MUSINGS ON MUSINGS OF A POET BY ISAIAH ADEPOJU

Published in 2022 by Something for Everybody Ventures Lagos, Eriata Oribhabor’s ‘Musings of a Poet’ is a hard book to comprehend. Not because he is an obscurantist but that, a truth less subtle is at play or at work in the seams that bound the work. Often in reading the book one gets the idea that the themes are of the same base, musing, and of poetry. As we shall soon see, there is in “Musings… ” the dissimilation of poetry and the poet’s order of affairs. Both are within the confines of Nigerian Pidgin English. While the initial section of the book attempts to say for what purpose poetry exists, the latter merely echoes the truths of the former. What does pidgin poetry mean in Nigeria’s literary scene? What are the experiences of the pidgin poet? Or, whose experience?

The Opening:

Pidgin poetry is either easily misconstrued as a watery language at play. It was in this regard that   Eriata’s first poetry collection, Abuja na Kpangba an Oda Puem Dem, was received initially received with much distancing. At least, not with some literary seriousness. However, with his first poetry collection written in the English language titled Crossroads & The Rubicon, a rubicon has been passed. And there at Crossroads & The Rubicon, the poet, like poets before him, identifies that two things exist when the poet begins with the first verse: either “their poetry” or “my poetry.”

While “their poetry” means writing poems to fit into a different society’s expectations and structures, “my poetry” is the opposite, representing writings that seek to internalise/individualise, the writer’s personal experiences. An example in this regard would be Okpo B’itek; another example is Paul Laurence Dunbar. Both of them share the character of carrying on with “their poetry”, showcasing their experiences, devoid of the imposition of others.

Therefore, in the domain of his craft are his experiences, and how he successfully individualises that of others. And this experience can only be ex- or communicated through the language with which the poet observes the world around him.

But freedom has to be bought at a price.

In the genre of poetry, it is difficult not relinquishing to servitude; be it of ideas or convention. Not to disbecome a striving politic. Simply that, two purposes often co-exist in any written work. First is the meaning inherent in them while. Second is the purpose of these meanings. The former is Eriata’s experiences translated into poetry. The latter is how his experiences would become contemporary poetry of the Nigerian Pidgin-English expression. “More than ever before,” he says of his work, “I was determined in writing my poetry towards promoting the totality of all I do by way of creatively engaging myself and numerous others.”

The strife for expression in the Pidgin language and for carving a niche for himself did fundamentally inspire his poetry collections. In the section, Their Poetry, My Poetry, he speaks of his poetry as communication with his root.  His poetry, apart from being his society’s watchdog, he notes, also inspires poets in diverse expressions. IF YOU HEAR SEY I DEH PRISON is one such book among others.

Eriata noses for edifying and endearing beauties. If readers will want to share in his experience through a seldom-used language, they should at least find that which they identify with. For Eriata, “Talking about beauty is talking of potentials that Poets and fellow creatives may have the privilege of identifying in either something or someone.” Being fascinated by the subject of beauty and the ability to sieve them from idling waters that one claims to be one’s own experience, a ready inspiration for writing the collection, ‘THAT BEAUTIFUL PICTURE.’

In ‘Poetic Worldview: raft and craft,’ he traces the poet’s worldview, headlining the craft in the scheme of things. Eriata believes three types of poets exist; those fascinated by poetry and becoming poets without some intention. In this case, poetry to them is likened to an airplane, boarded by them who are first-timers. The second-timers are those who strive in becoming poets, for example, learning poetry’s music by heart. The third are those who were born into arts-inclined families.

In the aforementioned, Eriata’s gradation of poets falls in the realm of characterisation as against background. For example, a poet is recognized as one irrespective of age, the time s/may have started writing poems, and that poetry is an act of creating a kind of raft on which everything else rests, etc. Most importantly writing poems may not be for everybody.

In the subsection, ‘Between then and now,’ he shares how he began Naija Pidgin poetry, and where he is, now.

From the onset, he understands he has to enchant his readers to the realms of beauty, and understands that, because Naija Pidgin is not a ‘formal status for the literary expression’ he has to ‘set the tone for a perspective change for [and in] many.’ His push for the expression does not stop on paper. MEK WE YAN was a radio programme he hosted, along with Naija Drama Day in 2013 under his NAIJA PLE HAUS (Nigeria Play House) platform—in which five staged plays were published and entitled AMEBO YARD and edited by Eriata Oribhabor. Since 2011 when he first published in Pidgin, the language is gradually becoming official in literary works. (Iheoma Uzomba, on the prompting of Eriata, is one writer I know who has begun using it in her literary essays.) In this, Eriata feels a ‘sense of fulfilment.’

In the subsection, ‘The writer, his thinking, and societal expectations,’ he holds that writers must be without encumbrance to their craft. He believes that the joy of any ‘average writer is the fulfilment of effectively capturing ideas, thoughts or happenings in written forms.’

One of the many things which Eriata states and which the political occurrences and arguments amongst writers about these occurrences bear witness to is whether a writer can always be counted upon in times of great moral dilemmas as a moral pivot. Writers, he agrees, though ‘are on the frontline of people in the vanguard of creating or suggesting pathways,’ their offices, their political inclinations, or even their silences may strip them of their very duties.

Eriata laments in part and prophesies in another. For him, the failure of the writer is the failure of the State, and vice versa. Sadly, even the shifting of contrition between writers and politicians puts the citizenry in stagnancy and quagmire.

He captures this imbroglio more succinctly in the next subsection, ‘Like politicians, like writers.’ There he says the bane of creativity is the seeking of undue relevance, where writers, like politicians, simply quote prominent writers as certification of their intelligence.

In the ‘Road of Gifts,’ the writer finally endures reprieve.  And through to the manor house of boiling ideas—which he sees as self-oblivion for actualization’s sake—and to ‘Work In Progress,’ Eriata becomes optimistic. He sees the poet as an imperfect copy of her/his poetry, indeed the world each poet might seek.

‘Poets, wellness, and creative expose…’ hammers on how poets for their wellness are ever ready to write, and how wellness affects the efficacy of their writing. He would make an example of this with a poet ‘awaiting his muse’ even though abounding all around him are ‘showers of inspiration

In ‘North for Men: I Am North,’ he praises Shehu Mubarak’s poem (with the same title), and what it does in terms of social advocacy for Northern Nigeria, in a less distraught country. Eriata makes us see through the poem that by cancelling other person’s or people’s experience and sophistication based on ethnicity, we, by inversion, acknowledge our helplessness, our aporia, and so our misery.

In ‘Uganda: A Taste of Covid,’ he recounts his experience testing positive for coronavirus in 2020. In ‘Practice of Theory,’ and in ‘Status Quo and the stay-put Mentality,’ he puts forth the truth that ‘ideas go stale,’ and that the power to dare the status quo, with the example of William Tyndale, to suffocate its promoters.

In ‘Relationships and Boatships,’ he capitalizes on his own experience of marriage that without the two in union working in sync, there should be, as he would go on to state in ‘What About Apps’, the truth ‘never to assume one is indispensable.’

In ‘Where is your Voice,’ he says how the littlest of things as one’s phone’s keyboard’s auto-prediction of ‘God bless…’ what?, can thwart one’s expectation of one’s country. God bless Nigeria?

‘The Boat Cruise’ is written in the second person point of view, directly to the recipient. In ‘Culture Shocks – 1’, the poet leaves his native Warri to Kaduna to, most importantly, ‘appreciate the depth of [his] country’s diversity.’

In ‘Baba Hassan…’, in ‘The Single Mum…’, in ‘Matter Closed?’ up until ‘Our Light Just Come…’ his tone takes on the nostalgic, the pedagogic, the humorous, matter-of-factly, the self-appreciatory, the appreciatory, the less humorous, the more conservatory, the tributary, until stopping at the melancholic, the predicate of varying narratives, of quotes, Pidgin musings, interviews, musings, of poems, Pidgin poems, advocacy for the boychild, body positivity, and a testament delivered by Okeke Job Izuchukwu, the former PRO ANA Abuja, on Eriata Oribhabor’s birthday in Abuja.

Writing about one’s experience as a Nigerian in Nigeria is somewhat difficult. Partly that Nigeria often brings us to a state where the English language fails us. We call it grief because no synonym can communicate the heaviness we all carry. Now contemporary poets who feel this pain differently are sceptical and do not know how to survive, or even thrive, when the words that know them more, which are now called clichés, have begun to fail them. It’s against this background that Eriata Oribhabor charts a headway. He is our Moses who has led on through another expression which, though we know, we are afraid to touch. But he says we can. He says we should.

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Isaiah Adepoju is a novelist and a copyeditor. Recipient of the 2022 HIASFEST Star Prize, Lagos-London Poetry Prize, and a shortlistee of the 2023 Alphine Fellowship Prize, he has been at two national residencies and has had works published in Ake Review, The Muse, TSTR, etc. His debut novel is out with Abibiman Publishers, UK. Reach him via: adepojuisaiahgbenga@gmail.com