‘Obu Udeozo’s ‘Compassion’ opens with such cascading cadence that it is actually difficult not to gasp for breath in an attempt to define Pindaric Ode anew. Yes, the scars of the civil war, the loss of an alter ego, an era that spreads its legs, like a traumatized woman, to urinate on the sprouting seedlings of future weevilinfested harvests serve as an epitaph- and this Udeozo succeeded in writing about in this Mkpokiti beats of war memoir.
In this particular collection, ‘Compassion’, Udeozo was reluctant to extravagantly employ his trademark cowry shell collection of universal allusions, which was what stood out his later poems from the crowd. Not that it has any diminishing effect on the collection, but it brought close to call the Okigboesque in the split tongue of the talking drum, and the influence from the man of the iron gong at this earlier stage of Udeozo’s poetic adventure cannot be ruled out.
He himself, in a fit of intoxicated poetic frenzy alluded to Okigbo’s ‘Labyrinth’ as the poetic Bible-not directly, but by placing them together as opposite pages of the same book in “Divine Cup of wrath”: “And the Bible said: I swear by myself; declares the LORD/That Bozra will become a ruin and object of horror; of reproach and of cursing…” (Jeremiah 49:13)./ And Okigbo said: The drowsy heads of pods in barren farmlands witness it/The homesteads abandoned in this century’s brushfires witness it/The myriad eyes of deserted corn cubs in burning barns witness it…” Bozra, with a little altered spelling (there was an h added), became the name of the country of his focus in his debut novel, Living Dreams, and appeared to be one of the significant living witnesses of a compassionate chronicle. And the witnesses are many.
The Bishop of Lokoja, Rt Rev. Emmanuel Egbuna, who wrote the introduction, shared his imprimatur on the work. “… Udeozo chooses to personify compassion in the travail of a mother’s bargain with death in ‘a universe of wolves’ where the stock in trade is a mixed grill of marriage, manhood, and sex. The echoes of Okigbo’s ‘Path of Thunder’ cannot be missed here. And if Okigbo was a prophet of doom, then Udeozo’s opening lines vindicate Okigbo.” More like Okigbo laid the foundation, Udeozo built.
He was riding with the wings of Okigbo and there were fears that the Sun of deep dissection may melt his waxed wings. But he appears to be caressing the sun, and together they sang the song of Lawino. But then Udeozo has dropped the fable of Icarus in the quest for a more independent persona.
To ensure his wings intact, he embraced Atlas, serving as a pillar holding his own poetic cosmology with furious hands. His later works, Udala and Asaa, for example, totally broke away from the Okigbo tradition. The anthology kicked off with the central theme with Agbaja, not as in Udi agbaja, which evokes a cultural location of a bombastic clan, which he described in Plaza of dreams (such double entendre are not alien to his muse), but Agbaja Nwanyi-evoking images of a benevolent but compassionate Matriarch of Duchess ambiance.
This is demonstrated in her perseverance and fortitude in the flight during sporadic weavings of movements amid mortars, guns, and bayonets. She was “candlelight in chaos” who strove to save the children from Kwashiorkor. Udeozo’s images were but paint brushes-which fact is not surprising since he, as an artist, sometimes exchanges the brush with the pen, so much so that he is finding it difficult to identify which is which as he sculptures his stanzas in oil on canvass. Even the return of the native was coated in dramaturgy, as it becomes a chapter in the song of compassion as they hoist their antenna homewards. Every second of your leaping breath/feeds patience, prayer, hope, discipline and sunshine into our lives…
The poetic troubadour continues his chronicle…
routes/of futility and faith…/where bombs germinate in the hoods of yam tubers/and the foliage hosts/ death sprinkling platoons…the strophes moved, like an avalanche, until it slows down to and hides under the bunker of my mother’s love/at every sorrow station/the compassion/ she lends us/with the nuclear power of leopards.
Leopards are known for the protective prowess over their cubs. The theme of compassion continues to run through the undulating landscape of the entire book, and, like the gorgon in front of a mirror, a mother’s love continually severs various strands of snakelike spaghetti of genocidal blueprints. Whether it is MIRACLES (he begs/ for dignity, compassion, and fellowship), or DAD, (because you wear Daddy/ like daylight) or even in extolling the dignity of Fajuyi it is the same.
But his doers lament culminated in the work he dedicated to Umeadu, the brother that died of measles in his infancy (our young Mum/withheld you with airtight love from dreamland/with airtight love and prayers/I flowed with her tears in chorus.) And that is the crust of the matter: His attempt to “cloth earthquakes with honey and to breathe love upon fire across the globe” has become an albatross. For him it became both scepter and sword, the quill with which he chronicles the wrong against a people, which history, officially seen as the propaganda of the victor tries to resolve in distorted silence-like Okigbo trying to say NO in thunder.
In Sunshine through flutes, he explores his favorite pass timeode to individuals that inspired his muse. TRUMPETS are odes to achievers in various fields. Here he began to embrace topical allusions, a theme he pursued with gusto in later anthologies. Thus Mandela was mystery priest and king/symphony of Moses and Chaka/…an Odysseus barred welcome/on the cupid’s bosom. He was the fusion of Gandhi and Shaka. Compassion shows that in Udeozo, we have a poet who threatened to break bounds and actually broke bounds. It is actually a cascade of Canons in the rebirth of the Okigbo phoenix…