Samuel Osaze’s Aroma of a Burning Bush seeks to explore national, social and popular issues in his debut collection of poetry. The book opens like an epilogue with a commentary by Reginald Chiedu Ofodile. This commentary impresses upon the reader his own postulations on the book. In my opinion, the book leaps into several prisms of meaning that do not necessary conform to the intellectual remarks of Ofodile, this is what makes Osaze’s Aroma of a Burning Bush a splendid collection.
The poet’s style is in free verse which serves the content and the imagery of the collection. There is no form to fire and there are different forms of fire. It is within the tensions of fire and aroma that the poet considers the environmental and socio-political as well as the emotional, sensual and philosophic verses in no strategic order. Nigeria becomes the land torched by forest fire without a face to claim responsibility. The political class convolutes into a reductionist slave driving class that deprives their ‘animals’ of food until they can no longer bear the pain, yet protest is caged
You muzzled the mouth of the horse
That does gently tread the corn?
Afterwards you cast out seeds
Like a charmer after a hen (10)
For the poet, the Nigerian citizen is trudging the desert without a ‘Moses’ and without a ‘promised land’ and the imagery of selfishness is apt. Nevertheless, the people rely on flashes of hope that are packaged as lies on their necks of fantasy, while the wealthy drink from the source of thirst. The poet assumes the voice of the silence and the mummers, he hopes that words which constitute the nationhood can be used to reconstruct its ruling class. Poems like ‘To the Slave Driver (10), Gnashing of a Nation’s Teeth (20) amongst others are political poems that cut a trope for second and third generation poets because of despotic governments in the country. Nevertheless, new democratic circumstances have led many into a more profound dismay. This is the reality that the poet reinvents with the apt metaphor of contrasts in the history of Nigeria. The fact remains that the people are disillusioned as leaders have not kept their campaign promises instead they have enriched themselves with mansions overlooking shanties in places like Kaiama, in the poem, Kaiama 2010 (27).
I am particularly impressed by the poetry of performance in this collection. These poems such as After the Dance (21), Upon Seeing an Esan Maiden Dance (30), The Last Dancer Takes Over
Arena (31), The Prophets of Fire (33), Bird of Sorrow (36), and Sanitary Priests’ Chant at Okede (48). After the Dance hints on the motivations of celebration of political class of the land who steal from the land leaving the people bereft of wealth and purpose. The motivation for the dancer is money yet underdevelopment stares everyone in the face. Osaze eases the tension of the reader with the dexterous use of performatives. The ‘Prophets of Fire’ speaks of the clash of the times, between tradition and modernity, between ritual and reverence, between the chants and the hymnals. ‘Bird of Sorrow’ is profound as it recalls the expectation of the peoples of the country during independence and describes the country as a man with stroke, helpless and slow. Nigeria is the ‘Okporunwanvie bird’, it is a sluggish bird that brings bad omen to the doorsteps of people, and it is a bird that has no sense of responsibility to the harmony of life. ‘Sanitary Priests’ Chant at Okede’ (48) is a poem of procession that recognises the sacrifice of plants and animals in the cultural production of mankind. Most times, these cultural nuances are formed and established to the detriment of plants on the pathways and animals in their homes. The poem is also a prolific re-invention of great poets like Okigbo
With well-rounded waist
Clad in beads of rioting colours
to worship in the
limpid looks of your watery waves
where strange trees wage wars
with their horns
to ceil your house;
tarred roads of the
the familial birds,
maestros that whistle our songs
when the weight shuts the blinds
of the eyes, lame
‘My Pastor’ is a short poem. It envelopes the character of the emerging Pentecostalism of Nigerian hue where the words are not in tandem with the moral and spiritual principles of God’s word. Gospel is a mass manufacture of the pastor’s carbon copy. BHS 1998(28) is an outburst of tribute to comradeship as against tribalism. Other poems like ‘Punch the Air at my Coming’ (39) is a song by a persona-in-Diaspora returning home. The poem relies on trajectory of ancestry and the expectant celebration of a long lost son.
Head on the Anvil (46), Dance of the Dead (47) are poems of memory, When Rain Came (52), To A Stream at Apata, Ibadan (54) are poems that tell of the struggle between vegetation and concrete modernity. The poem ‘Aroma of a Burning Bush’ (42) from whence the title of the
collection is derived juxtaposes the sacrifice of motherhood, the urgency of existence under deplorable infrastructure as a result of greed in continuum. It also speaks to the fundamental truths of the changing times where innocence gives way for the fire of selfishness.
This follows a Tribute to the author’s late mother in’ ‘I heard the Knell of your Going’ (59), a poem that captures the idea of foreboding, of the inevitability of death and the conception of personal heroes in the pantheon of ancestral gods. Osaze’s poems also venture to the personal as he gives tribute to his mentors, Jahman Anikulapo, Co-curator of the Lagos Book and Arts Festival and Chair of Committee for Relevant Art, and Eriata Oribhabor, a writer and editor in ‘A Stage for the Sage’ (82) where he argues that money does not make a great man. This poem serves as a bit of an epilogue as well as a resonance of nostalgia for the poet.
There are also romantic and sensual poems, these poems woo, they seduce, and pay homage to beauty and character. ‘What the Older Goose Knows’ (57) tells a young goose to employ the Sankofa principle; why would one fail in making hay with a young and prospective lover, when there is an older Goose to show the way? It tells the young goose to be careful for her height of pride. ‘What you Call Perfect Love’ (61) tries to define love between lovers, while ‘Slain by my Affection’ (65) conjures the emotion of a heartbreak, ‘I am the String of Your Song’ (67), ‘The Mirror’ (69), ‘Open the Gate of Heaven’ (71), ‘Fire and Water’ (72), ‘Beyond the Face’ (75), amongst others do not compromise the vehicle of flames and fire but enrich the oeuvre of reading the collection. These poems are passionate ventilations, they are sensual and sometime picturesquely lewd. They are poems that thrive from the youth of experience gained.
I would have loved to see the poems properly categorised or segmented in order for readers to navigate the verses with a sense of interpretative clarity. I would have also loved to see a more robust imagery of the fourth sense which would have given the collection a notch of praises. Nevertheless, Osaze makes up for his shortcomings with apt words, beautiful imageries and a certain narrative signature that keeps the reader glad to have picked the book from a bookstore. The poet has warmed my heart with a new aroma by bringing together a familiar dish of political poems, with the conversation of local spices and leaves. The poet has lent to his poem a dessert of love poems, simple delights of life that help us exist in difficult socio-political times.