The poet Amatoritsero Ede is a diviner and a brooding, sometimes angry one at that. Cast adrift in the materialistic spirit-free wastelands of the Western world he roams free in solo brainy protest. In the antiseptic hallways of shopping malls, and roaming long stretches of highways built to last umpteen injustices, he often stops to jot down furtive reminders of his exilic condition. The result is trapped in a slim pretty book of poetry: Globetrotter and Hitler's Children, published by Black Goat, a subsidiary of Akashic Books founded by the Nigerian author Chris Abani. First things first, major kudos to Chris Abani: From a production stand point, this book is an impressive job. It is a gorgeous ode to an elegant production, elevating the use of starkness and sparseness to beautiful, tasteful art. It is carefully edited, brooking no compromise whatsoever in quality. This is how books should be published. It is elegant but yet sturdy. Unlike most books I have been reading lately, especially those "published" in Nigeria, this one did not dissolve in my hands. This was not a book hastily slapped together with food glue.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Globetrotter and Hitler's Children for many reasons and I heartily recommend it. It is an intriguing window into the soul of an eclectic thinker who is struggling mightily to marry two views of poetry â€“ of the traditional, perhaps overly romanticized, and the contemporary, perhaps, too easily dismissed. Ede has made no secret of his contempt for much of what passes for poetry these days. He has garnered a reputation among respectable connoisseurs of the art as a finicky poet largely because his uncompromising ideals in terms of what he believes should be true poetry. Ede is fond of arguing that today's poet should strive for a happy medium between the traditional and the contemporary and he has admonished the poet to find an appropriate niche compatible, with, and useful to his or her own talents within the provisions of tradition and then, hopefully, progress from there.
The book evocatively illuminates the poet's struggles â€“ with life and what should be poetry. It is divided into two sections: Globetrotters and Hitler's Children. With the first section, Globetrotters, Ede is at his best and it is infinitely worth more than the price of the book. Starting with the first page, this is poetry at its most accessible and it showcases a master wordsmith at the peak of his craft. The poetry, ah, the poetry. The prettiest page is the first page: "Toronto/Amsterdam/ adrift at sea/ it breathes the open atlantic/ where lines and angles blur/ and bend into mist/ Toronto is Prague/ without her anchoring of/ narrow streets narrow sky/ and/ virgin-tight apartment blocks/ it is London long-jumping/ her imperial shadows/ Trafalgar-ing into space." (p17) Tight and nice. Poetry doesn't get much better than this. But in Ede's world, it thankfully does: "amongst the ruin and jazz/ of the old distillery/ young Toronto/ stops outside of troy/ in full teenage glare/ hair streaked with lightening/ because a girl smells betterâ€¦/ she brushes a suitor's kiss/ and the sun off her thundering skin." (p22) Scrumptious.
The writing life for the sensitive immigrant of color can be tricky and frustrating. Self-absorption is a common affliction. Memories of Africa tend to burden the immigrant. There is an overabundance of documentation of the immigrant forcing life through the shattered lenses of (forced) exile. In Ede's book, especially in the Globetrotter section, Africa's memories are not needy; they do not swamp the poet's sensitivities. In Globetrotters, Ede plumbs every nook and cranny of Canada with his razor sharp muse-eye. The result is brilliant, well, mostly. To the uninitiated, there are some puzzling lines that seemed grafted into meaning, like variations of red hot angst bleeding out of the reddened wayes of torture, and toil. Regardless, the reader's heart melts with compassion at a life unraveling deep within the cold mystery of a riddle-journey: "Tears long as a calendar year/ and look where the street car has left a scar/ in the brush flower/ as it goes berlin-ing around queens avenue.(p19)
The poetry fills the reader's imagination with wonder; sin-rich opportunities lurk everywhere and the mind makes endless phallic trips: "What does the endless/north american sky/ reveal/ like those sex workers/ in amsterdam's love quarters/ she says simply/ I am wide open." (p20) Yet wide vistas of opportunity narrow into tight-slit perspectives of reality and real despair: "So the street car becomes a train/ in slow phallic rush on laan van meerdervoort/in the hague/ flirting foolishly with the horizon/ the red light flashes /where there are no red-light districts." (p20)
The section Globetrotter ends up being one long delightful poem, a gorgeous bouquet of pretty words arranged lovingly to produce a gently bubbling brook of immense depth: "here/you may turn the other cheek/ amongst your treeing laugh/many-timbered/ and not be impaled/ by hate's spiked planks/ but only redistribute air/ lung it up larynx/ air/ streaming over tongue/ mirth-warmed to expand/ lumber up and down/ your tree-trunk torso/ till you shake limb/ after trembling limbâ€¦ "(p33)
In Globetrotter, Ede uses delightful turns of phrases to unearth poetic gems. There are all these interesting and clever plays on words that flirt with the danger of imagined things. Globetrotter is a fresh poem, fresh as sizzling hissing fresh-baked bread. Perceptive. Nice.
It would be exciting to set Globetrotter to a visual presentation on video with a voice-over â€“ a warm voice caressing all the places Ede's spirit has been because in those places "where all colours meet/ a rainbow democracy signals spring/â€¦as spring-spruced statues sparkle/ what green leaves and trees do too/ happy as the woodworm is happy." (p23) That would be nice.
If the section Globetrotter represents the accessible and contemporary, the second section Hitler's Children represents the traditional and aloof, daring mere mortals to even look its way. The title Hitler's Children does the poem an injustice of sorts. In a sense it does not tell the story that it promises. Unlike Globetrotter which is one long series of movements, Hitler's Children is a series of unrelated poems. The poems in this section are not all about Germany. They veer and wander all over the place in minds and hearts where Germany is a skin head's footnote. The burden of the section seems lost in the opacity of self-absorption and in the dawning reality that several of the poems were written at several intervals long apart with little defining or uniting them. Perhaps the title of the second section should have tamped the expectation of a coherent thread. Take the poem The Skinhead's Lord's Prayer. It is an impish play on The Lord's Prayer; however it misses by a wide margin a desired irreverence and dissolves into giggly clichÃ©s. It does however make for an interesting conversation piece, trying to decode the nexus between the Lord's Prayer and Ede's Germany. Their Lord is probably not amused. Not that Ede cares. Almost juvenile in delivery, Ede comes across as a petulant guest throwing rocks at Germany's dark issues. In the poem, Not in Love, troubling is the imagery: behold the national prick at half mast/ at the international fuck exchange/ rape is amerieuropean. (p63) Is this vision, narcissism, or self absorption? This is a one-man Intifada against a Nazi Goliath but these are mostly inchoate lines birthed from poorly suppressed rage. The discipline of the first section Globetrotters gives way to a routine slapdash compilation of unrelated stanzas. And Ede's poetry yields to an undisciplined militancy. Beautiful images still escape the chaos: all our folk songs/ ungathered/ like a beautiful note/ strangled in the beak/ of a singing countryâ€¦ (p64) And the poem Anike is quite simply delicious in the way it shows off Ede's gifts: "and at night/when she finally explodes/ you shall have ashes in your mouth/ fire on your tail/ earth shall tremble/ as the volcano coughs. (p97)
Ede is preoccupied by the ceaseless and restless movement of people. Excitement is the child's allotment/ when ships throw down rusted anchor/ at Lagos/ that old colonial portâ€¦/when boat and Eagle spread rag-sail/ summon wind flutter and fly/ on the prow of a baleful river. (p103) Upon reading those lines, the reader ponders the theme or notion of exile in the age of Facebook. When were these lines born? Why does it matter? How is the world of today's exile different from that of Wole Soyinka? Why does it matter? Should good poetry not withstand the test of time? Time will tell if what the reader sees in some of Ede's verse is the shelf life radiating past tense. Regardless, Ede is a brilliant seer who refuses to be left behind at the train station waiting for that ride backwards to claps of thunder.
Ede is a diviner and sometimes not everything that comes out of him makes sense to the supplicant gazing at the cowries: Listen to this: Unkind cut!/ stained is the day/ the blood-spattered hour/ when the night-trapped Mare/ staggers/ into jet-fuel light/ in its canter/ an age of lightnings and enlightenment/ Kant's light so bright/ it blinded him to a vision/ where nightmares Kant-er/ after the enlightenment/Kant cannot. (p89) It is haunting, pretty and delicate like lace, but like some of Christopher Okigbo's elegant pieces, it is almost impossible to make sense of it. But it is pretty and that is enough for me.
I must say that the book as a medium of expression does a huge injustice to Ede's vision, prodigy and industry. I say to the poet, go to YouTube, the mother of true convergence. Ede experiments vigorously with the spatial placement of words on paper. The idea, it seems is to make the words leap out of paper, hurling meaning at the reader. I am not sure he is successful. The arrangement of words all over the place on a one-dimensional canvas is remarkable only in its determined deliberateness. Why are all these words all over the place? In some instances, the words lay prostrate shell-shocked on white paper like bombed out war planes on a paper tarmac looking askance at their owner's command to fly, just fly. This is an experiment best suited to the robustness of a three dimensional medium. Ede needs YouTube and a voice-over.
In Hitler's Children, some of the poems are merely eclectic. The mind wanders and wondersâ€“ images of unrelated anxieties bleed into the memories of the promise of the rendering producing mind-clutter. Some of the poems are inaccessible and the reader hurriedly skirts the clutter to shards of beauty. In Hitler's Children, Ede's thoughts often wander from Germany sometimes into somewhere even darker â€“ places populated with phalluses, blood, sex, and water. There is something about sex and water that fascinates Ede. Where Globetrotter is suffused with freshness, energy and vigor all over, Hitler's Children is a gathering of good poetry sharing space with undisciplined angst. We have Canada to thank for burying some of Ede's Germany-demons. It is a good thing that Hitler's Germany is tucked in the back of this pretty book. Canada is Ede's best foot forward and he shows it off regally in Globetrotter and assures the reader that this is an important read.