Friday, 1 January 2010

Collected Poems

I just finished a collection of poems by Chinua Achebe. Yes you heard me right, a collection of poems by Chinua Achebe. The collection called the Collected Poems by Chinua Achebe is quite interesting because not many people know Achebe as a poet. In fact, to those who are conversant with his work what readily comes to the mind is Achebe the novelist and ‘Things Fall Apart’ the novel that made him popular today is what they usually associate him with.

But the good news is that Achebe is also a poet and not just a poet but a well established poet. In his trade mark use of simple words and sentences to convey his messages, Achebe once again proved that reading poems doesn’t need to be a nightmare. One of the reasons why students and even graduates and others find it difficult to read and appreciate poems is because of the style of language used in writing some of these poems. Most poems we are accustomed to reading especially while in the schools are often written in modus loquendi that makes it pretty difficult to understand the essence of the poem; by the time you grab what the poet is saying in one line, you have forgotten what you have just read some few seconds ago. That is a great obstacle facing the reading and appreciating of poems and that seems to support the widely and wrongly held view that poems must be in ‘thou’ and thouest’ language to be called a poem. That is not true because Achebe in the ‘Collected Poems’ shattered that myth by condescending to the level of common people and used their language to write in such a manner that the common man is now afforded the rare privilege of reading and appreciating poems once more.

The ‘Collected Poems’ which are actually drawn from his three previously published books of poems included seven poems that have never been published before. The poems are so mundane and yet touch at the spiritual g-spot. The simplicity of the poems are awesome and the language is frankly tailored to the understanding of the layman. However, to the non-native Igbo language speakers, some of the language of the poems like in most of Achebe’s novels could be problematic when it comes to understanding the vernacular words and terms used in them; however with just little effort and less cranking of the brain one could easily understand them because they are self-explanatory.

In a poem like ‘A Wake For Okigbo’ Achebe did a pure transliteration of an Igbo funeral song into the English language even though he maintained the Igbo language refrain. The result of the effort was awesome with every aspect of the poem evoking the feeling of sadness and mysteriousness common with death. Anybody familiar with the Igbo culture and people of the South East of Nigeria would obviously see the close similarity between the poem and the traditional Igbo funeral songs and dirges.

There is no doubt that Achebe is a unique writer, an extraordinary storyteller and an awesome poet. The ‘Collected Poems’ bears witness to his grandiosity, eloquence and mastery of the language of the literature. He has a knack of using everyday feelings to evoke a feeling of sympathy. In the ‘Collected Poems’ he once again achieved that using the poems like ‘1966’, ‘The First Shot’, ‘A Mother In A Refugee Camp’, ‘Air Raid’, ‘Biafra, 1969’, ‘After War’ and ‘Remembrance Day’. These set of poems are remarkable in the sense that they are all war poems written to commemorate the Nigerian/Biafran Civil War. Achebe being an Igbo was naturally on the Biafran side during the war.

‘Collected Poems’ should be a must read for all lovers of poems. Achebe has a unique taste and style of writing and he proved it here. The ‘Collected Poems’ are a lifetime of poetic engagement and meddling with politics, war and love as well as Igbo language, culture and wisdom.
I strongly recommend the book to all lovers of poems and novices in the field and of course those who want to try their hand in the art of poetry writing.

Cover Photograph Courtesy Of Carcanet press.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hello. I would like to leave you a proper comment this time. This is a very enthusiastic review of Achebe's poetry: perhaps, a little over the top insome respects. He is a good poet, but not a poet of the first rank. I found the detailed aspects of your review very interesting. Thanks. Which are the 7 previously unpublished poems? I was not aware that any of the Collected Poems were new? Usually, a "collected" poems is just that: a collection of previous work.