Saturday, 24 October 2009

Book Review: "The Road to W'omoko": Journeying Through The Tortuous Path Of Life

                                                      The Book

(A review of The Road to W’omoko by Steve Osuji; Owerri: Edu-Edy Publications, 2007 Genre: Poetry)

The Road to W'omoko is like a journey through the tortuous path of life. It reflects the central motif that runs through most of Soyinka's works, especially The Road. The road is fraught with danger, and sometimes death. Such is the road to W'omoko. In “Road to W'omoko”, for instance, the persona encounters “the gap-toothed masquerade/dancing to the beat of the forest”; “the drums chant about munitions and ruinations”, and “the ekwe of swords and skulls”. He also sees “a vast field of dry bones”, all images of death, just like “the path to the ancient grove” in “Footprints” is lined with the footprints of animals, winged and wingless, of good and bad omen , dangerous as well as friendly. But again, “Road to W'omoko” recounts the persona's encounters at different times of the day on the road to the stream, from the first stanza where the persona breaks his earthenware pot to the last stanza where he dives into W'omoko, “making a rousing splash across seven hamlets”.

The Road to W'omoko is also a passage, of time and people. There is a visible transition from point A to point B until the final moment with W'omoko. As such, all that happens between the first poem “Road to W'omoko” and the last “Oh W'omoko” can be seen as various stages within this movement. For instance, in “W'omoko Still”, the persona has left W'omoko stream and now trudges uphill, homeward bound, bearing “a jerrycan of W'omoko” and “a mouthful of W'omoko”. But it is not the persona alone who has travelled through this road. It is a road through which generations on end have journeyed. As we read in “W'omoko Still”, “I plonk still in W'omoko/ like my father and his father...” Only W'omoko is eternal. People come and go, but W'omoko remains. W'omoko is a deity whose presence and existence defy temporal and spatial distances. This much is reflected in “Behold W'omoko” where W'omoko is the “stream without origin bathing/ seven villages over the ages'. W'omoko is also a cleanser. It is the “ageless stream on a cleansing trip”. It is also the stream which “has cleansed dank/ under-scrotums for generations”. In “W'omoko Dawn”, the persona goes to W'omoko to “do seven dips/ and seek cleansing”.

In-between the first and the last poem, there are poems that comment on the polity, like “Plaything of the gods” where the rulers are “deaf, dumb/ and distant from people”. There are poems that cry out against oppression. These are represented by such poems as “When a Hawk Preys” where the hawk becomes symbolic of all oppressors of humanity. In “Scorched”, we are confronted with images of dryness and infertility; “scorched land”, “blistered bottom”, “arid stream”, “parched tongues”, “withered souls”, “defoliated tree”, “barren wind”, and so on. “The Last Balladeer” is a tribute to the dead. It is elegiac, but it does not necessarily mourn; it celebrates the continued presence of the dead among the living.

Like Keats, Wordsworth, Lawrence, and other Romantic poets, the poet celebrates the beauty of nature. This admiration runs through many of the poems in the collection, but particularly in all the poems on W'omoko as well as in “Water Maiden”, “Hurricane”, and “Akpaka”. However, this admiration tends towards the mysterious. In many instances, the poems evoke eerie feelings. See, for instance, “No Answer”, “Forest Gnome”, and “Darkness Stands”.

There are thematic and stylistic semblances between the poems of Osuji and the works of Soyinka and Okigbo. Reference has already been made to Soyinka's The Road. W'omoko the stream can be seen as the alter ego of Okigbo's Idoto, a river and a god. Thus, in W'omoko still”, the persona wants W'omoko to “stem this wind” and “stave this drought”. Only a god with supernatural powers can do this. Again, the persona asks: “If I inter in W'omoko/ would I do for atonement?” Atonement for what? And to who? There is also a close connection between Okigbo's “Watermaid” and Osuji's “Water Maiden” and Lenrie Peters' “She Came in Silken Drapes”. The water maiden is the poet's version of the Muse.

But again, The Road to W'omoko is a search, perhaps for the essence of things. Having journeyed through the tortuous path to the stream, the persona finally comes to that august moment when time stands still. He comes face to face with W'omoko, the stream of his dream, and exclaims in the wild excitement: “Behold W'omoko!” Coming face to face with W'omoko is like homecoming too, the final homecoming. This is evident in the last poem, “Oh W'omoko”, where W'omoko becomes the final resting place where the persona yearns to return. The same nostalgia that draws home Okara's poetic voice in” The Call of the River Nun” possesses the persona in “Oh W'omoko”. Just like the speaker in “The Call of the River Nun” longs to unite with the river in that “final call”, so does the poetic voice in “Oh W'omoko” long to “return home/ to your bosom”. In the bosom of W'omoko, there is eternal happiness. W'omoko is a place of bliss. It is “the place of atonement”, paradise “where the sun smiles still”.

One striking feature of all the poems in The Road to W'omoko is their musicality. This is enhanced through the ample use of repetition, the conspicuous absence of punctuation markers and the attendant use of run-on lines. The poems read like Lenrie Peters' “The Fence”. The use of repetition creates emphasis, while the absence of punctuation markers enhances the free flow of the poems, and therefore, their rhythm. The flow is also the endless flow of W'omoko. It is also the flow of the journey to W'omoko, the journey through life.

The number seven is repeatedly used in many of the poems. We read “seven dips”, “seven villages”, “seven hamlets”, “seven forests”, and so on in some of the poems. The number seven is symbolic of completeness. It alludes to the Bible where God the creator made the world in six days and rested on the seventh day; the Prophet Elisha ordered Naaman the leper to dip himself seven times in the Pool of Siloam; and Jesus told a leper to dip himself seven times in the Pool of Bethsaida. We also recall the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine in Pharaoh's dream. Thus, The Road to W'omoko is a complete book and all the poems collectively cohere and make a complete sense so long as we can see the persona journeying on the road to W'omoko and longing nostalgically for its embrace and, finding it in the end, plunges into it and it becomes for him “the pond of life”. Having drunk of it, he is then able to “defy the clouds”, a feat that was hitherto impossible.

By  Chuks Oluigbo