Sentinel Poetry (Online) #36 – November 2005

Online Magazine Monthly…since December 2002. ISSN 1479-425X






In Memoriam Joshua Uzoigwe 1946-2005

By Chukwuma Azuonye


photo of Joshua Uzoigwe 1946-2005JOSHUA, you have been my soul brother and friend for thirty-eight years, and, over these years, your gentle walk, smile and demeanor have told the same love story—the story of passionate devotion to the pursuit of excellence in your musical calling. And, sure enough, you have—over these years—sped light years ahead of all your peers in artistic virtuosity. You and I shared a house in Pimlico, Westminster, south-west London, in the mid-1970’s. You had just graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, College of Music where you charmed the university community and beyond with your sophisticated piano recreations of Igbo folk lyrics with Ori Enyi and Chinyerem Ohia, and for the performances of the Odunke Community of Artists. But it was in London that my wife, Chioma, and I, were able to observe your passion and zeal at close range. Then a licentiate student at the Guildhall School of Music, you truly overwhelmed us by the many hours you devoted, night and day, working through—to the point of quintessential perfection—what appeared to our uninitiated ears as simple and even boring and annoying tunes. But you were indeed responding to the radical aesthetics of Okigbo’s Upandru, for “except by rooting,/who could pluck yam tubers from their base?” Soaring beyond the staid penchant of many others in the field for passing off tit-bits of afro-musicological ethnographica as scholarship, you probed the roots of indigenous musical aesthetics, measured the pulse of homegrown musicians, studied at the feet of the masters of such indigenous forms as ese and ukom, learnt by immersion into depths of traditional practice, and proved through your own original compositions that you have grown into a consummate master of what you had learned. Sharpened by your doctoral research in Ireland, inspired by your engagingly poignant study of the example of Akin Euba, and tested by your tender husbandry of a new breed of students infected by your spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling at Ife, Nsukka and Uyo, you have forged a powerful and inimitable legacy of musicological art and scholarship, further enriched by your yet unharvested cycle of lyrical and philosophical poetry, Moments, which began flowing from your pen in the late 1960’s, shortly after we met for the first time. Joshua, you were always anxious to know from us—your inner circle of friends—who else has heard your “story”. This is your “story”!





Three Poems


(From Nsukka Harvest: Poetry from Nsukka, 1966-72, ed. Chukwuma Azuonye, Nsukka: Odunke Publications, 1972, pp. 13-15)




On the fading shadows of

This dark hour hang

Your heart of pumpkin

Bearing no stem no stilt

These frozen tears

Beads of primy offshoot yet

Must festoon the lurking


Mourning dew is decoyed

In the still lungs.


So, all nights I sleep amongst you,


My sleeping ones, amongst


The Flowered heap in the mud—

Ivory bones, jewel eyes, singed hair—


What hands, what eyes have caressed

In dream in wake

Your mangled faces?


Stand up, now, o my soul,

Before the passing flood

From the broken stone rushing,

For the dead within you, within you;


The dead within you

Passing cold over your living soul;


The sacred green stones

Spouting red pain.


The punctured apple-heart

Gushing pus……….pus


Burning light, smothering

Lights grey ash in fertile places.





We were once dead,


And feared no more of another hunger;


And food was in a. shadowing abundance

Reflecting light in a dry basin

On a wash-stand on the dry sands;

And the land was filled with milk

And honey that turned to stones

In peoples’ stomachs; and the ponds,.

Streams, rivers, except the salty seas,

All went up in steams into the grumbling sky

And formed heavy dark clouds...


And rain never came.

And our epitaph read:

‘We died of hunger, never of the will.

And we journeyed laboriously

To found another God

— A terrible God

— The God of hunger

And this God said,

Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:

And let them have dome-shaped heads

Standing on hollowed spindles;

Let them have balloon-shaped bellies

Balanced on stilts;

Let them have dominion over

The pebbles of the sea,

And over the vacuity of the air;

And finally, let them be sacrificed unto me,

The Very God!

and so: through the midnight mist we walked


In the misty vein…aghast

As with cat-eye simmering

In the shuttled shrine cast off

From the sight of our brothers

We crawled on the mangrove mud,

Hing’d with the juggernaut of years:


Liquid ash drunk from common calabash

Curse stilt to drown;

Forked knife goggle-eye-slits

The apple’ s throat: Osondu’ s

Sockets telescoping

Onyije’ s bones—vulture-beaked...

The head without a body.

And we cried out aloud

Returning to our first God

— Alfa

— Omega

And we were heard.


We were once dead,

And dying, we now live in a roost 

Perching with the sustaining gaze

Of a new-born babe

On a troubled world.




We mount the precipice of life

And come down with a bang! or a boon!

The resurrection is ended

And we begin life anew.


The senses come to a staggering pause


The nerves jab, jerk …vibrate once;

The body is dead;

The soul has risen.


We shall rise and stare heavenwards

Clamber up the narrow three-rung ladder;

Regeneration shall continue

And new stocks from there issue.


Let the three candles reverse their dark ends

We grope sheepishly down the abyss of fire

To be exhumed or consumed


To pay the debt of our forefathers.



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