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SHADES OF RAPTURE
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BOOK REVIEW :

                         A STATEMENT ON Shades of Rapture
                            (Ebebe Ukpong’s new book)
                                             By
                                      Martin Akpan

  1. On 15 June 2009, precisely 5 days ago, I received a trim and attractive book with a note pasted on its cover from my friend and brother Ebebe Ukpong. The note read: My dear Martin, please make a statement on this book on 20 / 6 / 2009.
  2. I scanned through the book; then sat down to devour it.
  3. Instantly it gave me the pleasure and warmth I so desperately needed on this rain-soaked Monday morning.
  4. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, needless to say that I love poetry. I read, recite and sometimes stammer poetry (thanks to T.C. Nwosu who introduced stammertology in poetry – reading). And I enjoy good poetry. But the same cannot be said about making a statement on a book of poetry which Ebebe wants me to. Because poetry is still not for the uninitiated. And so I am making this statement under duress, ladies and gentlemen. Therefore, if you find anything odd or unpoetic in this statement, please  don’t blame me ;blame Ebebe.

 

1.       The first part of my statement about Shades of Rapture is that it is easily Ebebe’s best kept secret at least in relation to this speaker. All the poems in the book were written between 1980 and 1994 – a period spanning 14 years and were locked up in a safe for another 14 years before the publishers had the privilege to put them in a form that we now see today. Ebebe had never, during the intervening years mentioned to this speaker that there was a manuscript in the offing despite our regular creative intercourse and communion. Not even in 1992, when we shared a lot of poetic thoughts together, during which he contributed two words and one rhetorical question to my premier collection, Brainwaves at Dawn.

2.      That’s now in the domain of history. For today, I want you to know that Ebebe has given us Shades of Rapture  which is a 77 page, trim, glossy book whose cover is predominantly orange with a tinge of green. Published by Sibon books, Lagos, it is dedicated to the author’s mother whom the author describes as the colourful artist.

3.       The book is introduced by the author himself in a preface which is both rich and revealing. In it the author states his reason for bringing to the open the inner workings of his mind which is to “allow us to appreciate and respect the common thread of humanity we all share”.

4.       Altogether there are 31 poems in the book categorized into 3 sections namely:

  1. Celebrating  the Creator (11 poems)
  2. Frailties (9 poems)
  3. Regeneration (11 poems)

 

5.       In choice words and measured phrases (To quote Alexander Pope) and avoiding like a plague, “barren artistic austerities” and ‘contorted aridities’ which Chinweizu insists can cause ‘mental indigestion’, Ebebe explores a wide range of themes bordering on our everyday experiences and concerns. He uses apt, fresh and appropriate linguistic devices naturally and effortlessly as a transmutational force to confer spiritual and intellectual substance and meaning on his work.

For instance, always conscious of his root and foundation, he acknowledges in “Radiant Lamp”, the awesome power of God, the Creator of the Universe, and wonders why some men do not seek to know Him nor savour His radiance. What then is the price of ignorance?, he asks.

Madhouse” spotlights the many faces of Lagos – the city of unending possibilities and opportunities. Here the poet pauses to bemoan the ironic twist: the disorder, “the suffocating stench of stagnant gutters, the mountains of refuse deflowering the senses, the lack of humanity and security” in this supposed “Centre of Excellence”.

In ‘street without Name’, Ebebe takes a swipe at title-craziness in the Nigerian Society. He has some unkind words for the Chief, Dr. Rt. Hon. Apostle etc. X&Ys. Hear this-
We do not buy names that live
We earn then, silently
Through steady deeds of goodwill.
He then counsels that unless we have our names:
In the books/in the hearts/, (we would) fizzle out in decimated namelessness.

There is indeed an intriguing similarity between this poem and a poem in my latest (unpublished) collection in which I describe this string of titles, these titular mumbo-jumbo as primitive decorations.

Ebebe says he is not a poet. “Being not a poet” he writes in the preface, “I make no claim neither to the purity of form nor elegance of style of the thought flows presented in prosaic verses in this collection”. Yet, there’s no poem in his collection that does not carry time-honoured poetic ingredients that “unite pleasure with truth, by calling imagination to the help of reason (ala Samuel Johnson). Ebebe’s strongest weapon is in the use of imagery which he employs (deploys) with unimpeachable dexterity to capture the heart of the reader. Thus confined to the bed of his hotel room in Milan, Italy in 1994 and robbed of the sun-heat by the freezing coldness of the winter, Ebebe mused:
Aha!
I now know where the sun lives
Back there over the sky of my village
A land of pleasant blistering air.

6.       Ebebe may not be a politician. But he cannot be said to be apolitical. Therefore, one finds it inscrutably curious that although a third of the poems were written in 1993, a year that can aptly be described as Nigerian’s political watershed, Ebebe, for some inexplicable reasons, failed to capture the earth-shaking events of June 12 or its dramatis personae, notably ChiefMKO Abiola in any of the 31 poems. I suppose he owes Nigeria’s pro-democracy community a convincing explanation. Otherwise he would have his membership of the group reviewed. Or would he blame this failing on his muse?

7.       Looking through the whole book, we cannot but come to the inevitable conclusion that the author is not only a great lover of women but also a zealous defender of their cause. For in an era when women are complaining of marginalization and gender inequality / inequity, Ebebe has provided a generous shade for them in his universe. Little wonder then that the book opens with a poem titled Sowing which is devoted to extolling the virtues of a woman, the one who provided the requisite genetic foundation for his life and works; his mother, Adiaha Ikot.

Besides, of the 31 poems in the book, 7 are devoted to women and none to men. That is 100% attention to women, meaning Ebebe has bested the Beijing declaration which recommended a mere 30%. Thus in Ebebe’s world, men are the ones to take up arms against marginalization by women. What an interesting irony!

Among the women honoured and celebrated in this collection are: Diaha Ikot, Ebebe’s mother(Sowing/Mother); Grace, his wife(Midnight Song); Teembaby, his daughter(Our Days/Birthday Candle) and Eno .

Eno is both a poem title and a person’s name. And reading through this beautiful poem which bears the unmistakable marks of a whirlwind affair, one is reminded of the biblical account of the encounter in Ephesus between the seven Sons of Sceva and the evil spirit during which the question popped out: Jesus I know, and Paul I know but who are you? (Acts 19:15). I’m sure, not a few readers of Ebebe’s Shades… would ask a similar question: Diaha Ikot I know, Grace I know but who are you, Eno?

 Grace, the indisputable queen of the Ebebe dynasty need not lose sleep because of Eno, the reason being that the poem was composed more than twenty-seven years ago, whereas what we are celebrating here today is 25 years of marriage. Aside from this, the poem  is aptly captured under ‘Frailties’, which signposts an era when the lava of Ebebe’s primordial sensual eruptions had not yet solidified. Today, the lava has not only solidified, it has also ossified into a nuptial cast fit only for a regenerated domain that Ebebe holds sway as a true child of God and a pastor.

  1. All in all, Shades of Rapture has indubitably established Ebebe Ukpong as a master of the craft. He may not want to be called a poet, because of his dislike for titles, but his contribution to poetry remains unassailable.

 

That is my statement on Ebebe Ukpong’s Shades of Rapture, ladies and gentlemen.And at this juncture, I’ll like you to turn to your neighbour and say a word of blessing to him/her while I perform the ceremonial opening of the book to behold the first poem, Sowing , which is not just about the author’s root(his mother), but also about Good Deeds and Reward; Sowing and Reaping: THE VERY ESSENCE OF LIFE!

 

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