TITLE: LETTERS TO MAMA
AUTHOR: ANITA OGBONNA
GENRE: POETRY AND PROSE
NUMBER OF PAGES: 54
PUBLISHER: WORDS RHYMES & RHYTHM PUBLISHERS
DATE OF PUBLICATION: 2016
REVIEWER: AYOOLA GOODNESS
The discourse on motherhood cannot be over-emphasized. It is a blessing—a gift of life— a grace—a sacrosanct establishment for existence. And as much as the concept is elusive (in that we cannot pin it down to a particular line of thought or describe it based on an individual perspective), it is what I refer to as a ‘beautiful burden’. This is based on the fact that the responsibility layout or the role of a mother in the life of a child (and if I may add, to the home generally) is endless.
There is no retirement—a mother nurtures a child from the cradle and when the child is weaned from the mother’s arms the significance of motherhood’s influence grows and remains with him/her throughout his/her life’s journey—it is a life responsibility.
I find it relevant to also add that ‘motherhood’ is a unique soul of goodness that is conspicuous; it is not concealed in any way or cannot be concealed. It is naturally bestowed. The fact of being a woman, however, does not necessarily mean that she possesses the quality of motherhood. Is this a contradiction? Every mother is a woman and not all women are mothers.
It is an unarguably inherent nexus between the mother and child—which is, on another outlook, primal to the sustainability of a correct society.
Motherhood is a mother’s joy not determined by conveniences or inconveniences.
This very point of view makes the concept of motherhood transcend the orientations of feminism or being defined by feminism or being adulterated by feminism. Motherhood is not subject to the mechanism of a revolutionary course.
Being a mother, however, goes beyond the biological relationship with the child or the nurture for growth and development. It is leaving a lasting inheritance in a child—something that can serve as a ‘blueprint of life’ for the child in the presence or absence of maternal overseeing. The mother becomes everything for the child. The act of selflessness is significant in this perspective not ignoring the urge of a mother to raise the child to the best of life irrespective of the challenges encountered. Little wonder, why it is generally said that mother is gold! (Whoever came up with that very idea was not revealed to by flesh and blood, it is absolutely divine). Truly, mother is gold.
Anita Ogbonna’s Letters to Mama is a captivating invitation to the world of motherhood, beautifully carved in the beauty of art.
It is quite intriguing to encounter the author’s treat of motherhood as an art in itself, which is consequent on the artistic presentation of random thoughts and sensations creatively interwoven in prosaic (letters) and poetic forms.
The book begins with a prologue in the writing and voice of the mother; a letter from Mama that births the Letters to Mama. The letter holds, with so much emotion, a mothering curiosity into a daughter’s ventures into life’s choices and challenges and victories:
‘Baby, don’t beat yourself too hard, I know the feel of despair conceded in your words. I have been expecting to read from you because I know you’d soon write, your pen has always been your friend. (pg. 10)
The ‘Baby’ reference in the above excerpt justifies the facts that a child is always a child to a mother, no matter how grown up, and also as a conversational way of refreshing the bond of love between the mother and child as in the time of conception. The significant of art here cannot be ignored as observed by the mother, as an escape route: a reliable ‘friend’ to carry our burden of thoughts. Possibly—a replica of motherhood too.
‘Love is not defined by circumstances’ (pg. 12) expresses the writer’s experience of an unshakable love of her mother despite unpleasant circumstances. This feeling is further captured in the poem ‘Birth’ (pg. 13). As much as I find it very difficult to consider this very piece (as to some others too in their entirety) as a poem(s), the intent is not lost. There is a running feeling of gratitude of mother’s labour from birth of a child to weaning. The value of motherhood is again recognized in ‘A poem for mama’ (pg. 20) and ‘Treasures’ (pg. 37):
‘They couldn’t shine so much beneath the oceans
They needed the sun to shine
Mummy, you are my sun.’
(Treasures pg. 37)
‘Destiny or Luck’ (pg. 14), in the last two lines of the second stanza, introduces a fantastic deconstruction of ‘an ending’ and ‘a beginning’ from the metaphorical ‘dawn’ to ‘dusk’. Literary speaking, if old age is considered as ‘dusk’, then here, Ogbonna is saying infancy can also be ‘dusk’, connotatively imported to relay the changes in stages of human growth and development; from infancy to adolescent:
‘My dusk was done
and I set outwards to dawn.’
(Destiny or Luck pg. 14)
The thematic focus here is of survival—by destiny or by luck—which is also established by the writer in ‘Taking Chances’ (pg. 38). This prime, however, is an elevation to ‘Dear Mama’ (pg. 15); a letter that brings the writer to a point of realization of mother’s efforts and teachings which, at the initial dispensation, seemed unimportant. The value of knowledge and perhaps, the idea of ‘no knowledge is lost’ are etched here. ‘Gratitude’ (pg. 51) is another evident piece of this realization.
‘Thank you for teaching me how to rub my palms against each other when I feel cold and how to stand up for others.’
(Dear Mama pg. 15)
‘Thank you for teaching me
even when I never wanted to learn.’
(Gratitude pg. 51)
‘The Ride’ (pg.16) is a transit into a body of experiences in the form of people, places and personal encounters. This draws a focus on the appreciation of learning and imbibing charity from home through the nurtures of mother. Of a note, these first-hand experiences are backdrops for realities of teachings and personal discovery. The launching into ‘Self-acceptance’ (pg. 17), ‘Self-worth’ (pg. 24), ‘Self-appraisal’ (pg. 40) and ‘Self-discovery’ (pg. 49) is very significant. This is also extended in ‘Covering Shame’ (pg. 13) where the writer sees herself as an ‘ocean’ of clean water to correct heaps of filthiness and unpleasant situations in the lives of others and as a mystery in God’s hands.
‘I learnt that natural bodies of water have no definite shape. The oceans, like myself, settled and spread wherever it was welcomed. You always said “God is mysterious with many purposes”. I understand all that now mummy.’
(God’s Mystery pg. 32)
Learning is a predominant theme in Ogbonna’s Letters to Mama, being a major essence of what motherhood is and should be. The ‘home’ is much missed in this respect, especially when what is learnt holds significant at every unfolding experience of life as portrayed in ‘Wisdom’ (pg. 18) and ‘Hey Mama’ (pg. 44). It is, however, vividly shown here that learning or what is learnt plays a vital role in the life of a child.
A call to the re-establishment of the African culture of storytelling (folktales), which had been replaced by cartoons and virtual games, is equally evident in ‘Wisdom’ (pg. 18), ‘Holding unto death for life (pg. 39)’, ‘Decision’ (pg. 25) and ‘Never do more than you will be appreciated for’ (pg. 46). These stories dish out valuable lessons and likewise come as handy simulations and experiences that the child integrates in real occasions.
‘I miss home. What I miss the most is the folk tales by moonlight.’
‘Mummy, I didn’t trash the caution you packed in my bag.’
(Wisdom pg. 18)
‘…you took my arm and walked me to your room to tell me a story.’
(Decision pg. 25)
The theme of adventure is portrayed in ‘Socialize’ (pg. 29), ‘Friendship’ (pg. 35), ‘Wet Coals and East’ (pg. 28) and ‘Dear Pilots, Time Flies’ (pg. 41). These poems bring to the fore the importance of association and definition of companies (disassociation), identity and, most importantly, the effect of motherhood on these experiences.
By the virtue of maternal upbringing, it is not difficult for the writer to handle these exposures into the outside world. Finding ‘Peace Within’ (pg. 19), —and ‘In Weakness Find Strength and Be Strength’ (pg. 36) are drawn on the subject matter of self-building, self-believing and self-actualization, be it ‘Good pain bad pain’ (pg.23) which is focused on finding solutions within problems through intuition—of solving in the knowing.
Ogbonna’s ingenuity is expressed in her ability to draw her readers into the body of emotions as she experiments the moments of silence in the life of a child. That kind of moment she captures in ‘Good pain bad pain’ (pg. 23) as:
I bumped into the rock, it is a hard rock. I slammed into it, I the ocean was shattered then calm. I was bruised.
(‘Good pain bad pain’ pg. 23)
‘To all the words that my ink can’t trace out myself’ (pg. 48), a blank page dedication, holds one, as a patient reader, to a gripping emptiness, to a flash of ‘Sins and Secrets’ (pg. 22), to the rhetorical tugging of ‘Poignant and Restless’ (pg. 30), to the hems of Unspoken words and Pain’ (pg. 33). In ‘Sojourn’ (pg.33), however, Ogbonna has this to say:
There are too many things that I would love to pen to you but my ink can’t bear the burden of the heaviness in my heart any longer.
(Sojourn pg. 33)
This again brings an attention to arts and begs the question, if art, as viewed as a ‘friend’ to ease us of our cares, at some point may be handicapped to rescue us? Or perhaps, the author is implying that in our (or as a child) ‘vain and uncertain’ (pg. 27) escapades, instead of running to the arms of arts which is liable to fail us, ‘Mama Prayers’ (pg. 47) is a better resort?
On a final note, Anita Ogbonna’s Letters to Mama, is beyond a compilation of epistles—it is a blueprint to finding new inspirations to life and living—and the arts too. A confident glorification of the mystery of motherhood!