Eclipse in Rwanda

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Ushie Joe: Eclipse in Rwanda, Poems (Ibadan: Kraftbooks, 1998)

Eclipse in Rwanda is a metaphor for the litany of conflicts ravaging mother Africa, from our back streets in the villages to our cities and in the corridors of power. The poet brings freshness and maturity to enliven these poems with his deployment of metaphors and deliberate coinage of new words merged with puns on sounds to create depth to meaning. Eclipse in Rwanda is a remarkable addition to our search for peace and a new dawn in our homeland.
Honoured recently by the Cross River State Government for outstanding contribution to Literature and Culture, Joe Ushie was born at Akorshi, Bendi in Obanliku LGA of Cross River State, and teaches at the Department of English, University of Uyo, Nigeria. He is the author of Popular Stand (1992), Lambs at the Shrine (Kraft, 1995), Hill Songs (Kraft, 2000) and A Reign of Locusts (Kraft, 2004).

Foreword

With two books of poems already to his name, i.e. Popular Stand
(1992) and Lambs at the Shrine (1995), Joe Ushie, University
teacher, linguist and social critic seems set to carve out a place
for himself among the younger generation of Nigerian Poets
with this addition of Eclipse in Rwanda. And this is not merely ,a
matter of numbers. As evident in the present collection, Ushie s
poetry presents a new voice with modulations that vibrate with
creative freshness.
The ?rst part of the book containing about 25 poems may be
said to form the anchor of the volume. This is where the young
poet’s experience of the social world finds an outlet in songs
that sometimes trail into near despondency and then rise to
seize the moral gauntlet on behalf of those he pleads for. Some
of the poems are of a satiric bent, some may be identified as
protest, while others bear a plaintive note in subject and tone,
but all are united in the passionate insights which they reveal
in varying human situations.
In the poem Song of Sisyphus, the poet expresses his resolve
to use poetry to cry against injustice and suffering wherever
they may be found. Thus he concludes:

I cannot stop crowing aloud this song
Until the cock pays its terminal toll to nature
I will sing, I will sing, I will sing same song life long

The persona in The Town Crier has the ‘semblance of one who
aids the injustices of the system by being part of the rente
crowd shouting praises to the rulers.’The question the poem
asks the world’s town crier in a refrain is, ‘how much is your
pain? how much is your gain?’
From random examples from the volume it is clear that the
poet has pitched his camp with the voiceless and defenceless of
society, making himself their advocate. Writing with devastating
satiric irony in Peace Talk, he ridicules peace talks between a
powerful historical aggressor and his dumb frightened victim,
between ‘the hyena and the sheep’, as the parties leave for the
talks after airport ceremonies. Says the poet:

The sheltered can talk of peace
The eating can talk of peace but
The homeless and the eaten know of no peace .
except the peace of the graveyard.

The conclusion of the poem is epigrammatic in the statement:

The journey to true peace
begins at justice, not airports.

The same consciousness of the fate of the downtrodden
informs the sense of deprivation evoked in the short poem
Manna Fall. According to the poem, manna has never stopped
falling, only that a few people hold their trays ‘fixed high in the
sky’, thus making it impossible for the blessing to reach those
‘here below’. Only nine lines in length, Manna Fall is one of the
shortest poems in the entire collection and certainly one of the
simplest-worded. Yet the poem must rank among the most
powerful in the poignancy of its message.
An observable feature of Ushie’s poetry is his predilection to
fiddle with words for a purpose. Where in Manna Fall he uses
the word ‘fall’/‘falls’ five times to describe both an object
dropping and the idea of becoming insufficient, in poems like
Fallow Forge, To my Unborn Children and Campus Sojourn he
plays not on the meanings of words but their sounds. Let it be
admitted that in a very real sense, all poetry is a play on the
meanings of words, the sounds of words and the thoughts
conveyed by words. Yet some poets manifest in their work even
in these shared respects distinctive characteristics of a frequency
and novelty that cannot but attract attention. Such is the case
with Ushie’s poetry where at its best; words, sounds and ideas
fuse into metaphorical vestments that add not only beauty but
also depth to meaning.
Sometimes the poet records an achievement as well when
he creates new words by a compounding device. Such are ‘bliss-
blistered tongue’, ‘skin-tensed skirt’, ‘power-packed spouse’
(which incidentally describes the almighty wife of a hen-pecked
husband!) Similarly when he forges single word coinages for
more accurate descriptions. Examples are to be found in
‘hewman’ for ‘human’, ‘techno illogical’ for ‘technological’ and
‘wintersault’ to echo ‘sommersault’.
The sections marked ‘Village Echoes’ and ‘Echoes from the
Silent’ and comprising about one-third of the collection appear
to register a character of their own. While the poet’s concerns
remain virtually the same, the songs in ‘Village Echoes’ are rural
in interest and generally exhibit a lyrical resonance in verse
that can qualify them for ballads. As for ‘Echoes from the Silent’,
the poet explains that the songs in it are in celebration of silent,
innocent lives in nature affected by ‘this genocide of man’.
Accordingly, there are poems here on the crab, millipede, egret
and the canary. Even the dying roadside tree is not forgotten.
Its fate is comparable to the destruction of human life in ‘man’s
feral rule’.
One of the most touching poems of this section is Tropical
Neighbours which in theme, manner and realization recalls
Manna Fall. Here the ‘tropical forest giants’;’receive nature’s
sunlight and showers each day, but at the fatal expense of the
‘shrivelled shrubs’ below. The message is clear. But if anyone
thought the deprivations of nature and the inequalities of society
will continue for ever, the poem Volcano drives away such
complacency. For the predictive indications are that an eruption
could occur in the calm, peaceful hill standing before us, a blow-
up that can shatter all there is to the hill, resulting in a ‘fiery
flood’ to wash out every mess.
This is not a prophecy of doom but of cleansing, not of despair
but of hope for a ‘new dawn’ in which the poet sees Gani
Fawehinmi (rebel and critic, then in Gashua prison), in the poem
For Gani, becoming a monument like Socrates, Christ, Galileo,
Gandhi, Guevara, Ortega and Mandela, and holding out an olive
leaf, obviously of peace.
Joe Ushie has certainly not written his last poem, nor said
his last word. Like all writers in practice we can see him continue
in the days ahead to battle with the conflicts of experience in
an attempt to forge from it an enduring statement for mankind.
This endeavour is bound to shape and reshape the poetic idiom
he is trying to find and tame and make his own. The
prognostication in Eclipse in Rwanda and the earlier collections
are, to my mind, of a young poet of incalculable promise.

February, 1996 Ime Ikiddeh

 

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Contents

RAYS OF TEARS
Song of sisyphus
Town-crier
Manna fall
Campus sojourn
Tale of the applicant
To Bose
Home-reel
To my unborn children
Eclipse in Rwanda
Peace talk
Tantalus
For Gani
Volcano
Fallow forge
To the teacher
In the beggar’s own coins
Tides
Attlakua
God and man
On your birthday
Wet night
Song to the sun
Sunquake

VILLAGE ECHOES
To a head hunter
Maiden’s song I
Maiden’s song II
Hen’s creed
Mound maker’s song
Song of the orphan

ECHOES FROM THE SILENT
Tropical neighbours
Crab tales
Crab tales II
Kemapupu
Roadside tree
Egret
The trapped canary
The orange tree

Prof. Joseph Ushie

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Joseph Akawu Ushie is a Professor of General Stylistics and Literary criticism at University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State Nigeria.
He is the current Vice-Dean, Postgraduate School, University of Uyo, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. He was born at Akorshi, Bendi, the hilly Obanliku Local Government Area (which houses Nigeria’s foremost tourist attraction, the Obudu Cattle Ranch) of Cross River State, and he attended St. Peter’s Primary School, Bendi, Government Secondary School, Obudu, and the University of Calabar, Calabar, where he studied English and Literary studies, and was the Secretary-General, Student Union Government in 1980-81 session. He subsequently obtained the M. A. (1988) and PhD (2001) in English from Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Ibadan. Professor Ushie had served as Head, Department of English, and on several boards and committees in the University of Uyo. He had also been Chairman, Association of Nigerian Authors, Akwa Ibom State Chapter, Judge, ANA national literary competitions (2009 – 2010), Juror of the Canada-based International Poetry Competition (2017) and a Co-Editor, Montreal 2017 Global Poetry Anthology.

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