity of the human mind to recollect and to reflect on avalanche of man’s unavoidable encounters with the many hurdles of life. Perhaps, the reason this writer is of the view that the anthology is a mixed bag of exhortations of love, passion, patriotism, courage and admiration on one hand.
On the other hand, the anthology contains poems that are lamentations of a failed state as a result of greed, nepotism and moral bankruptcy. These anomalies have find a futile ground in Nigeria owing to man’s penchant for vices, injustice, brutality and self-righteousness . Basically, the human mind has exceptional capacity to wander, to ponder, to reflect, and to refract. Hence, Afejuku’s lines serve as a soothing balm to a troubled mind.
Afejuku is an Itsekiri patriot, a literary critic and a Professor of Literature with bias for poetry. Like Niyi Osundare, Odia Ofeimu, Tanure Ojaide and Ebi Yobo, Afejuku sees poetry as a medication for the ailing soul. He shares in the artistic ideology of bringing poetry to the door step of the people. His generation of Contemporary poets are conformists of Niyi’s poetic manifesto which perceives poetry as a “ life spring”, (Alu, 2008). It is imperative to state here that these poets also imbibe Ojaide’s verdict of syntax of prose, unpretentious, clear and simple lines, (Ojaide,1989) . Little wonder, they steered away from the older generation of Modern Nigerian poets that are easily identified for the nuance of being ‘privatist’, willfully obscured and consciously apolitical.
Afejuku and his contemporaries are committed to splitting open the gridlock of formalistic evocations of the older generation of Modern Nigerian poets. Hence the commitment to communicate in the simplest and appropriate expressions possible. Afejuku’s poetry vividly convey a piecing concept of evocative reflection of ordinary human experiences. Further, there is also a conscious effort by the poet to jettison Euro-modernist poetic techniques of T.S Eliot, Era Pound, Christopher Okigbo and Wale Soyinka who were addicted to the poetics of obscurism and esoteric motifs.
Afejuku’s poetry address a deluge of private and public themes. Particularly, issues on the state of the Nigerian nation and that of the prestine Warri Kingdom-his ‘poetic constituency. He is able to register a concern for the leadership inadequacies of the Nigerian nation while using provokingly-common imagery. It is important to note that Afejuku, like his contemporaries, is unpretentious in his poetics. Perhaps, the reason “An October Ballad for Fatherland” presents a picture of a bizarre celebration of a nation at 50, when the citizenry are in a cesspool of pains and economic hardship. The poem does not see the justification of such celebration.
Warri and Maiduguri are two extremes which are uncommonly similar. Maiduguri represents the sterility of the Nigeria state. While Warri points to the buoyancy of a state. The poet is worried that Nigerians are too complacent, and annoyingly too serene. Nigerians can be likened to the oxymoronic euphoria of suffering and smiling, a bizarre picture once painted by the Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikolakpo Kuti. The problems of the Nigerian nation are endless.
“Epitaph on Two Nigerian Ex-Presidents” admonishes arrogance, despotic inclinations and greed among two ex-presidents of Nigeria. The hill-top imagery of ‘ Owu’ and ‘Minna’ are pointers to Ibrahim Babangida and Olusegun Obasanjor who at different times ruled the country and left in their trails records of gross abuse of human rights and senseless looting of the nation’s treasury. The poem laughs at the impotency of the so called Ex-Generals who on leaving power “are here now in dust”. The moral of the poem is for us to see power as temporary, and held in trust of the people, and never to abuse it when one is at the position of responsibility because a time comes when one is strip of such power and will be accountable to the very people he had abused.
“An Itsekiri Militant Song”, “A Leaping Flame “and “Muscular Words” have the same stream of themes of patriotism and courage running through them. Afefuju, like Ojaide sees his ethnicity as a microcosm with which to lash out at the larger Nigerian society. In a nutshell, “An Itsekiri Militant Song” is a clarion call on the poet’s kinsmen to be vigilant and remain steadfast in the struggle to survive the war of extinction being launched at the Niger Delta minorities by the Nigerian state on account of her God given resources.
Metaphorically, the poet seems to be calling on Nigerians to support those who have vowed to resort the glory of the country. There is need to sing patriotic leaders to victory. Not everybody can be in a position to lead, hence those of us who are followers must encourage those in leadership positions to rescue our country from the jugulars of mediocrity, corruption and political recklessness. The same themes of patriotism and vigilance thread through “A Leaping Flame” The poem is an ode elegizing the virtues of Pa. J.O.S Ayomike, an Itsekiri elder statesman, who hails from Escravos that produces the largest quantum of crude oil in Delta state, and incidentally the mainstay of the economy of the Nigerian nation. The poet is exhorting the courage and patriotism of the statesman by describing him as “the sun of the mangrove” and “his land ‘s lover”.
The poet also raises the issue of hypocrisy, as a result of greed and avarice. There will be no end to communal conflict in Nigeria, if truth is not sacrosanct, and justice upheld. Like “A Leaping Flame”, “Muscular Words” is an ode to Isaac Jemide, a member of Itsekiri Leaders of Thought. ILT is a think thank of the Itsekiri ethnic nationality. The poet is of the view that responsible and sincere representation come with grace and fulfillment. A leader must be fearless and courageous to defy the ferocity of the enemies.
On a larger scale, the poet preaches advocacy and courage. To the poet, words must be strong enough to assert truth. On a large note, the poem elogizes virtue, honour and hard work. It is imperative to state here that virtues fetch our names on marble long after we might have departed this world of trials.
Afejuku ‘s poetry is remarkable for its syntax of prose and aesthetics of words-revealing meaning. His poetry are unpretentious, private and public. They are evocative indignation of a minority buried in a breath-taking thoughts of fear of extinction and political stagnation. There is no limit to the power of the human mind. In the mist of the turbulence, the poet is of the view that man could still find the time to reflect on the spirituality and sublime of love and the magnanimity of nature. The singability of Afejuku’s poetry cannot be ignored. There are uses of repetitions of phrases, lines and structures to reinforce the lyrical tone of the song employed.
Okofu, Ubaka Omamuli Esq. is a post graduate student with the Department of English and Literary studies, Delta state University, Abraka.