BY RAHAMAN ABIOLA TOHEEB
A critical attempt to look into the roles which literature plays in the recent time has facilitated a clear response further establishing the universal belief that poetry has a big obligation to perform in the documentation, history-archiving and sanity control of the society. This literary postulation which has placed a tag of moral burden and responsibility on poetry as the engine-room of society’s consciousness is what has been a limpid manifestation of a valiant voice in Rasaq’s noble poetic responses.
A look into his work establishes the fact that contemporary Nigerian poets have come to an age of modern revolutionary advancement, constantly clearing and cleaning the rots and inanities in the society through a radicalized yet morally-inclined poetic posturing, in a better word, surgery.
Without any iota of doubt Rasaq is a revelation, and so his poetic spirit and artistic presence. He’s a revolutionary necessity at the time the utopian dream of Nigeria has been consistently challenged by the long presence of acute leadership failure and less regard for the laws, security and dignity of human life. For this we need to give him the credit for archiving major stories and incidents we may tend to forget due to the deluge of other looming calamities.
It should be said that in Nigeria, calamities and displeasure do not have a long epochal presence. They come and leave without any strong documentary. Having a poetic documentation of memories of incidents from Chibok to Bun-yadi in his major debut appearance No Home In This Land, Rasaq has not only succeeded in strengthening the fearless voices of his mentors and literary demi gods including Tade Ipadeola and Jumoke Verissimo, he has also carved a fadeless existence for places like Yobe, Gwoza, Barma and Borno where scary words like gun and war, bomb blast and blood have been incorporated into the lives of local residents, including children.
Opening these series of undocumented tragedies, his opening glee is an emotional note of dedication, a poem for:
For missing bodies, unrecovered bodies, drowned bodies,
mangled bodies, dismembered bodies, bodies buried in a mass grave
after an air attack in Borno.
For the undocumented casualties, for the anonymous corpses
sprouting in the streets of Kaduna, for the unheard voices
of people nursing the wounds of war. (pg8)
Pressing this collection further through its overall thematic preoccupation, RMG (his self-given sobriquet) thoroughly explores the subject of dreams and death, fear and survival, poverty and existence in a country where people die without graves or given mass burial, where people are living effigies— dispatched countrymen with nothing left than memories of their relatives lost to the frightening arm of jungle (in) justice. We’re made to face the reality of a failed Nigeria in respect to the carnage in the north and other stories that often elude the global space.
In the collection lies an open discussion and confrontation that projects Nigeria as a metaphor of a big predatory budvase where dreams are daily truncated not only by dearth and serial killings in the south, but also Boko-haram ceaseless attack in the north which has rendered many continually homeless, emotionally frail and excessively bereaved with its threatening presence since 2009. We won’t be surprised that this chapbook explores causalities of turbulence-ridden places without any geographical limitation.
With fecund vocab and clearer imageries befitting of a documentary poet narrator, Rasaq paints a clearer picture of what it takes to be soldiers fighting insurgency and civilians in places where people die without number. Through his imaginary poet-personale, he carries us along:
Inside my father’s suitcase lives the only picture
of my dead brother, his clothes smeared by dust,
his letter from Kano months before they sent his corpse
to us like mail, like the remains of those who found
no peace in their homelands; people who fell like trees
trapped by a gale…
In the poem We Don’t Know Where We Belong, Rasaq still a grief-stricken poet, makes an impulsive projection of forlornness and despair—two words that wake up with local inhabitants in northern states like Borno and Yobe. In these places where villagers are strangers in their land, in the poet’s voice: ‘everybody knows how to narrate the grim stories of war… because war is the only song we hear whenever people hide under their cupboards, in their bathroom (pg11).
In these bomb-infested places children keep asking their parents when they will leave the “city of smoke.” The metaphor of the city of smoke is suggestive of a land where the shuddering sound of bomb, ubiquitous smoke from blast and dust, and the smoke rising from the remnants of burnt homes and odor of human carcasses constitute overwhelmingly to the meaningless existence of northern people across ages and gender.
Rasaq’s bravura needs to be kudosed for presenting us a flawless picture of pains and anguish victims of Boko-haram witness as a normal life routing at various Internally Displaced Persons camps in north. In the poem At Dalori Camp, he beautifully revisits what it takes to lose one’s home to the hand of blood-craving religious scavengers called Boko-haram members, the hunger, child malnutrition and myriads of rape cases nobody dares report. He writes:
The women stretch their legs as their malnourished infants
Suck disease-infested breasts.. as they remember soldiers
Raping them every night. . .
The women watch their children lie on the mats,
As another night begins with people searching for the meaning of home
The vulnerability of women-folks and children being the most affected victims of war as portrayed by Rasaq deserves our admiration. In Yobe and Maiduguri women have lost their husbands to the devastating boko-haram bloodbath, while the children, often referred to almajiris (guttersnipes and urchins) are seen wandering aimlessly across the street without home or parental affection.
And as the poet strongly posits, they find solace in bellies of bins! Similarly, women who haven’t lost their children are always in fear of death lurking like ghost in their land where bullets are sprayed sporadically through the red nostrils of sophisticated rifles. Strengthening this reality in the poem How We Become Human, Rasaq writes:
On the radio: a country becomes a dirge
In a room in Kano, a woman prays for her
Son as he leaves home for school.
May bombs never meet you on the road/may the road never thirsts for blood.
In the last phase of the collection we can see the poet write about safety, how people cease to pray inside the masjid, because of ‘sound of blasts/they mould a kiblah out of the corner of their room’, (How To Worship Allah, pg 24). He writes about religion and devotion, immortalization of fallen soldiers (as seen in Elegy for Abu Ali), coupled with the general survival channeling in the north being the one exercised with fear and silence. We can hear him as he writes in the poem Home:
Home is Hazizah and her daughter walking the streets
Without telling her daughter to undress her hijab;
Without whispering into her ears to hide
When people ask for her name.
In Remembering Home, Rasaq also reconnoiters how the nation as a whole lives on tragedy. And how this deluge of tragedies have contributed to the unity of the nation. Watching the sad ‘news on TV . . . reading the list of the dead from a daily newspaper (pg29)’ evokes a feeling of universal sympathy that crosses the boundary of ethnical differences. In his last poem of the collection, How To Mourn he takes us on a tragedy-laden tour to different locations where everything is a manifested specimen of sadness. He starts by bringing into our consciousness eleven names of the 276 abducted Chibok girls before taking us to places like Bama, Gaza where people are ‘shivering in beds as bullet rattle their windows/ people watching as a boy’s breath fades in the smoke (pg 32).
It is a fait accompli that while we’ve seen writers, scholars, researchers, academicians and poets write and explore the boko-haram carnage and its spirit-shattering consequences, the way Rasaq revisits these gruesome genocide through a lucid language and highly fecund poetic expression is exclusively unique and worth-applauding. His adoption of prose-styled free-verse pattern makes the documentation process distinct. Readers are made to take a full glance into the discourse of suffering bystander-sympathizers often watch on TV, hear in radio and read at newspaper stands across the country. We feel the pain of a woman whose sons were slaughtered — her husband and house burnt in her presence. And a helpless man whose daughters were raped in his presence by faceless men in heavy ammunitions, shouting Allahu Akbar after the heinous act.
A poet with language that possesses mass pedestrian appeal, Rasaq is a poet that has come to stay. He’s a special brand we may find difficult to have as many as we may have wished in the Nigerian literary space. +
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