These poems consider many themes, some light and tongue in cheek, others dark and grim. Underlying them, sometimes even the most hard hitting, is a sense of optimism and an on-going joy and delight in life and love and all the nuances and richness of language. ‘Amaryllis’ is a fine example of this with the opening line ‘I celebrate you, precious gift’ and the whole poem is scattered with words like blissful, joyful and miracle.
There is humour too, especially in the love poems, a lightness of touch and pleasure in the quirkiness of things. In ‘No Love Song For My Loveress’ (a twist of language even in a title) the poet says ‘Memories! They will make a songwriter of me.’ He depicts his muse and the gods as demanding ‘perfect brew sonnets’ and declares he hates Shakespeare for being a better writer of love poems. He then introduces his own perfect comparison ‘Shall I compare you then to fresh pumpkin leaves/dancing to the song of a rainy season breeze?’ There is much laughter in these poems and a limitless energy. ‘The Gift’ concludes with these lines: ‘Now you are all mine to keep, elegant gazelle/eyes glint by the night fire at our picnic. We cut/a hole in the world, step out into ours/the air stretched taut with desire/we roll in the sand like joyful canines/ … Then laughter./So much laughter that our sides hurt./What are we high on?’
As I read these poems I am increasingly aware of a sense of honouring, of giving homage and benediction. Many of them are praise poems. ‘Amaryllis’ ends with these words ‘You have healed me, and covered me/in your costliest marabou. I will honour you/with my faith through seasons green or grey.’ ‘Isuikwuato II’ is like a litany with the anaphora ‘This Village/My Village’ and the lines ‘This is where I wish to be when I grow old./Shed no more tears O land of my fathers/For even now I am getting ready to dance/On the hot sands of Nkwonta/Prepare the drums.’ Even in ‘Wake’ where there is ‘no sunshine’ and the devil is astonished ‘that I raise my hands to God in praise/at a time like this’, the poet says ‘Yet I must praise Him; He shielded you, though you fell by the roadside/from talons, and beaks, from bald birds of the wild.’
The poems in The Bridge Selection are lyrical, written on the ‘wings of songs’ and abound in a wealth of images. Some of my own favourites are ‘a voice like silk rubbing against a black man’s hair’(If I Don’t Write A Great Poem Before I Die), ‘I wake and rock like a zombie tree in a roaring storm’(Strings of Wilderness) and ‘O blessed memory live; night fire and roasting yams/moonlighting and moonlight tales/beast songs and hunting games.’ (Isuikwuato). A richness of tone as well: there are hints of fables, proverbs, sayings, prayers and a world with overtones of myth and literature but one that is powerfully everyday, urban and rural, British and African.
All this and more – the more being a world of violence, hunger and exile, where singing has stopped and given place to ‘a legacy of terror’, where people are ‘brainwashed’, ‘living by the gun’ and where both hoe and machete are the norm. Powerful poems these: ‘Dead Sun’, ‘Red Pastures’, ‘A Conversation with Sorrow’, ‘Mad Songs, ‘An African Tale’ are among the poems of anger, bitterness, regret and sorrow that tell the story of a people ‘now naked/in front of dusty mirrors’ who are living in a land that is not their homeland, wearing political and social suits made ‘by alien tailors’, where their dancing was described as ‘Jungle’ and ‘their names deemed unpronounceable.’ There is much yearning in these poems for the village ‘where in the thick earth/the trailing cord/from my navel was interred.’
Nnorom Azuonye has chosen to preface his collection with one called ‘If I Don’t Write a Great Poem Before I Die’. This, I think, sums up the spirit of the collection – to show the world ‘darkness cannot be the fruit of light’. ‘When it mattered,’ he says, ‘jaws unlocked, I spoke out loud’. He speaks out loud in every poem and this ‘dreampot’ matters in every one. In the penultimate poem in this fine collection, ‘A Poem About Flowers’, the poet is strong in his manifesto: he will not be regressed ‘to the age of darkness’; will not ‘be walked backward.’
The Bridge Selection (Second Edition) ISBN 978-0-9568101-4-4 is published by SPM Publications and is available here.
Mandy Pannett lives in West Sussex with her family. A teacher for many years, she has worked with all ages and abilities including special needs children (her favourite). She now works freelance as a creative writing tutor and has run residential and day workshops across the country as well as working with many local groups. Her poetry has been widely published, both internationally and in the U.K., in journals and small press publications and has also been translated into German and Romanian as part of the Poetry tREnD and Poetry pRO projects. On several occasions she has been a prize winner in national competitions. Three poetry collections have been published: ‘Bee Purple’ and ‘Frost Hollow’ (Oversteps Books) and ‘Allotments in the Orbital’ (Searle Publishing) She has also produced ‘Boy’s Story’ – a CD of poetry and original music. All are available from the author. She is currently compiling a new poetry collection. She has twice been selecting editor for South Magazine, an associate editor for the ezine ‘Muscle and Blood’ and is one of the poetry editors for ‘The Right Eyed Deer’. Her novella ‘The Onion Stone’ is her first venture into prose. Website: www.mandypannett.co.uk