A review of Ifeoma Chinwuba’s poetry collection, African Romance: Poetry in Dialogue, by Salamatu Sule and Denja Abdullahi
ONE of the basic characteristics of a romance poem or poetry is that it usually or more often, comes in an epic form or in ballads or idylls. It also usually, tells of the chivalry of which subjectivity is bedrock and with emphasis on the individuality or individualism as is the case with Ifeoma Chinwuba’s African Romance.
The poetry narrative is divided into three parts with the poet personae calling attention to her plight while the second part shows the response from her philandering husband in his self-defence and the third part being the neighbours as witnesses.
African Romance is a narrative poem of the poet personae, Mallama’s lamentation about the abandonment and neglect of her husband whose sexual escapade is fast ruining their relationship. It is largely about a philandering husband of a polygamous household with the older wife who is the complainant and the occasional riposte from the husband and interjections from the neighbours and the other woman outside.
It is a book on the battle of the sexes that is narratively modelled after Okot Bitek’s Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol. Only this time, with the setting, largely in a Hausa household in an urban environment of Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The major speaking persona in the poem mirrors the textually extraneous life of the poet herself in a relationship entanglement with a philandering person whom she has had this sort of experience vicariously with.
This insight is undoubtedly extra literary and the stuff of “literary gossips” in Abuja as at the period the book was released. The poet personae show to the readers traces of this real life character said to be domiciled in Abuja and of a literary personality. These forensic extra-literary traces are as follows: He played the string for me/ he made music in my name. He played the guitar for me and composed songs for his sweet heart,/ for his rabin raina.(page 10-11).
There is also the oblique reference the sojourn of a northerner to the East to study. (page 28-29) and the descriptions thereafter, the refuge provided for someone who lost his job (page 33), the experiences described on page 38 and the eventual finding of love in the hands of another man towards the end of the book.
All these have verifiable markers in the real life experience of the poet.
There are aspects of the book which straddles the literary reality of intertextuality. The book is definitely in conversation with the earlier text of Okot Bitek’s Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol in subject matter and literary style. Another earlier text the book can be said to have conversed with is Denja Abdullahi’s Mairogo, particularly the section devoted to the problem of women in Northern Nigeria.
The book, in a way, also prefigures later texts in poetry and prose such as in Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s latest book, Dreams and Assorted Nightmares, a collection of short stories, in which a particular story, Mororo’s Masterpiece, focuses on the community philanderer prefigures on page 42 of African Romance.
The themes that adumbrate the narrative are those of love, betrayal as well as ethnic divide. The poet talks about the Gowon administration that tries to bring intra cultural marriages to the failure of the cultural issues in our various societies.
On the whole, it is an interesting book that mirrors the problems of women in Northern Nigeria particularly under marital situation. It also touches on the problem of inter-ethnic marriages and the immoral life of women in urban areas where ultimately the dices are loaded against the female folk.
It is appalling that since its release in 2013, in spite of its unique narrative style, elegant diction and highly accessible language, the work has not gained the required readership popularity. Is it that eroticism in literature, which is cleverly embedded in the book, is yet to gain acceptance in our world?
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