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Joe’s Collectanea

Pages: 58

Year of Publication: 2023

Publisher: Harmony Publishing

Reviewer: Denja Abdullahi,

In as much as we try to run away from the classical definition of poetry by William Wordsworth as the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings and emotions recollected in tranquillity,” we keep returning to it daily as we encounter and contemplate modern poetry. This foregrounds the undeniable fact that emotion, feeling, private thought, introspection and the like are the playgrounds and handmaidens of poetry, the most primal of all art forms. Joshua Omeke’s  Joe’s Collectanea takes the reader back to contend with this classical conception of poetry in its unabashed declarative title with Latinate derivation which simply refers to ‘a poet’s collection of literary writings, forming a collection.’ Joshua Omeke , instead of titling his collection of poems with an outlandish title rather uses an abridged form of an  eponymous poem within the collection(“Joe’s Collectanea from Ghana Side”), as it is often the case with poetry collections today, which simply announces  ‘these are my poems in a collection’ and thus invites the reader to encounter the rush of emotions as he takes on various subjects in a multitude of befitting styles. Beyond the title, the cover design of the collection, of a coterie of ancient-looking wooden masks on a shelf wedged in on either sides by antique and baroque-looking books on shelves, anticipates an adventure into some kind of exotica. 

 

The  collection comprises of 31 (thirty one) poems of varying lengths and forms ranging from poems that dwell on the ecosystem , the life of the immigrant, life and love, health of body and mind, religiosity, pan-African historical and social interface and a kind of Africanised science-fiction.

The collection opens with an eco-critical concern with a poem entitled “Danilo the Farm Boy” in which the poet paints a picture of a hardworking farm boy working in a farm organised and mechanised; rarely the case in the local African environment, though the lines runs with some familiar idioms such as “No Food for a lazy man, so I work on this farm”(1). Other poems in the collection such as “Ache of Waters” and “Roots are Before the Logs” relate the fate of those natural bodies in the ravaging grip of the modern world to that of man.

Immigration, emigration, migration and the issues concerning people living in the diaspora have become the trending or enchanting subjects of literature and particularly poetry in recent time. These issues have so much dominated our poetry  in content and form that in the 2022 Nigeria Prize for Literature award which focussed on poetry, the three poets shortlisted for that award and the eventual winner of the coveted prize were young Nigerian poets who were in the diaspora, who wrote their pieces informed by the exilic diasporian ambience, stylistic requirements or subjectivised their displacement from their homelands in their poetry.  Joshua Omeke may be seen in that light too, having lived, schooled or worked in the diaspora. In “Coloured Dream”, the immigrant’s apparent wish for success in a foreign land comes in a prayerful, anthem-like lines such as: “ In the land of people that persecuted my ancestors/Here I am seeking greener pastures/ Believing I would someday be favoured/ Manured from the knowledge of life”(3). And in the poem “ Flies of  Wilderness,” the resilience of the immigrant is celebrated in a series of rhyming couplet “ In lands unknown, they forge a path anew/leaving behind what once they knew…./ Flies of wilderness, with wings of grace/ Witness the struggles they daily face.”(5).

 From an experiential perspective and from general reading of contemporary poetry, poems that try to be definitive or topical have to be stylistically or metaphorically alert to rise above mere rhetorical platitudes which weaken the flavour of poetry. Some few poems in the collection such as “Long Lost Love”, “Composure,” “ Daily Dose of a Mother’s Influence,” “My Body, My Mind,” “Portrait of Her Lifestyle” and “Life” are not able to achieve this as they are riddled with prosaic presentation and dotted with a few clichés; albeit because of their topicality. Same also goes for poems with religious denotations and connotations in the collection such as “Angel’s Watch”, “Epiphany of Life” and “Surrendered Man.” That may be so because religion itself comes with its own fixed register of words through the ages which may not allow a conforming poet any kind of originality of metaphors , moods and feelings. To tackle religious subjects successfully in poetry, it appears a kind of subversion is necessary.

  The few poems directly about love, life and emotion in the collection such as “Romance in Poetry”, “Long Lost Love,”  “Problem,” “Ramshackle Emote”  and “Emotions and Idioms” are couched in captivating allusions referencing Greco-Roman mythology of deceptive gods and indulgent goddesses, classical musical prodigies and popular paintings in experimental styles. These set of poems are enigmatic and needs a widely-read mind to decode.

The collection is at its most lyrical in the places where the poet engages in the de-familiarisation of the familiar such as in the poem “The Grass of Our Time” in which the harmful effect of tobacco smoking and its addiction are explicated. The poem has lines that go thus: “Äs I drag life out of you, you bring life into me…/Africans say one thing must kill a man/Hence I say to you my beloved stick/If I perish, let it be from the highness of your touch.”(7). This lyricism is best showcased in the long narrative poems of the collection in which the poet delves into historical reconstruction(“Anarchiste Diplomatique”), interrogating racial relationship(“A Friend of Mine”), romanticizing rebellion  and daredevilry( “The Great Sail of Scandinavian Pirates”), dramatizing immersion into another African culture( “ Joe’s Collectanea from Ghana Side”) or just introspecting into paranormal and transcendental experience like in an Africanised science-fiction( “Pies from Celestial Beings,” “ The Jinn of Sahara,” and “Tommy ,My Watch”). One remarkable thing about this set of narrative poems in which the poet is at his lyrical best in the play on words and dramatic expressions is the use of stanzaic refrain between  stanzas to add a kind of rhythm to the general feel of each poem. In “Anarchiste Diplomatique” which engages in narrating the confounding history of the country Nigeria from the pre-colonial time to the present we have a recurring stanza more like a chorus thus:

                     So this is slavery

                     Our dreams may be as high as Elroy in the spaceship

                      But this politics is killing it  (20-23)

 

 

In “A Friend of Mine” which explores the tension in race relationship, the following refrains are repeated:

       

    And now, this is for a friend of mine,

      One who is afraid to introduce me to her mother,

     And the other who is ashamed to invite me to a time out with his father,

     This is the way I was designed,

     And, naturally, we embrace each other in life. (27-29).

 

 

And in “  The Jinn of Sahara” which connects history and landscape to paranormal beings and occurrences, we get this refrain:

                         

     I’m the jinn,

     I am real,

     You may avoid this truth, but we’re here, not to kill,

     Just relax and feel our mild(37-39)

 

 

In the partly eponymous poem in the collection “ Joe’s Collectanea from Ghana Side” could be found the poetic declaration of the poet of what he thinks should be the preoccupation of poetry and the poet. Nearly every poet does this in their debut collection. In this poem, it is done in a conversational way using a setting different but similar to the poet’s natal origin. The old lady the poet is conversing with in the poem and the dramatic situation around inspires the poet to reflect:

 

 

C’mon Joe, you are more creative than writing about the unexpected

 occasions you encountered during the day,

 What about romance?

 Feel the need to tell the world about your first love?

You could be the next Shakespeare if you just try not to give up,

Or how about you tell them of your dreams, allow them to see the way you think,

This is your collectanea; it is about you.(24)

 

This particular poem sums up the beauty, the multiplicity of concerns,styles, perspectives, frailties, and the intentional poetic artistry of Joshua Omeke Joe’s Collectanea.

POEM BELOW:

JOE’S COLLECTEANA FROM

GHANA SIDE

The day seems to be beautiful just so you know,

What would you write about, Joe?

The old lady who seized to say ‘thank you’ after offering your seat to her,

Or the little child who kept yelling “I want pizza!”

C’mon Joe, you are more creative than writing about the unexpected

occasions you encountered during the day,

What about romance?

Feel the need to tell the world about your first love?

You could be the next Shakespeare if you just try not to give up,

Or how about you tell them of your dreams, allow them to see the way you

think,

This is your collectanea; it is about you,

Okay, Inner Voice, I will get a poem through,

So, here is a poem,

A poem of my visit to Ghana,

Not a travel writer but one you cannot get out of your mind,

They saw me in Kente, so they thought I was from Akwaaba,

Well, I was taking a cruise to Accra.

Probably going to Coco Vanilla,

Not my flavour of ice cream but I would like to get in touch with the

natives,

Hey, chale!!! Do not think I am in for the juju,

I would like to have some fufu, no need for the banku?

Remember arts? Talking about the Gold Coast artefacts?

Mamiwater (mermaid) does not scare a black man, so I was playing with

the waves.

Before reality hit my checkmate, let me catch a cruise,

You can tell I’m African by daily manners,

For the record, I don’t need a notebook,

I just put my thoughts on leaflets that a propaganda.

Joe’s Collectanea | 25

Close your eyes to say your prayers – a white man taught my forefathers

that!

But we Africans are still juxtaposed to our roots.

Not the juju or the voodoo; I mean our culture.

They can never see me coming like the rapture.

Returning home, my words stayed prime until I drove into Badagry Express

Road and my tyre punctured.

And now the vulcaniser is asking for so much.

 

                    

 

Denja Abdullahi

Poet, Playwright, Culture Expert & Former President, Association of Nigerian Autors(ANA)


Author: Joshua Omeke




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