A REVIEW OF I SPOKE WITH MOTHER BY SEWUESE LEAH ANYO

State: Chapbook Publisher: Sevhage Pages: 16 Pages

Year: 2013

Poetry comes to many in different ways. For many, in the words of Su’eddie Agema, it is an expression of one’s innermost feelings. In whatever forms they come to the poet or are delivered to us, the words if truly from the heart, no matter how written – with the grandest finesse of the professional or the gentle crudeness of the starter, they reach for our hearts.

Catherine Omirigbe is a young teenager whose voice echoes through her words. With her first collection of poetry – a bold chapbook for a girl her age – I spoke with mother, she makes a statement to a lot. She has dared to set her name out publicly where many several others doubling her age – literary and year-wise – have shuddered. But let us not dwell too long on that.

I spoke with mother is a slim collection of poems consisting of 16 poems. These poems, as small in number as they are touch on a broad rangecover i spoke to mother _2 of themes in life and death. We find love, death, determination, negligence of the poor in the society, the aspect of time and that lovely celebration of womanhood.

The title poem, ‘I spoke with mother’ evokes thoughts of Oswald Mbuyiseni’s Mtshali’s ‘A Voice from the dead’. It is a conversation between the persona and her late mother. Having watched a crumbling world, one where there is the absence of a mother to shield from gathering evil realities, the child-persona talks of these things that puzzle her:

Mum, the earth grows as precarious as hell
suffering untold piles as we lose pity, love and understanding
the lowly placed find no place in our thoughts

The earth burns with the sulphur and brimstone of Hades
The earth’s children grow evil not worth dawn’s ray
Or Dusk’s relief […]

Here, Omirigbe’s use of imagery is evident and commendable. The answer and question session between the persona and her mother continues till at some point, the latter goes back to her eternal silence. The persona wishes the mother had stayed alive for ‘the sun would have smiled differently’.

It is worthy of note that Omirigbe’s style is beautifully simple. She writes deep from her heart and the lines flow naturally with deep sense. There’s the use of repetition across various poems. For example, in ‘Love’ (8), you find the word ‘Love’ riding boldly across the four stanzas. You find this same repetitions in such poems as ‘I am a woman’ (11), ‘Faith’ (11), ‘This Life’ (16), ‘Africa’ (18) and ‘Unforgettable Days’ (23).

Omirigbe’s use of language is simple, deep and concise, a testimony that the poet herself is a young woman full of simplicity.

There’s a certain connectedness of the poems through themes. For instance, death rings through ‘I spoke with mother’ (9), ‘Silence’ (10), ‘Death’ (13) and ‘Unforgettable Days’ (23). I believe there is a reason for this: death is universal, death is inevitable. Thus, the pains that accompany the death of a loved one is so much that we question the reason for life after all.

Throughout the collection echoes the outcry of a child who wants the world to be a better place. The persona sings her love for Africa and more, Nigeria. Thus, it is an encouragement that Nigerians should get up and embrace the best of what they have. This comes as a big relief especially when one is faced with continuing poems here and there lashing the country’s evils and the (dis)like.

The poems in this collection bear certain resemblance to others written before. For example, as mentioned before, ‘I spoke with mother’ evokes Mtshali’s ‘A Voice from the Dead’. There are many African poems with the same title and to mention that the poem, ‘Africa’ is like any one particular one, would be to mention millions of others – which we can’t really do in this small space. But for emphasis, certain negritude actors like David Diop, Leopold Senghor, Dennis Brutus among others come to mind reading the nationalist poems of Omirigbe like ‘Africa’ and ‘Nigeria’.

On the whole, the collection, I spoke with mother has scored well in its representation of life and the world at large. Catherine Omirigbe in her chapbook shows lots of potential and a promise of great soaring to come in the future. This is most evident in her themes that as we mentioned earlier, echo other poets long gone before. True, a few things do not escape the near childlikeness that is bound to come from a teenager’s pen but overall, there’s a deep sense of maturity in the combined strength of the book that would leave anyone amazed. This collection would inspire a lot of people especially those with a zeal for creative writing who have shied from answering its public call.

If you do get a copy, throw yourself in the work and read through the eyes of a teenager whose burning heart has burnt words in dedication to land, country, standard ideals and a mother forever immortalized in this cute chapbook, I spoke with mother.

(Find an interview of Catherine Omirigbe here)

 

Sewuese Leah Anyo is the President of the student writers’ body, Writers’ League and a final year student of English at the Benue State University, Makurdi.

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