Reviewer: Nwachukwu Egbunike
Mark Nwagwu/BookBuilders.Edition Africa/2009
Helen (not-of-Troy) a collection of poems by Marcus (not-of-Aurelius) contains lyrical love songs with a similar theme – but devoid of the tragedy – of Romeo and Juliet. The poet sets the contemplative rhythm of these verses to his wife, when he admits in the dedication that Helen’s “eye led me to poetry”.
Poetry has always been accused of being exclusive. The level of appreciation of most poems usually depends on the culture of the reader. Matters get worse when the poet clings to the “thou, art,” old Shakespearian English. The abhorrence by many cannot be separated from the fluidity of words, which like waves can carouse but also intimidate.
Some scholars insist that the redundancy of poetry has consigned it to the realm of events. For instance, a poem was composed and recited during Barrack Obama’s inauguration as the President of the United States. The greater majority enjoy straight prose. They also claim that due to poetry’s unpopularity as a genre of literature, it is gradually dying out. In its place, other popular cultural artifacts like prose, popular music and videos (Nollywood) have totally saturated the world of discourse.
Nonetheless, Nwagwu has shown that poems needs not be complicated in other to be posh. At the same time simplicity is no excuse for superficiality. Waving words into rhymes, the poet sings, amplifies and transmits his love to Helen, his wife of 47 years. Helen (not-of-Troy) is his gift to Helen, on her descent from her professorial chair in the University of Ibadan.
In the first part “of Helen”, Nwagwu falls flaunts his love. The poet employs a transliteration of an Igbo saying, “My people say/to someone they love/I see you in my eyes (afulum gi n’anya). He narrates their family history in “fate leave shoreless sea,” deftly sandwiching the names of their children between the lines. For instance, “all those years from ugochi in Swedish the first cry of erik connecticut storrs…” Also notes their professional paths – for Helen “graduated brock in clinical psyche” while Mark “rose in learning molecules.” The poet incenses Helen’s toes in a “toe to kiss”, remembers his proposal in “will you marry me,” is enthralled by her “innocent eyes” and goes amok with “the way you move”. “How can I be cold” queries Mark? “If touching you” “give me a new heart.” I was almost beginning to think that the poet was infatuated until I read that “love never says enough.”
In the third part “of the spirit” the poet exposes the transcendental dimension of his thoughts. He narrates what mirrors an accident survived in “last breath” and later taunts hell in “please let me in.” I was beguiled reading the short but punchy description of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem in “riding on a donkey” and Christmas in “a little babe kept warm.” The shortest nativity story I have read so far remains “and warmth was born.”
However, I saw no reason for Part 2 “of the soul” because it could have easily fitted into Part 4 “and random thoughts.” For in both, the poet speaks of every other thing except his Helen and his matters of the spirit. Nonetheless, I cannot fail to commend the editor and the publishers for a thorough work. I tried in vain to pick errors but was disappointed, as I found none. The font style and illustrations used blends with the romantic nuance of the poems.
In Helen (not-of-Troy), Mark Nwagwu flew to the heights of contemplation by gazing at the eyes, feet and soul of Helen. Well scripted, simple but yet sublime. Cannot but agree with William Shakespeare that “when love speaks, the voice of the gods makes heaven drowsy with harmony.”