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A sleight of words in stanza three, and Christopher Okigbo, the poet-soldier who died fighting for Biafra, is shown “In a plot of gunpowder” - echoing in the mind’s ear ‘the gunpowder plot’. Final stanza, and Ipadeola shifts from the third to the second person to apostrophise R.S Thomas:
And then there was you.
There is a real tenderness in the tone of address to Thomas. The Welshman was himself something of a revolutionary, in his rejection of imperial England. Reading The Rain Fardel, one can hear strong echoes of “the passed-over poet and priest,” in Ipadeola’s exploration of the modern pastoral, through a bundle of eco-poems in the collection. “From Platinum Meridians” is a fluid piece of textual, tonal and physical movements. The subject flows, from the heady mix of poetry, music and hint of illegality in the first stanza. On a General’s farm where the crop is the coca plant:
… we make a song of disappearing
Between notes floating up
From the shared Walkman…
The word ‘up’ shifts the focus, from notes of music floating upwards, to a narcotic ‘high’. The piece travels on, and R.S Thomas’ disdain for mod cons manifests itself, in Ipadeola’s poetic perception of the changed Victoria Island, Lagos.
Houses of glass and steel. Is this the way
Of modernity? For I see shops
Guzzling up the streets of my neophyte years.
Not only is there a longing for a lost idyll, he observes that:
This part of the city is afraid
Of its shadow rising
From the belly of the sea.
The modern pastoral merges with the consciousness of environmental crisis in “The Barbican Eclogues”, exploding into the urgency of the cautionary “E Fura!” A choreopoem, “E Fura!” combines words, music and drama into an exhilarating whirl. Voices - including an Iroko tree, a stream and a river - speak, decrying deforestation, pollution and consumerist culture. The Yoruba poetic element remains strong, but never more so than in “A Masque of Thirst”, in which every line resounds with Yoruba phraseology:
I ask, is a matter for the eyes
Not one for the nose also?
“From The Diary Of A Ventriloquist In Braille” concerns itself with the damaging effects of pollution and environmental woes such as oil spills, on nature. There is in this poem, a strong echo of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Only, instead of Mark Antony’s “Lend me your ears,” the poet-persona asks the reader: “grant me your fingers.” This is not just a tragedy to see or hear; it is to be felt. The Shakespearean allusion works well, but is not helped by the needless mention of “a cosmic Caesar” later in the poem.
Poet-activist Aimé Césaire once said: “Rain is capable of absolutely anything except washing away the bloodstains on the fingertips of assassins of entire peoples…” Ipadeola has taken note, and in “Emergency!” he argues that:
Not CNN, not SKY can see or feel
The blood on the fields, the children as they died.
A poet, he suggests, can see, and feels at one with suffering:
From Delgo to Dafur, Sodom descends
Upon Sudan and me.
Ipadeola believes that the opposite of poetry is not fiction; it is the “fear of truth”. No such fear for the poet, who declares in “To Fiction” that the Nigerian nation is itself a fictional construct. Even more amazing than verse, are the mysteries of the federation that spawned the dictator Sani Abacha - subject of “The Ballad Of The Gadarene”. Nigeria’s Big Brother-type role in West Africa, or that of many a morally ambiguous peace-keeping force, forms the basis of “Tideward”. The lightness of cranes flying northwards to celebrate, contrasts sharply with the heavy air of peace-keepers going tideward - to the ominous rattle of ravens. The gung-ho stance of “eager” brothers’ keepers is exposed in the last stanza. Peace will be kept, with violence.
Recent and immediate social concerns give way to a wider temporal view, as Ipadeola casts a sceptical eye on religion, in “Apocryphal”. And the colonial story of how Queen Victoria gave Mount Kilimanjaro as a gift to her grandson, King Wilhelm of Germany, makes for a droll musing on the arbitrariness of imperialism - in “Giving The Mountain”. As ridiculous gifts go, only the Biblical Herod’s gift of John the Baptist’s head to his daughter is more insane than Victoria’s, according to the poetic voice.
Ipadeola has said of his fixation with rain: “Perhaps the rains fall differently in my village of Akinmoorin.” That village is “the dervish in the rain” in “Dream Sequence”. It also makes an appearance in the oblique humour of “The Planetarium”, in which nine friends - the poet-persona included - become cosmic bodies in their life choices.
As volumes go, The Rain Fardel is as cohesive a poetic statement as can be hoped, thanks to Ipadeola’s many evocations of rain. One concludes the reading, wishing for rain. And even if no rain falls, there are enough of its sensations in the collection - drumming, patter, soft drizzle and concerted choruses - to make the experience feel like a poetic immersion.
Sentinel Poetry #32
ONLINE MAGAZINE MONTHLY. JULY 2005. ISSN 1479-425X