The human condition is a subject that has formed the foundation on which Literature is built. Our existence is founded upon a number of variables that contribute to who we are. From family, to immediate society and even religious affiliations, they all play essential roles to who we are at our core.
Sandra Achebe’s …Before the Clock Strikes 12, is an exploration of the bits and pieces that make up the human condition from the poet’s perspective. Achebe genuinely discusses her human experience in the simplest and most genuine language while staying true to the elevated style of poetry.
…Before the Clock Strikes 12 is an unending feast of poetry beginning with the poetic foreword by Ikechukwu Ogbu who “wets the ground” by acknowledging the muse through which …Before the Clock Strikes 12 comes to be. He also offers a tip of the iceberg about the wonders …Before the Clock Strikes 12 holds; “Man’s life is a voyage right from the womb/For self-discovery, he journeys till the tomb.”
And what a wild journey of self-discovery does Sandra Achebe take us. The chapbook begins with a subject that is at the nucleus of the human experience, money. Achebe titles the poem “Legal Tender”, which is the universal term for money. This suggests the universality of the money problem. Achebe addresses the desperate pursuit for money without judgement. Money is personified and it seems to suggest simpler alternatives instead of totally leaving oneself at its mercy. The poet makes use of repetition, “I’ll find you”, as a means to assure the reader that money will come with “consistency” even though you do not participate in the “ardent chase”, as is the norm.
In the eponymous poem, “…Before the Clock Strikes 12”, Achebe seems to demand a resurrection of sanity in our immediate society. There is a tone of sadness and dullness echoed throughout the poem with four simple words, “our hearts don’t beat”. This suggests death and emptiness despite the attempts to liven the environment of the poem by “clasping chords, ringing alarms, singing songs and dancing tunes”. However, the poet seems to know something no one else knows. She insists on a correction of societal wrongs, by “Quelling the war! Fighting the cause!”, only then, will the hearts beat again. Once again, Achebe tackles an essential issue of societal unrest that has left many without will and hope. She seems to charge the governments to arise and correct the wrongs. Hence, it is not hard to see why this poem’s title was chosen as the title of the collection, because, this challenge is one that has greatly altered the human experience. In the same vein, she toasts to the land of her ancestors in the following poem “Africa”. The poet seems to say, I acknowledge your greatness even though you are currently down.
Still, it is not all societal issues with Sandra Achebe’s …Before the Clock Strikes 12, she also sheds light on the internal part of the human condition with “Camera” in which she stresses the need for self-evaluation, embodied through taking a picture with the camera. The poet also expresses her faith with “Salvation’s Creed”, where she preaches the message of Jesus’ love as embodied in Christianity. This is a salient poem in the grand scheme of humanity as religion is no doubt a touchy subject. So, the poet still does not condemn, only shares the message of Jesus as a beacon of hope.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Sandra Achebe’s …Before the Clock Strikes 12 is her use of drama in poetry in “Kings For The Tribes’ Man”, where she reenacts the role of a leader from different perspectives; The people, Palace attendants, and the King, an important lesson in perception.
Sandra Achebe’s …Before the Clock Strikes is a wholesome documentation of the human condition and experience in genuineness. The poet does not hide behind elevated language or pretend, she simply tells it as it is for her in the hopes that you can relate, too.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Temitope Abigail Larayetan, a three-time Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP) outstanding entrant, is a graduate of English Language and Literature from the University of Lagos. Temitope’s short story was published by Farafina in the International Sisi Eko anthology. She currently blogs at “Medium” where she wrote every day of 2019 as a personal challenge.