Zino Asalor reviews Descent & Other Poems
I approached this collection as I do every book of poetry – with combined exhilaration and apprehension. One hardly knows what to expect from an encounter in which faces are not seen, in which one must navigate on the strength of voices alone. Timothy Ogene’s, in these 21 poems, comes across as an admixture of certainty, sombreness, and longing. The opening poem, December, is a teaser of what readers may hope to encounter in this far ranging collection. His lines are spare, the images sharp and memorable.
“A river exiled from its state/Current curtailed at both terminals/ Rendered dry after much hammering/ In winter’s metal works.”
Readers who do not retreat are submerged. The experience is not unpleasant, particularly the baton exchanges that characterize the manoeuvring from the general to the particular in Erratic Notes Left on a Trail.
“Its arch beautifully humped,/And I’m reminded of lumps on cow back,/ The meaty spot a murderous blade/ Must be thrilled to hack.”
“Underneath the bridge the river ebbs/ And murmurs”
“A carpet of algae wraps the bridge,/ Draining its prehistoric strength,/ Probing its intestines with roots we wish we had.”
An undercurrent of longing and, sometimes, despair, runs through Ogene’s poems. One may call it a thread, linking them all.
“A tear is heavier than a severed leaf/ A sigh lighter than the crash of cymbals/ When asked my home address,/ I respond with a sigh,/And watch severed leaves land on dormant grounds.”
“I recoil between posts,/ My bed and I,/ As nothing here,/ In this novel patch,/ Equals the roast/ Of corncobs at home.”
Is the unspoken aspiration of poetry to speak truth and bridge lives? Ogene’s poems metamorphose into treasure maps, yielding familiar near-forgotten paths and, occasionally, uncharted in-roads. A favourite of mine is “Sub-surface Condition”:
“The shivers start,/ And I rattle like gongs/ In Ogume, the ancestral home/ I cannot reclaim, that’s now/ A farfetched note I pluck/ For effect.”
No doubt, there is Nigeria here. But there is also much more. There is every place this poet has ever been, and more still, one suspects,.
In the titular poem, Ogene inflicts upon us a traveller’s loneliness.
“In the confines of this coach,/We lose ourselves./ We die and come alive,/ Sniff ourselves, dissolve as the coach beeps,/As the doors fold/ And spit us into the cold void.”
Observing a passing fixation on another traveler one finds oneself confronted with the question: Aren’t we all travelers, ultimately?
Indeed it is the concluding image of “other” travelers that lies at the heart of this poem.
The placement of the “Displacement” and “Cassava” sparks interest, for their thematic concern with the romantic, the view rendered in retrospect, loss having already occurred.
The narrator declares in Displacement:
“I pinch my lobes for steps but hear thuds/ in the murky yonder,/
…Without you pillows are props for tears.”
One finds curious instances of metaphors bleeding between poems, images shared, repurposed, such as in the case of “An Experiment” and “Cassava”. Boy In Transition could very well be a prequel to Above A Post War Town.
By the end of the collection, I return to the opening poem, December. A line stands out: “There is beauty here, I say to myself…”
I could not agree more.
—Zino Asalor, poet and short story writer:
Zino Asalor’s stories have appeared recently in New Literati, The Missing Slate, Lampeter Review, Waxwing and Barcelona Review. A writer of fiction and poetry, he lives in Port-Harcourt, and is working on his first novel.