Before and After Burnt Men image by Tee Jay Dan
BEFORE AND AFTER ‘BURNT MEN’– A JOURNEY INTO THE POETRY OF NIGERIA’S ROMEO ORIOGUN Innocence Katricia
Darkness will not swallow our words
when we say goodbye. Although, it is without ears to hear
piercings of haunted souls —trembling
under gushing streams of remembrances—
we will make candles with our memories
we will bring our tongues to speak & turn the tears of our pasts
into stones, striking them to make light & dumb the night;
we will search the road to happiness, & find
morning in places we abandoned in our journey
to the future…
— Innocence Katricia, “Light and Candles.”
Let me begin on a personal note. Long before the publication of Oluwasegun Romeo Oriogun’s chapbook, BURNT MEN (download here: http://www.praxismgonline.com/burnt-men/) I had been curious about his poetry.So intense was my curiosity and interest that I had to initiate my extremely fervent, art-imbibing mother into sharing its bounty with me. As late as 12am or thereabouts, when I usually wake up to begin my intercourse with language, we would make phone calls, talk about literature and gossip for an hour or so, and on some days, down through the time when night becomes weary of darkness and begins to open to the freshness of dawn. I am many miles away from her now, but I vividly remember that one of my usual responses to my mother’s inquiry into the current book on my reading list used to be “I am reading Romeo.” In fact, most of what has gone into writing this essay has been our cumulative thoughts on his poetry. Sometimes, to ignite the embers of our nocturnal mother and child conversations, I would read to her one or two of his poems. Romeo Oriogun is a twenty-first century gift of great beauty!
When one considers the power of literature to liberate us from limitations, schisms and polarizations (by demystifying singular narratives and anchoring us onto larger realities), it becomes enthralling to visualize ourselves being linked to people we have never directly known, or shared a word with. Literature constructs statements and counter-statements that challenge us to be and understand those who are not us. The principal weapon of this warfare is language. It is this language, in its most sonorous outlook, which entices intimacy between the world and things of differences and indifferences, appropriateness and inappropriateness, endings and endlessness and what it means to search for happiness in oceans of tears and misplaced identities. There is an acute consciousness in this human search for happiness, an epic search compressed in the troubled metaphors of the soul. It is from the ambience of these shadows that Oriogun emerges to become one of the oracular voices showing us the path through which the world can regain, to borrow from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “a possible kind of paradise.” Whether Oriogun is aware of this or not, he has been compassionate and generous in his treatment of the causes and content of human misery.
To think and dwell in Romeo’s poetry, a poetry that stirs, stimulates, and reverberates through the depths of our emotions, is to recognize the relationship of humans with the earth, the sky and all the elements in their full appropriateness and, in turn, respond to them in harmony with our humanity. In the purity and thickness, the softness and solidity of his poetry (and the subtlety of its presentation), one comes across strings of words that betray a soul acquainted with hardship and pain. Out of that acquaintanceship, the body of his poetry takes its stoic shape. Someone once told me, “You make pain look beautiful.” Any writer with a history of pain, denial and loneliness would probably understand what unsurpassed comfort such words from a reader could give. And, indeed, Oriogun makes pain look beautiful.
A work of art, to be a little extrinsic, says something other than itself. It publicizes and manifests certain secrets that are a collective symbol of the artist’s life. Romeo’s poetry is poetry of such ambivalent, troubled identity, forged from tapestries of departed love and departed happiness, once found in a home that is now surrounded by an emotional milieu tampered by extremities of survival. Irrespective of these, what he has been able to achieve in his poetry is an overall uprooting of hitherto disfigured stems of alienation, and through the surpassing power that is bestowed by the beauty of words, found a spontaneous field of redemption and redefinition, so he could internalize his identity without resistance and, in a dramatic change of outlook, turn the debased into the dignified, the rejected into the accepted, the moribund into the active, the wild into the tamed, and the fallen into the glorious. Art, I have always believed, is the first step to healing. And, indeed, Romeo Oriogun has taken that step.
Oriogun, in the sadness and prodigality of his poetry, in the mines of his beautiful and enchanting words, in the rivers of his fascinating metaphors, and the landscapes of his mind-blowing imageries has, perhaps more than any poet of recent times, opened our eyes to the door of happiness that is right before us all along, presenting to us in the humblest sublimity of his words a passport into the horizon of freedom. The detonating verses of BURNT MEN have come to challenge our sense of beauty. And while they last, and while we await Romeo Oriogun’s full book and the wrath of the artillery of his hypnotic poetry, we are comforted to know that in the sublimity of tragic poetry (in even the daring confrontations of its stark revelations) are the very foundations of sublime joy.
DOWNLOAD: The Ikemefuna Tributaries by JK Anowe
I leave with you Freedom, one of the beauties of Burnt Men:
birds will find home anywhere
it is the secret of life
to call somewhere strange home
to walk into houses and make nest out of nothing
there are some who call the road home
they will look for love in tree branches
they will talk deep into the night
waiting for a voice to rise from dusty lanes
they will learn that love comes from homes within the heart
i’ve learnt that people die before they live
burying themselves deep within their souls,
i’ve learnt that love starts with a small o
that wraps itself around the tongue
before it travels round the world,
i’ve learnt to shape my mouth into a roof
and make home out of my bones.
when you see me singing with birds
it is because i’ve learnt to carry my home
within me and sing songs
that will bring a ship filled with voices
into my shores.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Innocence Katricia was born in Southern Kaduna, lives in Abuja, dreams of Ibadan, yearns for Makurdi, reads, writes and lives for nothing but everything beautiful & transforming. He is in a constant romance with Silence and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org