TITLE: THE SONG OF OUR FATHER
AUTHORS: EMMANUEL AYIBAEMI FRANK-OPIGO
PUBLISHER: WORDS RHYMES AND RHYTHMS LTD
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2018
NO. OF PAGES: 258
REVIEWER: EUGENE YAKUBU
The Song of our Father is an experimental prosaic poetry that has history, culture and tradition as its primary backdrop. Opigo’s verses might defy classification because they don’t fall neatly into any particular genre, style or trend in poetry. This is totally new and it is written in the tradition of long-versed and epic poetry like Milton’s The Pilgrim Progress, Okot B’Itek’s Songs of Lawino and even Tade Ipadeola’s Sahara Testament. The collection is inspired by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales only that this covers a larger rubric and canvas than the former.
In this collection Opigo experiments with a style of poetry we can loosely refer to as “non-fiction poetry”. It has characters that are straight out of Nigeria’s history and even the poet’s life. It has a certain level of originality that gives the collection credence and makes the reader want to go out looking for these allusions in history, textbooks and other narratives.
Suffice to say Opigo reconstructs decades of history in a single book and he does it so comprehensively that the reader wonders whether these histories existed and he’s only but hearing about them now.
And this isn’t just history; it is a historical memoir that spans three generations of the poet’s ancestry. As such, the reader should prepare to have a lot of culture shock and changes as time evolve. The poems span across pre-colonial Nigeria, to colonial and post-colonial Nigeria and revolve around the spatial settings of southern Nigeria and the south-south states of Bayelsa, Cross River, and eastern states too.
Opigo covers an ambitious canvas but he upholds his historical journey efficiently and delivers on his themes and stories adequately.
The verses have an enduring rhyme scheme and the poet should be commended for maintaining such a formatted pattern and also successfully carrying his ideas and theme along each line and verse. The verses are sometimes dramatic and capture scenes graphically with peculiar images that leave mental notes in the reader’s head. For instance, the poet shows us the journey of the main character as he moves from a simple village-boy lifestyle to a complicated one in bigger cities and towns.
The poems run like Bitek’s Song of Lawino and have a folkloric atmosphere to it. It is like reconstructing oral traditions passed down from words of mouth and in it infused myths, legends, and mores of a culture and people that have not been documented until The Song of our Father came.
The verses might be nothing different from prose arranged in verses but it however has rhythm and rhymes and is not reduced to the everyday kind of poetry, this is something different— a network of prose and poetry and drama, all assembled together to create powerful historical images and cultural atmosphere.
The poet’s use of local dialect and names gives the poems an original and local flavor that the African can relate to. Through these poems we learn of the customs of the Ijaws, the Niger Deltans and generally of south-south of Nigeria.
What makes these verses interesting is that the poet chose to document the lives of prominent individuals that would have been swept under the rug and forgotten.
The poet is courageous enough to go down history lane and dig out significant histories in Nigeria that many history books have not hinted at.
The verses have a monotonous almost boring sensation that keeps hurling stories to readers that might as well not be interested in that particular history. The poet reduces his readership to mostly reader who in one or the other can relate to his stories or even the cultural milieu they are set in. Save for this, a random reader will likely find this flat and uncreative. But let’s not forget too soon that this collection is folkloric and is preoccupied mainly with reconstructing and documenting history than using turgid diction and flowery words.
This is totally a novel effort and the poet’s experimented successfully with a style that might end up trending in the world of poetry— historical poetry and non-fictional poetry. The collection is well-researched also and the poet brings to life decades of history that would have disappeared in the sands of time. This collection is a gift to all Niger-Deltans in Nigeria and lovers of Nigerian history.
It’s unique structure and style needs a careful appraisal by book critics, formalists and structuralists who study the structure and form of a work of literature because, even though not the popular type of poetry, the poet delivers in his theme and style.
The Song of our Father has a lot of breathtaking stories about Nigeria in different eras of its development and promises beyond mere poeticness and surreal emotions but intellectual ideas and political and social histories.