"Voices of the Silence;" "The Return of the Exiles;" "Civil War Diary;" "Testaments of Exile;" "Our journey;" and "Odenguma: Invocation of the River of Thunder," are stringed as beads of sad songs. Except for a few celebratory chants and choruses in "Odenguma," this collection does live up to its war and crisis testimony.
Azuonye, like some of his contemporaries--Obiora Udechukwu, Ossie Enekwe, Uche Okeke, T.C Nwosu, and Pol Ndu among others-- are some of the poets who have brilliantly captured the dour of the Biafran war in their works. In Testaments of Thunder for example, Azuonye arranges memories, pains, rapes and deaths that littered the Biafran landscape with a grip that takes the reader right into the waste and torment that was Biafra. He succeeds in engaging the readers' sense of taste, smell, hearing and sight, even as disturbing and as morbid as these events may be. In addition, the ability to manipulate words to evoke contrasting emotions appears to be the only twinkles of light in these otherwise very dark litanies of sorrow.
"Lament of the Sky" employs visual language to portray the gruesome images; "/dismembered penis floating across parted lips/ booted feet growing out of a woman's breast/." The use of the genitalia reinforces the tone of sexual violence inflicted on the Biafrian psyche. As monstrous as these pictures look, the persona in the poem does acknowledge the "/grotesque tailed egg broken furred in redseadeath/." These lines run with such an urgency that the severe messages they convey are rendered with the complexity of their meaning. Hear the "/cannon-laughter/" feel the "/anguish-deep-furrowed/" and see the "/bedimming/."
On the other hand, there is the clustering of adjectives and qualifiers, which becomes distracting sometimes, but may in fact be a conscious ploy to heighten the sense of chaos of the time. Lines like these, "/unbeautyful battered sky/ the sky's bleeding dark red sun/ the sky is sick with the sickness of the earth/ cottonwool soaked in iodine smell/ over the mouth like gashes of the sky/," reveal these.
As a seemingly subdued tone reveals the after-effects of the war including the betrayals and the disillusionment, the image of the witch mother devouring her children to sustain herself looms large. This is evident in these lines, "/Hear this O mother / for you do not care/ you do not care/ The queen herself in a chariot of fire /burning through orchards and farmlands/ storming her giant rams with gnarled horns/ to crush the testicles of men/ They celebrate the return of She/ that sucked the blood of her sons/ to nourish her witchpower/ Oboghorita, queen mother/ of the land of death/."
Further, in "Voices of Silence," the paradox built on the interchangeable nature of love and hate seem confusing; "/I sing not of love/ but of hate the war fostered/ the love that hatched the shells/ that killed the chickens in the roost/ the love that pounded death to feed/ starving babies in midnight mortars/." But the evocation of opposing sentiments is underscored even when the meaning looks obvious.
As the exiles return, they are "/black figures in/ruffled streams of darkness/ they bear no songs but requiems."
A stimulating angle does appear in "Odenguma-Invocations", particularly the use of songs, choruses and lyrical lines as shown in, "/Alas, Uluaga, alas, my good husband/ Amuure ure amuure!" And the fragmentation of lines like, "/Thumpianos/ Rippling in the moon stream/ our mended laughter/ River-voice/ and bellow of pot-drums," compared to some of the dense stanzas of poems in the others, this section is much more invigorating and less depressing. In the same vein, the use of strophes like, "/Oh! Let us watch the moon for the festivals/ gather drums and feathers for our masks/" and "/Grow, udara fruit of the poor orphan/," gives an airy perspective to the rest of the poems.
In all, despite the occasional overuse of allusions, stacked up adjectives like "visionless seers," "cryptic language," and repeated use of words such as "cannon-laughter," "yesterharmattan and "yestermoons" that threaten to snuff out the only twinkles in this canvas of stark darkness, Testaments of Thunder is rich with a mixture of allusions to the tragic Brazilian Voodoo Samba in Black Orpheus, and allusions to the Bible proliferate the book - even clichéd phrases like "coat of many colors" "Bow to the golden calf," and "Speaking in tongues after the fire rain," are cleverly employed to reinforce suggestions that give a deeper interpretation to their context. There is a generous use of the Nigerian Igbo folklore motif and unpretending protest poems, all of which make this a wealthy collection.
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