A Review of Adamu Usman Garko’s When Day Breaks by Mujahid Ameen Lilo

Title:  When Day Breaks

Author: Adamu Usman Garko

Publisher: Words Rhythm and Rhymes

Pages: 52

Adamu Usman Garko’s thought-provoking poetry volume has already carved a niche for itself in the Nigeria literary space. It was listed as one of the Best Books of 2018 by the Daily Trust, one of the country’s leading newspapers. Immediately after its most anticipated release, it was welcomed with open arms by poetry aficionados. Perhaps since Images of Life by Sadiq Dzukogi back in 2004, no poetry collection by a teenager has attracted such attention.

Perfectly structured with the cleverness of a skillful storyteller, in four parts, the collection chronicles the emotional landscapes of the persona. The poems, nine in each part, unfold tenderly with a measured rhythm.  Beginning with “Threshold”, the part that we find the persona so innocent, simply painting vignettes of his high school break time, family and the future.

The second part, “Longing”, brings, in soul-stirring verses, a beautiful emotional chiaroscuro to the narrative. The poems evoke the nuances of a teenage naivety and thoughts, bordering on love, heartbreak, suicide, doubts and sel-realization which clearly shows the growth of the persona.  There is a plea:

            … Why not cease leaving

            And stay, wave byes to adieu

            And build lagoons

 Of smile inside this cave (32).

And then, heartbreakingly:

                   The sunny day you doffed

                   Your eyes off me

                   The gloom disgorged

                             And spread upon me its coverlet….  (30).

The loss of a beloved is so touching. There is another achievement here: creating empathy in the reader’s mind. Moving. Enchanting.

“Fly”, the third part, finds the persona moving on, achieving his dream, flying. In an exotic voice, he proudly confesses:

Soon my memory would carry in its womb

And birth new stories, new steps

And a new history to be told…. (35).

The persona then in striking language describes how they penetrated the clouds to land in Lagos (a city of wonderments, 36). In the next poem titled after the city, we have lines that best capture the people of the city thus:Lion-like men/Find home beneath Sun’s stare/Refugees Seeking Sun’s shadow… (37). It clearly shows that this part is also a travelogue to the southern parts of the country, for in the following poems we find we find ourselves in Abeokuta and Ijegba Forest. Besides, the collection exudes a narrative touch and it is apparent that the poet blends so many genres in the collection.

The landscape here is more detailed with incandescent images:

Nor a gate, nor door at the threshold,

But a grass with curled, long hair at each side

Like a dancing Indian flower.

The reader would be so grateful to Garko for the in-depth description at that juncture where his flight lands in the home of the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka:

A home of the living giant poet

an eye in the frame of the world

a banguet of a living sage… (39).

The part ends with him expressing how he missed those beautiful moments and the friends he made.

“Any writer who is not concerned about making social commentary on the issues in his environment is like that lazy man whose house is burning, and he goes about chasing the rat that flee from the flame”, said Chinua Achebe. Garko is certainly not like that man, for in the fourth and last part of his collection, “Flame”, he moves away from the personal to the national. The tone changes to lamentation. There is melancholy; there are mirages. The poems here are cloudy, refusing to give a clear meaning, which is perhaps the weakest point of the collection. The atmosphere is tense which the poet should have eased with controlled diction. The collection ends with this question for the reader:

Do I stealthily move where souls went

To glance a glimpse of your rest

In search of a smiling tomorrow? (52).

There are poems that once you read them you will feel the instinct to keep the book away and clap for this teenager endowed with the gifts of inserting whopping meanings in little lines in arabesques patterns just like the greatest of poets. Indeed, just like Chinua Achebe said of Chimamanda, Garko too also came almost fully made.

When Day Breaks is meaty which the poet achieves by arranging his lines with a multiplicity of metaphors. Not only metaphors, his lines are garnished with other literary spices that are at once original and witty. The major achievement of the collection is perhaps it being clichés-free.  Garko is a master poet and I cannot wait to devour his next collection whose manuscript won the 2020 Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors (poetry category).

Mujahid Ameen Lilo studies English and Literary Studies at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. His works have appeared in The Lagos Review, Praxis, Daily Trust, Blueprint, and others. He won the Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange Essay Contest and came second in The Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors. He also won the BUK Creative Writers’ Poetry Contest.