For Girl at Rubicon – Carl Terver
Praxis Magazine Online is honoured to present our newest poetry chapbook, For Girl at Rubicon by Carl Terver. Read the author’s preface to the chapbook here, then download and read For Girl at Rubicon.
The last words in this chapbook are “Within / your heart disintegrates with Funmi Adams’ My Beloved Country,” in the poem To Admire Blood Murals. The full title of the song mentioned is “Nigeria My Beloved Country.” It was a popular song of patriotism: if you grew up in the 90s, you heard it a lot. The rendition is on a laid-back, fluted reggae beats that was popular then. Five minutes long, it has an interlude of pure and intoxicating sax that comes after two verses—and its reggae is piped up a little higher. A careless slave to this part of the song, I often return to it to reclaim a certain loss of my childhood Nigeria I believed was good.
But for this to be complete, I open up the rhythm of those few seconds of sax and enter into it. This way, I am insulated from the annihilation of my sanity by the fears I pen in To Admire Blood Murals, for example, which destroys my faith for country. Yet, when we return to memory to find cure, we depart from it still, as we try to forget the pain and memory of now. The cure now is to forget quickly this pain—the memory of death, living in this country. We must move on. But an artist doesn’t move on so easily from atrocious memory. And long has been my pain:
If the Heavens shall hold court as the religious books claim, then the trial must be swift that sends the potentates of our country to gehenna. If not, how, these singeing years, can they continue to ignore the deaths in the North East? What great cause are the deaths for that inspires so much dark reverence by our leaders to look away? Or our sons in the army must keep dying to protect a peace, like America, in a war against terrorism that is not quite understood till today?
The muteness of the memory of our dying soldiers, who we easily forget are normal people like us deserving life, and the many dead victims of the present war in that part of the country is baffling. It really does not even exist in immediate consciousness: it is part of our national life neatly compartmentalised. In this way, we deny their existence and move on. Are we a country? I have to move too, there’s no sense in trying to remain in a place everyone must forget. But to live without memory, I think, is to cease to exist. The past tells us where we have been because from there we know where we head. Museums are built to honour this tradition, for humanity is a history of continuity.
The artist is arrested by the consciousness of his nation, whether he chooses to agree or not, and his imagination resides with it. When I began to write poetry, as much as I wrote about unrequited love and the metaphysical, I could not ignore what I saw every day around me. Following what had come before me—a tome of polemical poetry; the protest, anticolonial movement, Negritude, postcolonial disillusionment, and all—I put pen to paper. Sing the Anthem Tonight, If You See Nigeria, The Night Shall Come, were such poems written to play my part. Not until I read Wole Soyinka’s “Elegy for the Nation” in 2013.
It caused a great shift in my poetry. After writing a few polemical poems, I had already begun to see the monotony of such vision, a vision that has already been accomplished by poets before me in grander oeuvre. And Soyinka’s poem was the last testament I needed for my artistic paradigm shift:
Ah, Chinua, are you grapevine wired?
It sings: our nation is not dead, not clinically
Yet. Now this may come as a surprise to you,
It was to me. I thought the form I spied
Beneath the frosted glass of a fifty-carat catafalque
Was the face of our own dear land — ‘own’, ‘dear’ . . .
“I thought the form I spied beneath the frosted glass of a fifty-carat catafalque was the face of our own dear land,” Soyinka says. Written as a monologue to his comrade Chinua Achebe, this poem tracing their youth and the part they played in nation building through art and personal effort. But how it sings for them still, that they see the face of their dear land beneath a glass of a casket. Dead, dead. Soyinka spent 283 lines of poetry mourning this death, that after reading it, Aristotle’s catharsis will get to you. And just a few lines from it,
. . . Gang-raped, the continent
Turns pregnant with the word – it’s sworn, we shall be
Born again, though we die in the attempt
told me it has all been said and done. But for one last time, I committed a poem for the struggle, after Soyinka’s, which I curiously titled Till the Swallows Come Home, where I registered my own pain; the last lines reading:
When a child cries cold, it’s mother knows
It’s nigh to dilute the bathwater with balm
But the archer fired and our days remain:
Lost in gazes
As we watch the swallows
journey by . . .
After this, I told myself: no more poems about a failed people. But I neglected the power of the inward gaze that must return to all of us.
As homage to memory, I believe artists owe humanity and the future a reminder to confront its ugliness; only in this way shall we cure ourselves from hypocrisy and seek some form of redemption. Seeking redemption must therefore be the constant. And that is why, living under the same blood-muralled sky as you I write that we shall not forget entirely.
But how is the title of this chapbook, For Girl at Rubicon, off the point of this Introduction to it? Do tell, please.
To Admire Blood Murals is a good title. My Country Has No Lover, another poem in the chapbook, which a friend begged should be the title, is good as well. But I have a thing against clichéd thought which the second title entertains. When this chapbook was conceived, it was with the title poem For Girl at Rubicon, which had me at hello. And since I am paying homage to memory, I like the poem because with it I learnt how to deal with rejection from failed romance without the feeling of bitterness, and because it marked a major shift in my writing of poetry, which I’ve maintained hitherto. Well, until I stumbled upon Hitomaro. So to the memory of the poem, the title wins.
For more on the Praxis Chapbook Series, please click here.