POETIC INSIGHT (ISSUE 8)
BEYOND DIDACTICISM: A REVIEW OF MICHEAL ACE’S SERMON FROM A STAMMERER
One of the tenets of literature is didacticism—the flowering of morality— a telling of the truth (the bedrock of any literary work) to achieve a positive society. A true writer tells the truth.
Permit me to add that as a strong believer of purpose, I hold dear that a writer needs to understand that writing is an essence — it must be instructive— and above all teach normalcy. The reliance on writing and its relevance are to bring about correction. Let me repeat, here, that the idea of didacticism cuts across any literature—positive or negative.
Since I am not ignorant of the fact that there are literary works that promote negative influence, the question is what to be done about this? I believe a literary work that is negatively inspired holds a kind of concealed didactic consciousness and the onus is therefore on the reader’s mind as touching discernment and choice.
I remember my encounter at a book launch. I had asked the author, out of curiosity, what the essence of writing a book is and he practically failed me in his response. My curiosity is justified; the writer egoistically asserted that his book was not published to correct anything in the society. What the hell is that!
I could not stomach how convenient he found that to be said. Does one write a book without fulfilling a purpose? Who else is a book written for? If it is not for the society, then for whom? Is it that writing is done to be ridiculed with such an illogical statement? Why publish a book the society has nothing to benefit from? By God, such a writer should never exist. (I wish I told him that).
In these days of moral decadence and gross misconduct, didactic literature is most essential, beyond the pleasure and entertainment a book gives. It is instrumental to the administration of sanity into the endemic aberration in our ever-growing society. And because this critique is based on poetry—poetry is one of the tools here.
I read somewhere that with poetry, the world is safe. And true to this—poetry has sustained this fact over the years till date. Placed beside all other genres of literature, I have observed that didacticism is natural to poetry, somewhat inseparable.
And so, by this, Michael Ace’s chapbook, Sermon from a Stammerer, a collection of twenty one poems, is yet another gift of poetry—a springboard of didacticism with a metaphysical blend —an instructive lane, one that the society can taxi on to achieve an altitude of sanity. A stammering of caution needed for the celebrated fluency of abnormalities in our world today.
The bard’s stutters open with ‘A verse for Mama’ (pg. 8). This is significant to the title of the book; a child in the home begins talking with stutters of ‘mama’. And by this poem, it is a way of reverence for mothers.
In the poem, however, the poet expresses his affection for his mother. He travels her travails to find ‘motherland’—poetry—like his mother whom he embraces and believes is a sure avenue to build a place for his mother—a motherland for his mother.
‘Tell her I have gone to buy her a couch
So she would sit, and have her worries bow
Tell mama to remember her words
That, “one day, I shall palm the universe.’ (A verse for Mama: pg. 8)
‘Spikes and Spindles’ (pg. 9) carries a reader through an instructive train of survival, contentment, mutuality, humility and the vanity of everything:
‘Know, I am but spikes and spindles
Reminding man to write his history
For one day he shall visit the living
But, without his arms, his eyes and his life’ (Spikes and Spindles: pg. 9)
The poetic voice preaches the power of words and infinity in ‘The eagle that makes a mark’ (pg. 10). His transitions from immortals to mortals hold that all will go into extinction except words. There is a spiritual blend which calls for consideration, where the poet says:
‘They shall dwell on my mother’s tongue
Where Jesus is the way and the truth’ (The eagle that makes a mark pg: 10)
I consider the above as a clash of thoughts and out of place. The poet, in the preceding stanzas, stammers even ‘God (being the Supreme Being) and gods’ will end and according to the Biblical records, Jesus is considered as His sent son. And here, the poet is implying that He (Jesus) will outlive God himself as the word. The translating of words into eagle is again disturbing—can’t words just be words? Why become eagle again? And the poet concludes:
‘I am but a stammerer
A man that preaches the gospel of dreams
I am the eagle that makes a mark’ (The eagle that makes a mark)
Perhaps, in the excerpt, the poet is trying to say he is eternal—like words—like Jesus or his ‘I am but a stammerer’ is a glimpse into the imperfection of the poet and the poem itself. The struggle in the climax is vivid but then, there is an instruction in the poem—relevance!
The employment of relevance is extended in ‘One poem, one pound’ (pg.12). The poem highlights respect for poets and the power in the art of poesy:
‘When a poet dies
His word stands as a homeless spirit
Embedded with the magic of healing
But the value of poetry
Lies in the arms of the poet
When he opens them, to calm the storm.’ (One poem, one pound: pg. 12)
‘Break the Knot’ (pg. 11) is drawn on the theme of endurance in relationship and transforming regrets to results. Again, the efficiency of maternal guidance is highlighted here:
‘But mother told me not to break the knot
For every man can build his own sky
When his sun and moon will live in peace
Mother said ‘ only a coward dies,
And leaves his corpse behind,
Only a weak man, loses hope, and leaves home’ (Break the knot: pg. 11)
‘Made men’(pg14), ‘Stories that touch’ (pg. 19), and ‘Broken Bridges’(pg. 26) present a life of travails, dreams, survival and a glimpse into hope; light at the end of the tunnel:
‘Every daybreak we see
Are shatters of broken bridges
For darkness and nights are barricades
Built around our kingdom of success
Every morning is a poetry of hope
Urging us on with the lyrics of our own dreams’(Broken Bridges pg. 26)
‘Morrow’ (pg. 29) expresses the beauty of hope after travails, this time, more than a glimpse—the poetic stammering here is very clear with the flags of not giving up:
‘There comes a time
When no soul shall wander
Around the wet wrinkles of Africa
I see the day coming
When each and every one will reign
Like the eagles far up in the sky’ (Morrow: pg. 29)
The poetic voice in ‘Lamentations’ (pg. 23-25) explores the theme of peace and wars, women emancipation, the corrupt state of men and the world at large. ‘Burnt soul’ (pg. 20) is yet another lamentation, sympathy for the loss of a loved one:
‘She comes back to her mother’s eyes
She fetches a bucket
She is bathing off the flames
And washing her burnt skin
She has forgotten she is just a spirit
The water becomes her mother’s tears’ (Burnt soul: pg. 20)
The intent of these poems, however, preaches our association with others in their unpleasant situation, pains and agony; somehow, we save our lives by so doing. The theme of association is extended also in the poem ‘Do not ride alone’ (pg. 27) where safety, love and sharing are assured. The truth is, no one lives in isolation and so everybody needs somebody. The poet summons the significance of associating with one another till death:
‘Share a cup, when a friend thirsts
Pass a plate, when a foe starves
But ride alone, and solely die’ (Do not ride alone: pg. 20)
The preoccupation of the collection with the ‘mother’ reference is again highlighted in ‘Call me a woman’ (pg. 15) and ‘How to Love’ (pg.16) where the poet opens the readers to the uniqueness in the soul of a woman and also presents her as a blue print to understand and overcome the challenges of love, relationship and keeping a home. The following stanza instructs:
‘Then make a trip to mama
Seek from her the tales of love
And the chronicles of commitment
And the weighty sacrifice
And the battles you may fight
And how to put behind your pride, and rights’ (How to love: pg.16)
‘Who am I’ (pg. 18) is a question of selfhood based on the qualities we see in others; isn’t it funny that we tend to know others but find it difficult to know ourselves. This is somehow a question of examination—examining oneself. The rhetorical presentation seems to suggest that finding oneself is an endless venture:
‘But, who am I?
I am a sorcerer waiting for a dark night
For that is when magic finds her power
I am a blind man sitting behind his own mind
For there lies the hidden paradise
I am the man, asking the gods, who am i?’(Who am I: pg. 18)
The poet’s run off to ‘Redemption’ (pg. 28) is a presentation of rising up to unpleasant situations; fighting back. Though the poem is drawn from the unpleasant experience of women in the hands of callous men, the poet here is saying revolting is a kind of redemption—liberation—to gain freedom from the hands of villain through self-defence:
‘She hides her soul in steel’ (Redemption: pg. 28)
And since self-defence brings about bloodshed, one is tempted to question, if redemption is only achieved by this means?
The theme of repercussion for wrong doing is portrayed in ‘Three Virgin Sisters’ (pg. 21-22). The poem condemns the act of rape and repeatedly emphasizes on the inevitable and haunting consequences. This is also to establish on moral grounds that no wrong doing shall go unpunished.
While ‘Adesewa’ (pg. 13) portrays the twists and travails in love to breaking up, ‘Awero’ (pg. 17), ‘A minute Silence’ (pg. 30) and ‘One million Starlets’ (pg. 31) express the beautiful things in the experience of love and falling in love:
‘There is something in your eyes
That makes me feel at home
Immortality dwells in your arms
When they wrap around my bones
My heart steps to ‘rock and roll’
Every time you ray your brow ’(Awero: pg. 17)
As it has been pointed out earlier that there is a clash of thought in this collection, there are also clashes of imageries and use of language, which somehow kill the magic in some of the poems. It is obvious that the poet fiddles much with abstractions. These make some of the poems weakly climaxed and difficult to interpret. The poem ‘Awero’ (pg. 17) and the sequels could have been merged to make a trilogy; I feel it is unnecessary to title them severally since they follow just the same line of thought. The overuse of refrains and intended use of rhyme in some of the poems could have also been avoided in order not to run into broken thoughts and stiffened expressiveness.
Notwithstanding, Micheal Ace’s Sermon from a Stammerer is, without doubt, a stammering of realities knitted with fine threads of artistry prowess—and beyond didacticism—there is an exploration of depth yet a poetic teleportation—quick and successive—terrestrial and celestial. Something magical!