Ubaji Abubakar Ishaq Eazy opines that Femi Morgan’s Renegade, which touched many aspects of life and society, showed the author is high on poetic stupor.
Published by: The Baron’s Café
Year of Publication: 2019
We do say that wise words fall off the jaws of a man afflicted with neurosis, sometimes. I consider the mad man and a man in a state of intoxication to be at the same level of subconsciousness. Being drunk may not be a bad thing at all times, you know? I say this because it sometimes comes with the appeal to spill out the heart content brazenly, and with neither fear nor favour. I have perused Femi Morgan’s Renegade and I know the poet lives outside the realm of normalcy.
Are most poets not even afflicted by madness? For when someone sees something in a different light from how all else sees it, do we not call such one mad? Yes, poets are mad but their madness is the madness of truth and justice, theirs is a peculiar kind of madness pointing out society’s inanities and insanities; their words are drumbeats of foolishness to those whose ears and hearts are forever sealed from perceiving the truth. But like Galileo, time and tides soon turn around to judge them right.
Femi is drunk, aye. However, his drunkenness ariseth not from the emerald hue of beer bottles, it is drunkenness inspired by the muse of poetry—Femi Morgan is drunk on words! This drunkenness can be experienced in the ebullience of his diction; nearly running into a bombast in certain instances; which are packed into every of the poems in his collection titled Renegade.
The poetry collection, Renegade, cannot simply be labelled as one thing for it handles a plethora of issues. These issues range from modernity, love, feminism, prostitution, urban life, political exploitation, mortality etc. to many others. However, running through the tapestry of the poems in this collection is a voice that is unconventional, that cares little for that person at the receiving end of his words, and goes out to bare his mind; never caring for those hurt by the darts of words; a voice akin to that of man in a state of inebriation. This is, perhaps, why Renegade appears to be a befitting title for the work.
So dear fellows, come with me and let me be thine torchbearer as we peruse the gyre created by the mind of a renegade.
Worthy of note are Femi Morgan’s poems on urban life and modernity. Like the famous Victorian writer, Thomas Hardy, Femi Morgan exhibits a keen sense of observing elements of transition in our environment and society in his poems. He talks of the struggle of coming to terms with our modern city life as against the old ways which are fast declining.
In “Time Flies,” Femi reminds us that our past appears to better than the present. Filled with nostalgia, the poet juxtaposes his younger days in the village as a pampered child with his present life in the city. He captures an imperfect but serene and patient world in one accord with nature with offers of home cooked meals as against a fast paced present city life filled with weed ornamented roads and fast food joints offering foods in plastic wrappings that makes mama “weeps for what the city has made me” (7). The poem presents us with a metamorphosing world filled with restless glitters, but no more attuned with nature.
The poem “Diffidence” is another poem bordering on city life. It captures the typical life of a Lagosian living in a city with roads riddled with potholes. It has become so normal that many just sit through the whole experience with equanimity as the vehicle gallops in and out of the potholes. The poem leaves a lot unsaid, yet we sense irresponsibility on the part of the government towards effecting repairs on these roads.
Another poem, “Go Slow”, also has its focus on city life. “Go slow” in Lagosians’ parlance refers to traffic jam which has become a common phenomenon on Lagos roads, especially in the mornings and evening. Using a keen sense of perception, Femi represents the Lagos “Go Slow” and the frustrations that come with it in this poem. However, I think the penultimate stanza ought to be expunged.
Mannequins are some of the images that greet you when you visit urban clothes markets like the various popular clothes markets in Lagos, especially Oshodi. It is this sight which inspired the poet to describe the appearance of these mannequins in the poem “Mannequin”. Using prostitution as a conceit, it is a brilliant poem and the conceit is quite appropriate even though the subject is but mere plastic representations of human forms.
Disappointed by a romp that would never be, “A View of the City from a Pressed Bed” catches the poet transcending his bed and room into the outside world of the city and brooding on city life, especially the dog eat dog life of the strong preying upon the weak. He concludes in this poem that:
Mankind will leave you
Cold in the sun
Burnt in the shower
And strapped on a bed (68)
On modernity, the poem “Techy” easily creeps into our mind. “Techy” is a remarkably hilarious poem which pokes jabs at how the internet is changing and redefining our human world today. We now “sow words on Blackberry soil”, our children greet by shouting “Whatsapp”, and our families are “linked with LinkedIn”. Even “the next door neighbour is so lousy, when he starts/to have fun with his wife, in heightened tempo/‘Yahoo, Yahoo!’ is all that fills the lost serenity” (32).
More delightful are Morgan’s musings on the subject of love. His love poems come fully packed with hurtful and melancholic emotions; they speak mostly of loneliness and heartbreak. In most of his love poems do we meet personas suffering from heartbreaks and not wanting to love anew even though their tones infer that they yearn for love that is true, still!
One of such poems dealing with heartbreak is “I will not write”. The poem reminds me of Edmund Spencer’s “One Day I Wrote her Name”. However, Femi’s poem here reads like a reverse of Spenser’s sonnet for in his poem, we meet a persona who is reluctant to immortalise his lover; not because the persona thinks nothing last forever but because he fears his current love affair (like many others before it) might be unable to withstand the test of time. The poem shows how unwilling we are to give ourselves to love after heartbreak.
Unrequited love as a thematic preoccupation has always featured in poetry; especially those of the Renaissance age as evidenced in William Shakespeare’s sonnets. The poem “Grant Me” by Femi Morgan focuses on a similar theme, we are brought into confrontation with a persona who seeks a heart of stone to help cushion the pain of rejection:
I pray for a heart of stone
Oh Lord, grant me
That my words become a two-edged sword
That the warring wars of love should not capture me in soothing shackles
Oh without a heart of veins and blood, I cannot groan, I cannot whisper
I cannot tend my ears to the songs of a mirage
I cannot see the blooming lower and not notice the fiery thorn
And the bitter smell
I cannot brood on words in my ARTery
I cannot dream of sex
Her wicked kindness cannot infect me.
Grant me-a heart of stone. (11-12)
In the poem “Long Walk,” the poet confesses that he does not believe in love because of past experiences. However, I think it is more of confusion with love. This explains why he takes solace in taking long walks:
I don’t believe in love
But I give myself to people
Draining blood from a bite of my vein
I die a dozen times
To bring relief …
Walks are my own weeping
Walks are my placebo to madness
Walks are my illusion to progress
I walk a dozen times (80)
“Nostos” like the poems already discussed above ponders on love still. While most poets yearn for eternal love and ink this out, this poet can only think of love as an ephemeral thing since lovers soon depart from each other and move on with their lives. Love for the poet:
…is just a passing train
And passenger and passersby
Without the memories of its colour. (15)
When lover’s quarrel, there comes heart burns for you must learn to live a (psychologically) solitary existence whilst your heart still beats beneath your lover’s skin. The poem “Heart Burns” shows the unstable feelings which come after lovers’ quarrels; as well as learning how to do thing anew.
The poem “Closed Shop” employs veritable conceit to compare love with the business of marketing. The poem persona sees love as akin to marketing and insists on not selling again in the market of love. Hence, he declares:
I no longer
Aim to hit ‘Jackpot’
I am no longer gambling with words
I am not frightened that
I have chosen a different path
Or lose my share of the stock-exchange
The world can scream for all I care
I have locked my shop (24)
When lovers depart, there is always that ray of hope for a reunion, which at most times never comes. The poem “Ex Lovers” defines such hope. I see the last word as a mutilation of the poem though.
“Gbemisola” is a poem which exhibits a feeling of loss on the part of the persona. The lover no more abides and he becomes so lonesome that he compares himself to “a lone bottle now/Floating in the lagoon” (57), and even his pillows feel like concrete. I wonder if the idea of the persona being lifted to the lover’s chest in the first stanza is meant to call attention to the name of the eponymous lover in this poem.
“The Circle of Days” is a poem in two parts with the first part calling up fond images of sexual encounters with an estranged lover while the second part employs beauteous images to describe the persona’s longing for the estranged lover:
I am a dirty
Lonely pond without you
For tortoise and snails
I cannot stream
the soul does not burn
I smell the death of life
murdered by the flood
I long for volcanic dispatch
After a lonely meal of mush
I long for flowers in the hair of stems.
In “Getting High in Sleep,” we see a persona battling with the issue of lovers’ estrangement. He still dreams of her, remembers her smile, seeks her embrace and concludes that there is nothing without the lover “In the room of my head” (61).
“Old Together” and the next poem after this are, perhaps, the only poem in this collection which attends the positive aspect of love. The poem captures two lovers who have learnt to condone each other’s imperfections, and allowed their love survive till old age.
“The Plosive of Love” is a love poem with the persona pouring adoration upon the lover, he compares her to “music/Unstopped by the shadows of past doubt/nightfall/Of tender moments turned dreams”, and many more. For the persona:
A poem is not enough
It is a tribute of a tributary
It is but a din of sound in an opera
It is an utterance plosive
Yet to explode (63)
We have seen Femi Morgan’s thoughts on modernity and love. Shall we now see his thoughts on politics? Femi Morgan’s poems on politics are where we come to meet the poet as a renegade. The poems come with describing the hopelessness of the country, the die-in-power syndrome of our political elite, Chinese domination of African societies, and ‘kleptocracy’ in governance.
“The Nod” is a poem that reminds us of why “the beautyful ones are not yet born;” the old and ugly ones have refused to die! These old one feed on the young ones, continue to perpetuate themselves in power and refuse to vacate the space for younger hands to take over the reins. The poem urges younger Africans to stand up and strongly demand for that which is rightfully theirs:
but time will come
when I will take it no more
I will shake all your hold
and let your crippled legs fall
I will yank your stick from you
and kill you with silence
when you scream for help (73)
The persona concludes by affirming that he would soon reach the position these old ones now occupy, but he would not be like them and tarry too long before relinquishing power.
The poem “Why did the Chicken Cross the Road” lampoons the attempt by eastern political elite in Nigeria to form an alliance with those of southern extraction. To the poet, it is just another strategy to get at the “national chicken” and yank off chunks from it.
In this house of ‘Made in China’, Femi mentions our love for Chinese made goods and the infiltration of Chinese citizens into Nigeria, as well as other Africa countries. He fears the imminent domination (akin to second colonialism) of the Chinese race over African countries hence he says:
The frown of the colonial’s face
Our lands for an expatriate
The kind of evil that happens twice (26)
He laments that even the porcelain ware popularly known as “China is made in China” (26).
Too far have we fallen from the ways of our fathers, we allow injustice go on for too long without fighting against it. In “All my Forefathers,” we meet a persona whose attempt to reconstruct his lineage and deeds of his ancestors brings him to ponder the cowardice of himself and his people against the exploitative political class.
“This Reincarnate Country” (a poem in three parts) tells of the problems in Nigeria, it mentions our reliance on foreign aids and domination by foreign entities, the unceasing cases of terrorism and the attitude of our greedy politicians who are only after swelling their pockets while depriving the common man of his rights:
Is Robinson Crusoe’s vast land
A wrestle for the control of the barn
Man-eaters in government
Palliatives in parliament
The sea distances the Isle of heaven
The country is an elephant
Meat is shared on the outskirts of town (47)
The second part of the poem is however optimistic for it points out that there is hope since men are changing in their ways, yet the country wants “reconstruction:”
Her pale skin glows
But she needs reconstruction
Man-eaters are learning edible leaves (48)
The second part of the poem points out that developmental strides in the country are slow paced (“Baby steps”) and ridiculous.
The third part intimates us that although terrorism, especially by the Boko Haram sect, has been suppressed, it is yet to be quashed while reminding us of the horrible experience of the civil war:
The Jihad is not over
But the voices are sunk in quicksand
We can find the clothing
Mementos of memories
Bathing near the Niger.
I think this poem was birthed in the early months of President Muhammadu Buhari’s takeover ascension to governance, and when his (Buhari) government used propaganda to claim the Boko Haram sect had been “tactically defeated”.
“The Journeyman” is a poem which reminds us of the reknowned philosopher known as Plato who was incarcerated for asking thought provoking questions. The poem is reflective of what the human society is; society despises the wise man who asks questions because society fears the future consequences of today’s actions and would rather not speak of it. In this poem, the Journeyman queries the numerous barricades on the road and many came out to call him names and forced him into silence. Soon, the custodians of these barricades (soldiers and police) soon became another problem for “They killed the men and raped the women”.
On society, Femi Morgan has “Black” which confronts the issue of racism in America, especially the prejudice cum racial profiling that comes with being black as every black man is already adjudged a criminal before crime is even committed. The poem also admonishes successful black men with cravings for whiteness, and it shows the irony of white who detest the black colour on human but embrace it in other things, like coffee for instance.
The country offers one too many frustrations to its young ones. We live in a society where our young ones sweat too hard yet do not live the kind of life they ought to be living as can be seen in the poem “My Sweat”where the persona equals the drop of his sweat to droplets of blood. Another poem titled “A Shot of Muse”captures the life of poet being gradually wrecked by the hopelessness in the country so that he takes solace in alcohol and hemp for he presumes these to be his source of inspiration.
The survival of the human race seems to be built on the foundations of mendacity; we glorify legends who had caused disasters to attain the feats we celebrate them for today:
We tolerate the towering churches
Reminders of forced crusades
We mention the muse of mosques
Birthed by Jihads on animists
The legend are murderers of a whole lot (49)
We painted a Caucasian man and labelled him the Jewish Jesus, we made him:
… as white as snow,
As white as Lord Lugard
As white as lies
It is lies that makes the world go round. (50)
The poet thinks we ought to be ashamed of our deeds and achievements for our progenies would consider us a “barbaric people”. Indeed, many civilizations were built on the sufferings, exploitation, drudgery, and thralldom of others who were weaker than their aggressors; talk of the pyramids of Egypt, the British Empire, the American society, the production of mobile phones and many more. The poem calls for a deep reflection on human advancement and pinpoints the fact that any advancement hinged on the subjugation of others cannot and should not be tagged with the term “advancement” or “achievement” or whatever appellations we choose to call it.
Femi leaves his thoughts on the subject of feminism in the poem “Response from a Chauvinist” and its response titled “Response from a Feminist”. “Response from a Chauvinist” is a poem which showcases a hypocritical persona with a chauvinist ego; the persona claims to accept equality but still wants to be the one calling the shots using the excuse of paying the pride price to mask his ego. This poem is followed by another tagged “Response from a Feminist”, where the female persona cum feminist argues the right to supremacy of women over men using parturition as the yardstick. The persona also mentions the attack of the male folks in feminist literature as a deliberate action targeted at downplaying the role and position of men in family. By placing these two poems next to each other, the poet hopes to point out how we let our ego destroy the family life and society.
However, the poet shows his support for womanhood in the poem “German Machine” where he muses on feminine strength despite their outward beauty and delicate appearance. He calls women “German machines”.
“Allen Postcard” venerates the queens of the night for the role they play in our society by offering services through their bodies. This veneration finds its way to the next poem where the poet attempts to change societal perception of prostitutes. He wants them considered as professionals delivering services just “Like Konga.com” (42).
“For Beer Never Nags” comes with salacious images that personify the bottled beer in the image of a lover who is always at peace with the husband. The images are quite suggestive, and salacious, in a way that proves the writer’s brilliance with words:
Her round lips wait
For my kiss and my words
Wants my tongue in her round hole
Patience that gladden my heart
Laughter coursed my mouth
Despite its salacious content, there is an important message here that most men turn alcoholics due to marital issues. The persona in this poem is a henpecked husband who begins to see the image of his perfect woman in a bottle of beer, and considers it an escape from his troubled home.
On mortality and death, Femi Morgan offers the following poems:
In “To Sleep,” we meet a persona embroiled in suicidal thoughts, and seeking an easy exit out of this mortal world. The poems make us imagine the persona standing on a cliff, and making a decision on whether to fall or not. Now, the uniqueness of this poem stems from the fact that it is solely focused on suicidal thoughts, not what might have led to it.
“Listen”, which is the next poem, calls on the persona with suicidal thoughts to have a rethink and let nature guide him unto life. The poem advises the man with suicidal thoughts to listen to the voice of Mother Nature; the streaming echo of clouds, the bleating of goats, and trees fondled by the wind; and know that whatever worries plagues him or her pales in comparison to what nature must have witnessed. He says:
And try to forget about yourself
You are nothing
Your voice is a privilege lost on you
Your tact is prattle
You will never be calm
Your wounds will memorise the incident
You will be thankful for life
Unyielded to the winds (36)
Indeed, nothing is worth dying for. Man must learn to push and push until death deems it fit to have him recalled. Every suicidal mind should read this poem.
Death does come to all, yet when it doth come it leaves a lasting scar in the hearts of the deceased loved ones. “Fly Like a Bird” is an elegy urging the dead to keep going. It is a brief poem but it reminds me a popular Yoruba elegy recanted in incantatory style.
“Asiko” is a Yoruba word for “time of existence”. In the poem titled with this Yoruba word, asiko is personalised and becomes the image and reminder of human mortality; it warns of approaching death as “dark turns grey without the dye of style” (19).
The poem “Recantation” captures a narrow escape from death. The poem admits the inevitability of death but emphasis that one needs not vacate the earth before his or her ordained time. The poem personifies death showing it as an enemy who missed a chance to attack:
Did not meet anyone at home
We came back
Called the carpenter
To fix the holds
That we may not be cold
Before the actual time
Unfold [sic] (21)
On Poetry and poets, Morgan throws these poems at us:
Femi Morgan conveys his love and dedication to the literary arts using the poem titled “Poetry is my Ever Enduring Lover”. In the poem “Twin Children,” the poet compares the act of writing to a nocturnal birthing of twins whose incessant cries worry the writer till he writes them out and then he becomes a spent force who even sleep fails to befriend.
Femi establishes the origin of poetry in love and justified anger, but not hatred, and he encourages poetasters to tow the path of silence, rather than concoct bad poems. This is why he says in the poem titled “A Good Poet” thus:
Rhythm without sense
Words without common sense
Rhyme without real dreams…
Silence is allowed
When poem mocks without language
When it builds without fencing
Silence is allowed (3)
Femi goes on to mock the pretentious so called spoken word artistes who go about exclaiming: “I do not belong to you” which is the poem’s title by the way. The poem depicts a persona who labels himself a spoken word artist, but not a poet and this makes one wonder what discrepancy there really is between a poet and “a spoken word artiste”. I think the poet shows distaste for those who tag themselves spoken word artiste. Whatever be the case, I do not approve of marring an otherwise good poem with a taboo word at the end.
In a different poet titled “The Class Art,” the poet again throws jabs at performance poetry. He thinks it limiting and urges poets to do more and go beyond what he derogatorily labels “The Class Art” if they wish to become established entities before death reaches out to them.
“The Poet Died” carries a tone of disappointment and sadness occasioned by the iniquities visited on poetry and poets, those who only claim to poetry is by organising poetry festivals to rip off innocent poets. The poet has witnessed a lot of such and he is not happy. He realises that the human world is mendacious and yearns for a conversation with the dead. He decides to tour the path to greatness in solitude and does not mind paying whatever price comes with it.
“No One will remember You” defines what the life of a true literary artiste should be. What defines a true artiste is not the number of fellowships he gets, the places he visits by flights, or a life of pretence; it is the number of true friendships he courts. It warns that a synthetic life only leads the artiste towards oblivion.
Finally, it is not every time you read an anthology as satisfying as the taste of fine wine on the tongue; Femi Morgan’s Renegade comes close to giving such satisfaction. The sheer volume of the work alone is enough to convince you that the writer invested his blood into birthing the collection. With over sixty poems cleft into five parts (which I think should be reworked by the way) in one collection, it comes as an outstanding and laudable feat. Yes, I make bold to say this once more, Femi Morgan is most definitely drunk with words!
First Published by Memorila