A review of a beautiful work of art like Waterman would not be complete without taking us back to our first meeting with Echezona in our September 2016 SePOETember Feature after listening to his ‘Listen’ and ‘Where The Road Leads’ poetry films. One can tell how important Eche values his space and how silence must have been instrumental to creating this beautiful collection.
“ I love the silence of my room. I need that silence to pay attention to the voices in my head. In addition, I sometimes go out all alone to give myself a good treat, especially after a long period of writing, or to celebrate the acceptance of my work in a journal I admire, or after a successful execution of a major project. However, this does not mean that I am a complete loner. No. I have a few friends who are also very busy people. So we get to meet once in a while to hang out and discuss music, literature, academia, and politics over soft background music and good booze.”
The author bears the name Omenyi as a sobriquet which is the short form for Omenyiliora, which literally translates to “the exceptional”, or “the extraordinary one” in the Igbo language. For inspiration, Eche always goes back to Christopher Okigbo’s “Labyrinths”, Audre Lorde’s “The Black Unicorn”, Afam Akeh’s “Letter Home & Biafran Nights”, Ladan Osman’s “The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony”, Collected Poems of Derek Walcott, and of course, all works of Pablo Neruda. His brand of poetry is freedom as he tries to communicate sublimity and show that poetry is transcendental. In Waterman, he explores recurrent themes on love, death, music, racism, identity and music which is not too different from themes on bad governance, severe socio-cultural issues, and rhymes which one could see in his earlier work.
Waterman is a collector’s item for artists as one can see through the author’s creative process especially where the collection opens with a child’s “busy hands, unpacking toys, building cars” in “The Child” . We see the poet get into an introspective mode about his childhood, walking us through the innocence of that period and how it ties into the core of our humanity even as adults. By ‘no speed limits to keep the flight of dreams in check’, it gives the reader a time to reflect and meditate on the brevity of life. In NGO , ‘Africa is in the news as bloated bellies and sunken eyes’ is a good place to start the conversation around “the white saviour complex” which Teju Cole defines as someone who, ‘supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening’. There’s something about the modus operandi of NGOs especially those of Western origin that evokes an aura of suspicion and falsehoods peddled to gullible donors and the media. With social media helping to further perpetuate the false narrative of Africa being a beggar colony with no ‘clean water’, one wonders if and when ‘saviors in SUVs’ will learn to do better by their constituency – Africa’s children.
“The TV Show Host” is a timely poem as Nigeria goes to the polls in 2023 and America where the poet resides having undergone midterm elections across its 50 states as it addresses the sometimes complicated relationship between the truth, politicians, the electorate and the press. ‘Upon resumption, he drives the debate to less murky waters, tricking nobody but himself’ drives home the point that no matter how far we run away from addressing grave issues of concern to us as an electorate and as a people, it has a way of creeping up on us in the future.
In ‘Mahler 1 & 2’, we see the petrol station attendant’s character struggling with his African identity as he sees himself stuck in the reality of living in America. As we read along – ‘talks about a Kenyan friend who designs machines’, one begins to wonder why he’s somewhat pandering to the West even though he’s sufficiently knowledgeable about his African identity to change the narrative of the West about who and what the continent stands for. This is very true as even in 2022, the typical African and precisely Nigerian would rather travel to cultivate a Western accent than be proud of his mother tongue.
‘Proscriptions’ tackles the menace of fake news as it warns that society will be punished ‘for spreading anxieties like rumors unchecked’ if it isn’t nipped in the bud and then all that will be left is everyone ‘under pressure to reset itself’ like ‘an old clock’. Finally, the opioid crisis and by extension drug addiction is one issue that continues to plague society even in 2022 as we see in ‘He Bought His Death On Credit’ and it doesn’t end with the dead who die on their terms but the inconsolable loss they leave behind for families and friends.
Most of these poems have a tapestry that leaves the reader wanting more because of how beautifully woven it is into everyday life thus making sure the various messages in the poems are conveyed to the reader in direct but deep meanings. Waterman is gripping, timely and one for the books as Echezonachukwu’s expertise and vulnerability shines through every line of each poem. At this rate, one can only look forward to his next work which we are sure will knock out the pack like a ‘graceful dance to the rhythm of drums’.