TITLE: BEHIND THE PHONEY SMILES
AUTHOR: IKYAABO BARNABAS TERHEMBA
NUMBER OF PAGES: 60
PUBLISHER: PREMIER MEDIA & GRAPHICS
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2016
REVIEWER: VANGER FATER
African poetry has gained popularity in our contemporary society. With the advancement in written literature, it has received much attention even from people who thought the genre was an exclusive literary field for literary scholars. This much is a credit which must be sealed, as one wraps a present, and decorated on the tables of contemporary poets.
African first generation poets had compelled the society in which they lived to think of poetic messages as some abstract ideas entombed in lines or verses which only an abstract being divulges. This gave poetry a very low patronage while its Prose and Drama counterparts continued to receive societal accolades and attention.
Of course, such a development was not a failure which arose from the society; the problem hung on these poets who believed that obscurity defined a good poem, and since writers stand the risk of being influenced by the activities of antecedent colleagues, the modern generation of poets, although most tried not to be influenced, had a considerable number of poets who took over with obscurity.
The effect of this was that poetry continued with the plague of an unpopular stand even among students of Literature. However, with the coming on board of the contemporary poet and his refusal to patronize obscurity of diction, poetry has gradually rebuilt its glory among people of all professions which we can argue – and rightly so – that was not even there. The contemporary African poet has boycotted obscurity to birth verses whose messages reveal the essence of human life – its meaninglessness; man’s bestial nature; the irony of life and all that pertains to it.
In Barnabas Ikyaabo’s “Behind the Phoney Smiles” – a collection of 51 poems – the contemporary poet has set forth to reveal this ironic nature of not just life, but of men whom it exists in; of everything man engages in; of the world at large.
This explains why the first two poems in the collection take an eponymous title after the collection. The poet expresses his profound understanding of what lies beneath smiling lips in his eponymous “Behind the Phoney Smile I”. He reveals that “Behind the spurious smiles/There lies a lonely heart; intoxicated with rage and tears” (1). The message in these lines is deeply revealing that one wonders why a lonely heart gripped by rage and tears dripping in torrents still chooses the path of smiling. This revelation is of the ironic nature of life as the next stanza lays it before us: “Behind the pseudo smiles/Are agonizing pains/And there lies [sic]/the distance [sic] echoes of our daily cries” (1).
As this ironic smile is revealed, one questions its essence. It is confusing that a hurt mind chooses to smile even when the heart continues to wallow in an interior inferno. However, this confusion becomes murdered when the last stanza explains that “the rich steps upon the hearts of the poor/and they smile back, hiding the pains/these fabricated…smiles/Are but hurtful feelings in disguise” (1). It is now understood that the poet’s mind and sympathy lie with the poor; and having come from the part of the world where the poor are deprived of freedom, we understand that smiling has remained an only option when struck by the mighty.
It is this same message that is continued in ‘Behind the Phoney Simile II”. The poet’s lamentations as the world continues to paint smiles whose stand from reality is as Pluto from the Sun is expressed with deep imagery. We are told that “Behind the phoney smile/deep pains lie…/Eating up the flesh with venomous acidic bits” (2). There is an attempt by the poet to have his roaders understand the fierce nature of these ironic smiles, and this explains why he brings in images of flesh being eaten up with venomous acid.
Imagery has remained a powerful tool in the hands of not just African poets, but of poetry in general.
Hence, Ikyaabo utilizes on it to press home his message of an abnormal world albeit smiles drawn on faces. We are told that rivers have burst their banks; walls are smashed; funnels of the earth are being flooded with blood; the ocean too has become a vessels filled with brackish liquids (2). His use of imagery is akin to Kukogho Samson and Kolade Olanrewaju whose “I said these Words” and “Punctured Silence” respectively contain verses deeply bath in the pool of imageries.
Ikyaabo’s collection – like Su’eddie’s “Home Equals Holes” and Terseer Baki’s “Euphoria of Sophistry” – is an all encompassing work which has touched on many subjects.
In “This Remains a Mystery”, the poet questions the nature of the world in which we inhabit; wonders about the power(s) behind creation; imagines why man whose sake the beautiful world is created is certain of lying someday where words and touches will be thrown in vain. These are all mysteries which the poet seeks in vain to unravel, and when it becomes clear that his efforts will forever be fruitless, he gives into wishes where he says “Have I the powers, I would pay the moon visit/ to have a double feel of its bleached glow/And the boundless luminosity of its sparkle/And then to the sun to unearth the mystery of its flawless radiation” (5). Other subjects like love, death, morality and politics are well captured in the collection as the poet unravels the excitement which thrills in youths; the agonizing tucks of death; the fall of man before his creator; the raping of a nation’s resources while the masses starve to death.
The decision to tell these tales whose yoke centres on the phoney nature of the smiles humans, all of us, put is believed to have stemmed from the hopelessness of humanity itself.
The hallmark of the poet’s message comes in our understanding that he paints, in the most vivid manner, the picture of a pretentious world in which men – rich and the poor – live putting on smiles which are indeed at loggerheads with the pain that burns within them.
His ability to have his readers understand what motivates the smiles which decorate most faces as being bitterness than the actual happiness those smiles appear to set is all that Ikyaabo has achieved in his collection. We can as well argue, and rightly so, that the poet has been troubled over the clandestine manner that men live which makes things on the surface not in conformity with those beneath.
However, Ikyaabo’s collection is not bereft of mistakes and typos. The poet’s lack of adherence to rules governing subject/verb agreement (concord); of proper tenses within the verses is rampant. Poems like “I Smile”, “Behind the Phoney Smile”, “The Rapist is Back”, and “Baby Babbles” have all relegated concord, while “The Puddle Jumper”, “Hunger Bite” and others have had wrong tenses uncorrected. Yet, these do not hinder his verses’ beauty. Being a first edition, it is expected that the poet and his publishers sit to tame these errors of concord, tenses, and punctuation in later editions.
In conclusion, therefore, “Behind the Phoney Smiles”, being the poet’s debut collection, has earned him much credit since the verses have captured life’s bothering issues which humanity keeps pondering on.
For allowing his lines flow in simplicity amidst complexity, Ikyaabo’s poetry possesses a reservoir of intrigues which makes one laughs over human’s stupidity while wondering why beings are being beasts with imaginary terrifying tusks.
With such feet attained, Ikyaabo has joined the league of African contemporary poets determined to unmask poetry as a genre with the desire of making its patronage akin to that which prose and drama enjoy.
Vanger Fater is a Makurdi based Literary Critic and writer. He is an awardee of the Words Rhymes & Rhyhtm Green Author Grize (2015).
I am a member of the WRR editorial team.