Ladi Soyode’s Shadows Of Whisper is a hybrid collection of 82 seminal poems conceived within a tripartite structure – ‘Brevity’, ‘Verse’ and ‘Prose-poems’, a categorisation which appears somewhat idiosyncratic but for which the author can conveniently enjoy the much-bandied poetic license. I must hasten to state right from the outset that all the three sections eminently qualify as poetry in the finest sense of the art. ‘Brevity’, the opening section, is no less poetic since, in any case, parsimony in stylistic phraseology is one of the fundamental hallmarks of pristine poetry – the creative capacity to package maximum meaning into the minimum medium, to convey the most message with the least language. Brevity, therefore, is stylistic efficiency, the management of linguistic resources in the expression of the finest thought.
The second section in Soyode’s collection, which carries the plain, self-revealing tag of ‘Verse’, is a tacit affirmation of the obvious, while the third and closing category contains ‘Prosepoems’ which I had wrongly approached in my initial reading as polyphonic prose. The seven prose-poems in ‘Shadow of a Whisper’ are difficult to straight-jacket into polyphonic prose as they lack such generic attributes of prose as clear sentence boundaries, faithfulness to punctuation and a distinct narrative plot or expository map. They have been properly branded as prose-poems, i.e.
poems constructed with some prosaic flavour in the paragraph form, but which nonetheless hide within their smooth-flowing rhythm complex and captivating schemes and tropes. In effect, all the 82 pieces in the collection are poems of diverse lengths and structures united organically by an uncanny faith in the possibilities of hope and redemption through love in a world ravaged by lust and hate, powerfully portrayed through captivating imagery, juicy and memorable diction and enchanting mellifluence.
Adopting mainstream Judeo- Christian cosmology faintly flavoured with Yoruba mythology, Soyode skillfully manipulates the English language to configure dilemmas bedeviling unregenerate humanity trapped in the dialectics of dualities of curious contrasts and contradictions. Oscillating across the three layers of realities and human experience, i.e. the sensory, the mental and the spiritual, the poet paints a world ravaged by wars of the body, the mind and the soul which phenomenology as a critical-philosophical approach is well-suited for deconstructing. Given the Judeo-Christian cosmography within which the collection is set, biblical influence manifests across the poems in the forms of allusions, echoes and innuendoes – vicarious atonement of sin, the Judas syndrome, baptismal rites, the crucifixion, the lamb of love, angelic hosts, among the lot that pervades the atmosphere.
The poet highlights the deception and danger in lust and infatuation and other forms of carnal desire in this modern Age when sex has been completely democratised. He cautions in very powerful and pungent imagery that searching for fulfillment and lasting happiness in midnight misadventures is akin to the futility and folly of searching for the sun in the dead of the night (p.78). Conversely, the world of true lovers, according to the poet, is one rhyme, one rhythm, one harmony, like words in a beautiful poem (p.28). Leveraging on the cerebral, even if iconoclastic, musicianship of Abami Eda (the weird one who never dies), Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the poet identifies with the vanguard role of the artist as friend of the masses, foe to the monstrous masters, as graphically depicted in “You can’t “.
Art, therefore, in particular poetry, is the yielding and fruition of the soul which reminds and redirects amnesic humanity. In this respect, the artist is the memory and reminder of his race, its prophetic guide and guardian spirit (p.50). In the eponymous poem, ‘Shadows of a Whisper’, the poet grapples with the mandate and burden of the artist to distill perfection from imperfection, impose order on seeming disorder and expose disorder in deceptive order, all in a bid to discharge his role as the beacon of hope and rebirth. The poet avows his fervent faith in a listening God, the same Author of “the tragic bloom of a fading rose” and “the magic of the silent boom”. In the dialectics of contrasts and contradictions, opposites negate, associate and finally annihilate each other; God Alone is the Lasting Oddity (pp.38-39).
In ‘Lost or Found’, the poet further preaches reciprocity of love as basis for sustainable development and enduring happiness, i.e. love must be shared, not hoarded. It is then and only then that the dark rage currently ravaging the nation can be defeated and annihilated by the light of love in the intricate dialectics of contrasting and contradictory dualities in our phenomenal world. But the redemptive, regenerative vision of the poet is not merely nationalistic; it is also at once Afrocentric, pan- African and universal. Shadows of a Whisper contains ingeniously knitted nuggets of wisdom packaged into vivid epigrams, witty aphorisms and pungent paradoxes: “The earth is a jungle of wolves”; “Life is a fragile gift” (p.42); “In the moment of ripeness, all eggs bring life” (p.43); “Mankind is not kind at all”; “Scorpions and Snakes speak the dialect of poisonous bloom”; “The earth is home to savagery” (p.48); “Mankind, the king of beasts” (p.46), e.t.c.
The parting lesson for Nigeria is that patriotic as well as philanthropic love must spring from the soul and that is what we ought to own rather than cut-throat inter-regional, interethnic and inter-religious rivalry, bigotry and antipathy.