Writing a book is a noble act, up there with paying your debts in Nigeria (Yes, an average Nigerian hates paying their debt; when they do, usually it is because they want to borrow another day.) Writers are a bunch of smart people and they own a lot of debts, so whenever they write a book and publish it, they have paid one of their debts. And they keep paying till they die. This is the burden of being a writer.
Ogundare Tope is a fine writer and he has paid his debt. He wrote The Book of Pain. It is a book of poems which makes it a special one. Poetry is a difficult genre of art. So difficult yet so easily seen as simple, that is why there are so many bad poets around and why the internet is littered by very poor attempts at poetry.
Topazo is one of the few good poets in Nigeria. He is among the school of poets who understands that poetry is about meaning, making meaning of situations, of emotions, of life. Words that make beautiful appearances on paper, words that mean something. Topazo is not a poet for poetry sake. He doesn’t delight in weaving webs of enigmas for the readers. He picks mostly simple words and creates giant imprints on paper.
This poetry collection accomplished many things. There are 38 poems in all. Speaking and connecting many fields.
This collection speaks of love. The poem “Smitten” dwells on lethal love, the kind that drives a lover to put their head in a cooking pot.
“She danced on nimble feet,
Pranced and jabbed
Then “You loved her/It killed you.”
There is also the “City of love”, but Topazo will not just talk about love. No, the low key sadist-poet had to talk about “Rivers overflow from broken heart springs” and “Searing pains” and “Demons with claws unleash the stench of death”.
The poem “Impedance” is one poem where the poet showed a glimpsed of his medical cloth. “Soon, there will be no rise
Fibrosis of the Corpora Cavernosa
Loss of girth –
The writer also spoke of dead affection and zero “Intimacy” in the face of love, façade of love to say. This is life, our life, of pretenses, of appearances, of patching, what Igbos refer to as covering the world with a George wrapper.
“Sleeping on the same bed
Hearts separated by a wall –
Traveling in different directions.”
The Book of Pain is a collection with a strong philosophical hip. The poem which most connects to me in this regard is “Toilet musings”. It reminds me of my service years, me and my guy in the middle of the Osun, relieving our bowels and swapping gist about the lodge, who is crushing on who, who is crushing the other, what the crazy LGI wants, what the tricky future hold.
“Jungle Morning poo comes/In pairs like eyes,” the poet muses. “We make haste to/Dump waste Rush into the /Waiting arms of the day…” He paints how life can be like using the toilet, never in a hurry, except for an emergency—“Diarrhea”. This poem in explaining the inexplicable nature of life produces my best quote in the book: “Life works in selective inhibition.”
The crucial 2019 election is around the corner and the poet didn’t leave us hanging. In “Hopes of a thousand nights” he talks about
“The earth has embraced darkness
Cold now rules with the rod
If this is not APC then it is APC for me.
Tope went on to declare:
“Nightmare has returned from the abyss
Look, how fast the darken Lord has overthrown the sky!”
If this one is not Lai Mohammed, let goat eat palm fronds from my thigh.
The poem equally weighs a big wand of emotion as amply seen in the poem “Catharsis” where the poet-persona aches for an emotional release: “I want to scream,/To hit something,/Anything but sit calmly/And smile” and pretend that everything is going well while “A storm roils within” while “Fierce winds are raging” while “I see red”.
In the title poem, Topazo opens with a powerful question: “Can you tell the colour of pain?” I have never thought of pain as a matter capable of such attribute. I have always seen pain as a wilderness of agony and regrets and self-pity. but the poet expands on these, takes the reader into many features of pain but not in a way that forces it down the throat; he presents them in a series of rhetorical questions, calling out pains without calling it out, describing it while confessing that “The pain you feel is indescribable,/Words do not do it justice, and fall short”.
I have seen pain but thankfully the pain my friend describes is one I have never suffered. That is the merit of literature, it takes you to a world you have only imagined which you might never experience personally and makes it your shared experience.
“It fills your heart and squeezes your chest,” the poet says of pain, “Till breathing becomes a chore”. This one is strange to me but it exists, thousands if not millions are passing through it as I type this. People I will never get to know but whose woes I have now been made aware of. By Ogundare. By the power of words.
It is disservice to this book to give each poem a singular meaning. While most of the poems have diverse meanings, “Emerald” speaks to me of the diversity more than most of them. In one breath the writer talks about singing a song “In words of worlds/Where magic lives:/The magic of love”, on the other breath, he muses about Fate:
“Destinies are set in stones,
Hidden in the sky
Among the stars;
When the stars align
Destinies are merged as
Designed by Fate”.
You know how we all glorify handwork, dedication, persistence and all those one-liners they throw at you in seminars, well, the truth is that these things are man’s attempt to make sense of success. But these amount to the single story of success. You start a pig farm; your friend starts a pig farm. You guys buy impigs. Your impig gives birth to four; your friend’s impig gives birth to twelve. No amount of hardwork and dedication will make a pig carrying four piglets turn to a pig carrying twelve.
You go to an interview with your third class, the HR falls in love with your carriage and you get the call. You
Christians call this favour and grace.
You study literature, like I did, you don’t know how to do poetry, Topazo who studied medicine kills poetry. This one is not Fate. This one is mastery, talent, some study. In a way, Fate. Because if when he was a boy somebody came and hit him on the head with a bottle and he goes to the hospital and they tell him to avoid literature, he wouldn’t have done this. So for nobody hitting him with a bottle on the head, as a boy, Topazo’s stars aligned and we are the winner.
I am beginning to ramble.
All I am saying, in essence, is that this is a collection to be read and enjoyed and learn from, that would echo the reality, and the scam and the ache called life. If you are a beginner, this is a book of poetry to inspire your art.
In most reviews, you have to say what you do not like about the book. I don’t like that I am getting this book for free. As a boy, I remember my mother’s women association come to our place for a meeting and sing “let good thing eat my money” when someone presents them with a gift. Like King David, they understand that items that cost you money have a special place in your value-scale.
I got this book because Topazo is my brother. Yes, all wealthy people are related. We writers too are. Me and Topazo drank from the same breast of Muse. Don’t be like me, go to Okadabooks and buy this book. Read it, keep it, and bring it out from time to time and read it some more.