Events of life do not occur by chance. There is a network of relationships running through all happenings. Our challenge as humans is to discover those relationships, to comprehend the deep meanings in the syntax of events. Ignoring the syntax is to fail to put into use the competence that underlies attentive living; indeed, it is a semiotic competence through which we understand not just individual signs but also the main grammar of signs and signification in the Divine Plan of creation.
You might call it a coincidence. Another, a case of serendipity. For me, more than both.
Perhaps, what led me into this experience I am trying to find its meaning was my incurable desire to buy and read books, to search for relevant ideas, voices, to which I could connect my own. Inside our heads as book people, don’t you have a number of ideas, a number of other thinkers, holding conversations? Are we, as book people, not made up of quotations? We are connected to other thinkers through their ideas. Call it a testimonial strategy when we refer to other people and their ideas in what we write and say. We are, indeed, connecting ourselves to other selves in an intersubjectivity, establishing a network of thoughts. Even the ideas we do not endorse but cite or criticise are linked to our thoughts. They call this connectivity of a text to text, of a voice to another, “intertextuality.”
Now, you see, I did not set out to write about Obi Nwakanma’s poetry today. I did not even know I would meet Obi Nwakanma today, speaking eloquently in 73 pages. When I set out in this morning, there was no Obi Nwakanma on my mind. But he was there at the bookstand waiting for me. I was just writing something that had to do with the first cry a baby gives out when it is pushed out of the mother’s womb. I wanted to cite a poet in this regard, to let a poet say it along with me. A handy name was J.P. Clark-Bekederemo; remember his poem, “The Cry of Birth”? But I could not lay hands on J.P’s collection. Books move around a lot on my disorganised bookshelves! So, I planned to search for J.P. at a convenient time. But it looked like by thinking about J.P’s poem, I had roused the village of poets, a village of cooperative voices that took interest in the significant event of birth.
At the bookstand, outside the hall where I went to listen to a scholar tell me why we should take it easy with the postcolonial state that does not want to see another – Biafra or Oduduwa – born out of it, was Obi Nwakanma waiting to be bought and read. I had just listened to a talk that cleverly dodged telling me about a system that would rather have other states that are waiting to be born, strangled at birth, or to prevent them from being born, even when the mother is in travail and must inevitably give birth to! And there was Birthcry, Obi Nwakanma’s collection of poems, seemingly metaphorically challenging repressed birth of new nations with its eloquent title.
When I saw the book, I knew immediately I would buy it, at whatever cost, for I needed a poet’s inspiring counter-discourse badly. Please, note that the poem might not have been written about Biafra, but it resonated with the eternal idea about coming into being (of persons) and could be gainfully harnessed to my discourse about the unstoppable births of larger entities in a networked Divine Plan.
I opened the book. Or the pages of the book flew open. Better, the book opened me! I like open books!
There, yes, the lead poem, surely, was titled “Birthcry.”
Two very striking stanzas:
Did you, from the portals of the unborn,
Hear the many footsteps
Those who have gone before you
The birthcries, inviolate moments,
On the lips of mornings?
The birthcries are the same.
The first is all –
Is always the beginning
Of the pristine journey to life.
Without a kink.
The birthcry and the foetal blood; the birthcry, with someone bleeding. A mother always bleeds. A motherland, too. She is made to bleed. Motherlands that oppose the continuation of the colonial project in Africa are always made to bleed, especially if they are heavy with children and want to give birth. Someone, probably acting on behalf of the colonial invader, would always want to prevent the birth, or to kill the baby at birth. Why are colonial mercenaries afraid of the legitimate child that is waiting to be born?
We will still have to return to “Birthcry” and and penetrate its semiotics from many angles. But Obi Nwakanma completely swept me off my feet with another poem in the collection, “March 15”! Today is March 15 and right before me is Obi Nwakanma telling me about that very date in a poem! Now, this is more than a coincidence! From “Birthcry” (read in relation to struggles for post-colonial self-determination) to the temporal deixis of my encounter with the text, the exact location in time of my encounter with Obi Nwakanma’s inspiring voice!
Here are some verses that engage my attention greatly:
Flight of the white bird, O she
Who shapes the form of the bough,
Remember, there is nemesis for the hand
That yokes the bow to the arrow.
I saw the falcons
On the rise of five suns,
They flew inclined
Towards the East.
Yes, “… the hand/That yokes the bow to the arrow” waits for nemesis. I can relate with that, too. No one escapes natural justice, societies too. Worse, if societies still repeat their past mistakes and arrogantly refuse to accept that they have erred. Postcolonial societies that think they have to continue the coloniser’s project, have already submitted themselves to the hand of nemesis. Their intellectuals know the truth, but they would not say it. They are probably afraid of something or somebody. They would rather maintain silence, as an avoidance strategy. But such avoidance strategy doesn’t always work. They have already made themselves victims by denying themselves a vocal resistance as an assertion of their fundamental human rights.
Watch how some intellectuals that analysed and criticised tyranny in other lands choose to dance around the issue when their own countries are involved. They have been caged by fear or the bonds they share with rulers who do the very things they criticise about other countries. It could even be shared prejudice.
I am happy that I have met Obi Nwakanma at the bookstand today. I am delighted that his thoughts strengthen mine. Glad that I have found great thoughts and great words to lean on. Roll on, March 15.