Mark Nwagwu’s ‘Time Came Upon Me and Other Poems’: How to Love a Woman Forever |Reviewer: Aderemi Raji-Oyelade

Title of Book: Time Came Upon Me and Other Poems

Time Came Upon Me and Other Poems by Mark Nwagwu

Author: Mark Nwagwu

Publisher: Bookbuilders, Ibadan

Year of Publication: 2019

Pages: 70

Price: Not stated

Reviewer: Aderemi Raji-Oyelade

Time Came Upon Me and Other Poems (2019) is Mark Nwagwu’s fourth collection of poems dedicated and devoted to his wife, Prof. Helen Onyemazuwa Nwagwu (1943 – 2018), arguably a unique feat by any African poet; predictably, in its consistency, it revolves around love and in ever more refreshing forms and perspectives that it does not fall into tedious monotony, either as a volume or in relation to the other collections before it. With Time Came Upon Me and Other Poems, Nwagwu has bequeathed us with a tetralogy, the others being Helen Not-of-Troy (2009), Cat Man Dew (2012), and HelenaVenus (2013).

In total, there are 94 poems on various but interconnected subjects, of life and living, love and loving, of aging, death and transcendence, friendships, anniversaries, family scenes and reminiscences and, above all, the overarching and recurring subject of eternal affection of the poet for his wife and life partner.

The collection is curiously titled as “Time Came Upon Me and Other Poems”; in the tradition of collections with “& other poems” notation, there is always a poem eponymously titled after which the collection is named, so that it would seem that the other poems take force, relation or connections from the flagship poem, as it were. In this particular collection, there is no poem so titled as “Time came upon me”; rather, there is a poem entitled “along the way time came upon me”, apparently signifying on the poet’s journey of identity, relation, and encounters, his chronotope of experience. The whole sequence of poems in the collection is a reflection upon time, the daintiness and magnificence of it, that the collection might be directly or unequivocally titled as “Time Came Upon Me.” Taken together, the title points at the poet’s realisation of the depth and intensity of experience which have attended his past and his present.  

The entire strings of poems are sprung as telegrams and as beads on the column of time. Lines follow lines of joy and pain, of loss and memory, and of love and loving.

Mark and Helen Nwagwu (Awka, 2018)

The sensitive reader moves stealthily in the booby trap of sensuous words, seeking images which survive the poet’s ballistic memory, and there the reader finds his mind in the embrace of what I shall call an helenospheric absorption, to which the poet himself has been captive over decades. Relief for Nwagwu is not easy; and in that helenospheric stratosphere, the discerning reader will find a poet in remembrance and devotion, in worship and wonder. Compared to the first three books of poetry devoted to Helen, this is the first posthumous collection, and it becomes significant that even in her mortal absence, or because of it, the poet’s remembrance is more intense and poignant.  

The larger collective of poems is an extended dialogic evocation of the spirit and personhood of the dear departed wife of the poet. In “Where will I find you”, it is as though the persona has asked a question. Although the statement does not carry a question tag at the end, the voice that responds says “… you will find me in heaven beatific” (6). One can infer that Mark Nwagwu is asking his late wife, Helen, when/where he will find her, to which she responds “they have covered my eyes… my face”, but when he finds her in heaven, the “mystery” will be “revealed” (6).

“Behind you” is both a celebration and a vivid remembrance of his wife’s grace when she leads him and takes the communion (significant to the body of Christ); at once, the poet is joyful connecting the act of walking (with his wife) with the actual witnessing of her taking communion as proof of celestial union with “all of heaven” (2).

There is a unity of expressive vision between Mark the poet and Mark the man, and Helen is the integer of that expression: she is the mermaid in magnificent armour, the constant presence, the epiphany, the emerald eyes, the ofe Owerre, the heavenly shadow, the sublime one, the timeless rainbow, love magnified, the redemption, and the “jeweled dynasty”.

In Nwagwu’s devotional poems, the expressive continuum of lines about love has become the stuff of legend.

In “you were not on the cards”, a poem that reads like a poetic autobiography, the reader will find flashes of an episodic life marked by his divine connection with Helen, the passion that followed, the intellectual progression, the conjugal adventure that spanned decades since 1961, and the eventual beatification of his dream woman and wife of a lifetime. Listen to how the poet’s serenades his helicon love, the “object” of his absolutist rapture:

you showed up, clothed rainbow, beauty overwhelming

I saw you. My world ran from your head to your toe to your eyes

I was lost, unforeseeable dreams undreamt capture me

transport me to heavens not yet built, awaiting my mettle

to give it life in a world mellifluous. Helen, my dream, my redemption. (29)

There are other significant poems which are part celebratory and part reflective in Time Came Upon Me and Other Poems. There is the poem “Kpakpando”, a praise song to a friend, apparently a reference to the accomplished playwright, poet and scholar, Femi Osofisan: “I am Kpakpando the earth my theatre Ibadan her home/orange invites indigo in dance, my mind their costume” (35). In the other poems, Nwagwu’s keen sense of observation and re-memorying is all too evident, as in “the Cambridge sisters (36); and in his overflowing love of St. Theresa of Avila: “to catch the sun skies warm, don’t leave me/I live on the air you breathe flowing all over me” (54). There is also the unforgettable casting of the legendary prowess of the poet’s great grandfather as a dibia who transformed himself into “nwankpi”, a goat in order to head-butt “his opponent another dibia/who had challenged him” (20). And like his enigmatic forebear, Mark Nwagwu is a firebrand magician of the word.

A close reading of Time Came Upon Me will reveal the poet’s fastidious use of the sensory metaphor of sight which runs through a number of the poems. The focal sense of sight, of seeing, of beholding and of watchfulness, and of attention and attentiveness, is almost always reflected throughout the collection. In “the joy you give me”, the poet is captive of the joy and bliss that Helen radiates “in the priceless pearls of (her) eyes” (9). Poem after poem, the reader will find the poet’s obsessive conscription of the metaphor of eyes: “emerald fire” (5), “rendezvous eyes” (5), “where will I find you” (6), “pride pierced” (6), “to look at You” (9), “the nerves came to their senses” (10), “sleep on the valley” (13), and “the untold story of all that meets the eye” (17), among others.

In this collection, the reader will also encounter the poet’s love for cosmic significance of numbers: 7 and 9 especially; in celebrating Helen’s 74th birthday in the poem “it’s all sevens”, the poet turns attention to the year as the double of 37, in addition to the interesting fact that he was born in the 37th year of the twentieth century.

In writing these devotional and evocative poems, Prof. Mark Nwagwu has achieved immortality even as he has immortalised his wife of a lifetime, Prof. Helen Onyemazuwa; he seems to be aware of his own mortal essence and admits of time coming upon him, but as the middle name of his wife “Onyemazuwa” suggests, nobody, not even the scientist of the word, knows tomorrow. He may just rise into the evening and add another collection to extend the tetralogy into a pentalogy.

Let me conclude with a coda, that in Time Came Upon Me and Other Poems, Mark Nwagwu teaches us how to love a woman eternally: say it, write it, remember and write it again…

Mama Mia!

By Nwachukwu Egbunikemaryandchilds

 

Tossed into a vicious sea
These waves shred
Almost drowning

Keep mute, it’s prejudice
Speak out, it’s intolerance
Sketch, and be judgemental

Darkness descends with rage
Night blankets all
Evil smiles unhindered

Clouds condense
Rains will come
With cymbals of thunder as company

All run amok
All inflicted with infirmity
All afflicted with pestilence

Humanity is shaken
Shredded with filth
Shrouded with silk

Hold me in your arms
Have my head on your bosom
And with your mantle wrap me safe.

 

‘Mama Mia’ is part Blazing Moon, a collection of poems by Nwachukwu Egbunike to be published in 2015 by Feathers and Ink.

What I am

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

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Infinitely finite
Bearer of a luminous spark
Scion of the sun
Who made home for time

I’m god

Deified, mortal
Eternal, ephemeral
Transcending self, within self
Adopted, a slave
Royalty, a serf

I’m god

God became man
Men become gods
I’m god.

 

‘What I am’ is part of Blazing Moon, a collection of poems, by Nwachukwu Egbunike to be published next year by Feathers and Ink.

Dora Akunyili – Ijele Nwanyi!

A Dirge by Nwachukwu Egbunike

Late Professor Dora Akunyili

Late Professor Dora Akunyili

 

Don Luici

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

Spill not shared times
Nor soil the splendour of a living past
Cast as stone in Agbowo
Seeds sprouted into a virile canopies

Bloody saccharine
Enticed by words, scalpel-like wit
Eyes beaming unending warmth
Humour that glares with charm

Proud of the green passport
Unabashed tenderness for these seven hills
Immersed in Trenchard
Impressed with Orisha and Ekpe across the seas

A speedy spiral, hedged in peace
Grabbing Joseph’s sturdy hands
Climbed those stairs
Same like sixty moons past

Great party you aroused
Telling tales of chivalry yore
Like here surrounded by younglings
So there engulfed by family

Those rascals
Reflection of silvery hair
Adventure of youth
Frail but ever young

The loins grants not fatherhood
Dance now, surfeit with symphony
Pains scourged once, flows now with flames
Pipes piques not tar but beatific fragrance

Now you rest after labouring with no rest
Preaching and teaching love
Seduced first under dimly flare
Contemplate forever with blazing stare

The Bridge

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

A dream
Stirred a provocation
Straddling nine seas
It ferried from virtual to visual and back to virtual
Begetting a bridge

Those stories
Lost in the cyber stars
Recounted by stewards
Who while the world talked
Are ever listening

With stories
We narrate history
With stories
We tell hidden tales
With stories

We’re the voice of the mute
We’re taking it personal
We’re the Bridge
We’re Global Voices!

Harambee

By Nwachukwu Egbunike
 

You ask me what I see

I see green

That stretches and stretches

It embraces the pregnant blue

Held heavy with silver

Not a static one

But this silver hops and hops around

 

I’ll tell you what I see

The plains of that savannah

Where the cheetah cares not

For the king of the jungle

Though the hyena skips the rhinos

And the zebras zigzags the buffaloes

 

You ask me what I see

The plains where roses bloom

Through green houses

Tea and coffee compete

On the heights of Tigoni

 

I’ll tell you what I see

Though the valley been rifted

And flows lazily down

Through contours once chrisom

Now wails with blood

And wounded with fear

 

You ask me what I see

For those languid fools

Who trade god for sale

Take hate as company

And pair grenades as berries

Terror from the belly of ‘Shabaab

 

I’ll tell you what I see

Crumpled but not crushed

Bent but not broken

While not Uhuru

The shield and spear

With Harambee

Stands firm

Unbreakable and unbeatable

 

Ibadan, September 23, 2013

Introducing the “WriteHouse Notable Series”

WriteHouse Collective, a leading social enterprise and hotspot for reading culture events, books and creative media is unveiling another special event in Lagos called the WriteHouse Notable Series.

The curators of Artmosphere, a literature, culture and performance event recognised the need to celebrate the achievements of writers who have contributed immensely to the Nigerian literary space through their published works, literary engagements as well as provision of the much needed mentoring and support for younger writers.

By celebrating the contribution of writers of who have aided the preservation of our history and existences through their literary outputs, WriteHouse hopes to help reignite a love for reading amongst the country’s teeming young whilst also providing a platform that allows for the cross-fertilization of ideas between the established professionals and emerging cultural practitioners.

The maiden edition of this event is made possible through the support of SarabaMagazine, Patabah Bookstore and our literary friends in Lagos. It will celebrate the contributions of Tade Ipadeola, one of Nigeria’s prolific and relentless poets and winner of the Delphic Laurel in Poetry. Tade’s latest collection, The Sahara Testaments has been longlisted for the NLNG Nigerian Prize for Literature. The event will provide the audience an opportunity to interact with his works digging up critical commentary in a rare and conducive ambience.  It will also give the poet a leverage to share personal stories that have helped in shaping the philosophical core of his writings.

The maiden edition of WriteHouse Notable Series holds on Saturday, August 24, 2013.

Venue: Patabah Bookstore, B18, Adeniran Ogunsanya Shopping Mall (Shoprite), Surulere, Lagos, Nigeria.

TIME: 2pm – 5pm.

Tade Ipadeola

Tade Ipadeola

Tade Ipadeola

Tade Ipadeola was born in 1970. He has published three volumes of poetry-A Time of Signs (2000) and The Rain Fardel (2005). His short stories and essays have been published in diverse media. In 2009, he won the Delphic Laurel in Poetry with his poem “Songbird” in Jeju, South Korea. His third volume of poetry, The Sahara Testaments-a sequence of 1000 quatrains on the nuances of the Sahara is his latest work. The book was published by Hornbill House of the Arts, Lagos.

The Sahara Testaments has been described as an exceptional and deliberate effort of the poet to explore transnational decimals and the role of Africa in shaping the world. Rotimi Babatunde, winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing (2012) submits that:

In this collection of poetry, his third, the poet challenges himself as well as his audience…The Sahara Testament is remarkable in its blending of elements from two traditions of the epic-the broad sweep of narrative and intellectual rigour of the philosophical-with the haunting immediacy of the personal lyric.

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The Sahara Testaments was recently long-listed for the 2013 NLNG Nigerian Prize for Literature.

Tade Ipadeola is president of the PEN (Nigeria Centre). He lives in Ibadan where he specialises in intellectual property law.

Ogulani

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

 

The waves from the Niger sing

Flowing from deeps

To chants of dirges

For the fading of a prince

 

Hopping from Oke Ado

To the plains of Potiskun

Nkisi roars with pain

Ado N’Idu is inconsolable

 

The crimson cap

Carried on a royal cape

With beads of bronze

And twigs of valor

 

Peering into the future

Carrying the past

Curetting the present

Is the diviner’s feat

 

Though the garden

Bloomed once with promise

Blighted now with pestilence

The plough never paused

 

For in those veins

Pumped via valves

Flowed the sovereign blue

Polished with silvery hues

 

While others spoke

Words were made wise

Fitting of a sage

Flanging off aberrant fallacy

 

 

The flame tree

That illuminated

Without consuming

But cauterizing flippant fools

 

The imperious imposters

Impersonating jesters

Drumming thé dansant

Dregs of a desolate desert

 

Their vile and bitter theobromine

Undertakers of a stale theater

Drowns not the beauty

That flowed from your bosom

 

Though you slept with these pains

The insolence of ingratitude

But with your royal fans

You dusted them to oblivion

 

Ogulani

The garden

Will bloom again

That’s a promise