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Work is Poetry

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IT takes hard work to write poetry. The romantic talk of idling away in some sort of remote island waiting for the inspiration with which to write poetry is neither here nor there. One needs perspiration to get poetry done. The work theme is compelling in Chuka Nnabuife’s collection Horse and Horse Rider – Verses and Vistas from Workplace.

  Horse and Horse Rider is divided into four sections, notably, “Monkey Work, Baboon Chop”; “No Food for Lazy Man”; “Work Tour Spectacles”; and “Work Space, and Real Stress”. Even as it is divided into four parts, the entire collection can be read and enjoyed seamlessly. 

  Working for a living deserves recognition and celebration in poesy. Nnabuife in dedicating an entire collection to the worker and his work has broken bold new ground in Nigerian poetry. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, there was the Proletarian Poetry movement in the United States championed by renowned poets such as Langston Hughes, Edwin Rolfe, Kenneth Fearing, Mike Gold and Horace Gregory. The poetry gave a voice to the working-class in verses that ranged from slave songs and ditties of suburbia to cantos of modernism.

  Nnabuife stands strong on solid ground by putting forward to the world the workaday lives of the common folks of Nigeria and more. Of course in dissecting the lives of the worker, his employer or oppressor, as the case may be, must come in for good mention. As the Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy, penned, “I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible – except by getting off his back.”

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  It is therefore little wonder that Part One of Nnabuife’s Horse and Horse Rider is entitled “Monkey Work, Baboon Chop.” The exploitation of workers is a twice-told story from the bad, old years of slavery to the modern day. The poet-persona cries in wonder via the first poem “Payslip Magic” thusly:

You worry and worry why

Monkey dey work but

Baboon dey chop

Till another pay day

When the magic of pammed credits

And compounded debits

Like Chernobyl meltdown

Gradually creeps you to death.

  Debts and debits serve as the twin troublers of the worker. But somehow the work must continue to be done. “Oga’s Factory Worker” is likened to the snail that strives vainly to put off the fire with its spittle. “Corporate Couple” serves the need to spice up the relationship through constant quarrels.

  “No Food for Lazy Man” is the legend on the frontage of most lower class restaurants in the urban shanties. It is the standard rule that man must work in order to eat, and back in time, the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky who won the 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature was in 1964 sentenced to five years of hard labour in Arkhangelsk Oblast for “social parasitism” because he refused to work due to his devotion to writing poetry.

  In the third section of Horse and Horse Rider, “Work Tour Spectacles”, Nnabuife showcases the enlightening sights and sounds of “Zuma at Dawn”, “Jolly-Good Jos”, “Driving in Lagos”, “Their New World Order”, “Road Through East”, “Crocks of Agulu Lake”, and especially the verse “Reglobalising and Pauperising (Oil Creeks of Niger Delta) that gives voice to devastation thus:

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Streams of bloodied tracks

Creek the global village where only spillage attract the globe

Wanderings of endangered waters of blood wealth

Ringing between, betwixt

And inward within communities on brinks

Where floats of mean life and nasty death

And accursed waves of cursed fate

Coursing through in torturous torrents

Turning treasure troves to tributaries of tribulation

Rip off the many wretched

Whilst some, in the few, cruise with blood-tainted bank alerts

As bliss becomes life

For them that reap of the unceasing blood floats

In the final section of Horse and Horse Rider, “Work Space, and Real Stress”, Nnabuife deploys his poet’s eye to envision the worker, the workplace and the society at large as crucial landmarks of the cosmos. The depiction is that of an environment worthy of nurture as the poem “Unseen Strings Playing Within” signifies:

Strident sound of silence

Howling with distant chime of violin chords

Unseen hands serenading the winds

With inaudible sound that thrill within

Romancing the day with sombre solemnity

Melody

Choreographed in dancing grasses

Genteel

Surreal

Fragile reality

Though invisible

Only soothing and whizzy

As the winds sing in whistling nothing that caress the ears

A melodious melancholic suasion

Sedating the rumbling noisy waters

Of a turbulent day

Chuka Nnabuife has in his collection, Horse and Horse Rider – Verses and Vistas from Workplace, put the working life on a stark pedestal of verisimilitude shorn of affectation. There are call-and-response sequences and song-and-dance rhythms of day-by-day work. Perspiration is the word and one cannot but recall what the French dramatist Jean Anouilh wrote: “Inspiration is a farce that poets have invented to give themselves importance.” Nnabuife has served the world well by placing poetry squarely in work as abiding memory. This collection deserves celebration. 

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Uzor Maxim Uzoatu is the author of the poetry collection, God of Poetry, and the novel, The Missing Link.

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