When you are about to encounter mouth watering succulence, the pre-meal prayer had better be short. So it is with a preface, at least one that unwraps, or purports to do so, the dainty offering of an Ekaete George poetry.
The last expression, even with its inherent inelegance, would suggest that there are many such ‘poetries’. ‘ I’m quite sure many would be surprised as I was at a time, to learn that Ms George did not have a long list of published works to her name, that this collection Saints and Scoundrels is, in fact, her debut. Why the surprise? By the time we had our first encounter at an Association of Nigerian Authors event in Port Harcourt, Ms George’s name had gone much farther ahead of her. Her poems were already published in literary reviews, her voice audible at poetry readings, and her contributions eloquent at panel discussions on literary and gender issues; she was, in fact, almost a brand.
But even if the acquaintanceship were of the faintest sort, one would still come away with the impression that Ms George pours out her soul into her craft – hardly a surprise, given the genre. But what would indelibly etch her in the readers’ consciousness is the nature of this outpouring: you thought that Niger Delta enviro-lamentation ended with the likes of Ogaga Ifowodo, Tanure Ojaide, Obari Gomba etc? Wait until a woman’s voice, pained, like Rachael’s in Ramah, joins the outcry. No inhibitions, no platitudes, no striving for political correctness, no allegiance to a school of poetry, nor pandering to the whims of particular goddess of poesy. Not even a pretence to a mastery of the craft itself. She simply pours out herself, her soul, un-artificed, unmanicured. The raw taste of beauty.
Which does not mean she shouldn’t brace for flaks. Are the ‘Ediye Obio Canaan’ poems, for instance, not at the extremities of nostalgia and romanticization? Do the imagery of environmental rape – and other imagery in the collection – cross a graphic line? Does she push a gender agenda? Are we face-to-face with a Whitmanian neo-narcissism? Myriad questions. One answer: Beauty.
Perhaps Saints and Scoundrels will conquer all the distances that could have kept such a fine poet in relative obscurity. Volumes don’t always speak volumes. Labyrinths was Christopher Okigbo’s only offering, and a slim one at that, but today the poet engagé retains his place in Africa’s literary pantheon. There may be no basis for comparison yet, but we are probably not too far from a hint at one.