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BOOK: The Poet of ust
Author: Umar Abubakar Sidi
Publisher: Konya Shamsrumi , Nigeria
Date Published: 2019
Reviewer: Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy

The search for understanding is what aptly defines Umar Abubakar Sidi’s The Poet of Dust. The poet uses poetry to interrogate the fundamental questions of life; questions which most of us are afraid to ask because we fear that we may find no satisfying answers. Umar Abubakar Sidi’s did not set out to answer all these questions, however, and neither does he pretend to answer them. What he does excellently is that he leaves us enchanted with the way he asks these serious existential questions in his verse, and how he employs rhetorical questions to bare his thoughts on them. In The Poet of Dust, we do not just meet a poet; we also meet a profound thinker employing stunningly beautiful language to regale us with his thoughts. In The Poet of Dust, we see the poet’s attempts to grasp the world he lives in alongside his existence as a poet and it is very well done.

The collection is divided into two parts: The Poet of Sand and Poetic Manifesto. In the first part, we meet the poet in “The Peninsula of Poets”, seemingly floating into an imagined and dreamlike peninsula where he meets with great poets as Martins Espada, Darwish, Adonis, Simic, Billy Collins, etc., and to them he comes with a burning need to understand poetry. Actually, here, the poet is revealing his range of influences to us, he indirectly shows us his journey into “poethood” by telling us his experience and the role played by each of these poetic greats on his eventual emergence as a poet. For example, he says:

BILLY Collins was the very last I met
He tied me to a chair and tortured

A confession out of me:

     What is P?
     When is P seen as P?
     Who made P P?
     Why is P considered to be P?

When I was leaving, he consoled me with a gift
An apple that astonishes: Good Poetry, he said, is a chick
A voluptuous curvy, sexy chick, with protruding breasts
Heavy backside, an enormous clit
And a never ending quest to go more and more (10)

The need to comprehend poetry soon metamorphoses into a need to understand who or what a poet is, or ought to be. The definitions here do not stray too far from neurosis as we come to understand that a poet may be “a mad man drunk with lust”, “a little tipsy thing”, and “a holy fool.”

We meet the poet still perambulating this peninsular in the second poem (“The Peninsula of Poets II”) and still very much preoccupied with the need to understand who or what a poet should be. He meets Laikhur who gets him drunk and it is in his drunken state that he receives the revelation of what a poet is. Using a dominant style of couplets punctuated with a line of onomatopoeic sounds to achieve rhythmic beats, we are confronted with the revelation that a poet is the seemingly mad, but wise man.

A poet dreams through wakefulness
     A poet walks & sings through dreams

Hush Hush Hash Hash

A poet is the craze-man of the stars
     A poet is the grand lunatic of hell Hush

Hush Hash Hash

A poet is a fat snobbish pig rolling
     Through the dirty mud of life

Hush Hush Hash Hash

A poet is Confucius, Buddha, Basho, Judas,
     Simon, Peter & Lao Tsu

Hush Hush Hash Hash

A poet is iron-clad rage reverberating
     Through the earth’s four corners

Hush Hush Hash Hash

A poet is a barrel of wine, a staggering crippled
      Sleep-laden alcoholic, master of the
      Tavern of Life

Hush Hush Hash Hash

A poet is Shaman, Babalawo, Sangoma, Boka
      Seer, Healer, mental-patient, a penetrating eye
      Through the dark regions of Night

Hush Hush Hash Hash (14-17)

Interestingly, even the meaningless sounds used to call rhythm into the lines of the poem seem to emphasize the neurosis which the poet presumes to be the defining point of a poet. Umar Abubakar Sidi seems to be telling us that that there exists a thin line between poetry and insanity, and they may be somehow connected. Indeed, poetry gifts the poet the ability of profound thoughts and men with profound thoughts are often thought of as roaming on the threshold of insanity. Plato (albeit definitely not a poet)is a relevant example here.

“Instructions to a Poet” dishes a full plate of advice to poets on the need to compose beauteous poetry that glorify God, and that can be put in the service of humanity.

Poet. Create. Make poetry
That will break the rules of grammar
& cripple the orders of syntax. Make poetry
That will throw shackled chains on metaphor
Torture & condemn it to a life sentence In the impenetrable
Dungeon of Words

Poet. Sketch. Paint. Make poetry
That will be read by the blind. Poetry
That will be heard by the deaf and dumb. Poetry that will stir passion
In schizophrenics, lunatics, mental patients Poetry that will loosen their metal manacles
Make them run into the street
Jump into the sky, laugh & scream for Joy (21-2)

The next poem, “Testament of Sand” is a fairly long one, and it is here; and in the poem which follows, that the writer’s brilliance and profound thinking is elaborately displayed. In “Testament of Sand,” we see the poet trying to grapple with questions tied to creation and existence. The poem can be divided into two parts. In the first part, the poet introduces a character (Al-Arshad—poet of sand) in a manner reminiscent of praise singing, but which is actually targeted at defining this character to the reader, while in the second part, the poet moves towards interrogating Al-Arshad on creation and existence.

From the descriptions given, Al-Arshad is no other than Lucifer, a foremost angel who fell from grace to grass, and later known as Satan. Sidi would not be the first to describe Lucifer in a manner akin to praise singing as John Milton did something similar in the first part of his epic poem, Paradise Lost. What John Milton did not, however, do was to have a monologue with this fallen angel. Using apostrophe and rhetorical questions, the poet-persona throws unanswered questions related to creation and existence at Al-Arshad, since he (Al-Arshad) must have witnessed it all.

The questions on creation and existence soon graduate to that of mortality in “Deuteronomy or Book of Dust” where the persona continues to interrogate Al-Arshad on the concept of death. The persona soon concludes that death was birthed same time as life: “in the beginning was DUST, DUST was with GOD and DUST was GOD” (38).

The second part of the collection is titled “Poetic Manifesto”. In a short poetic essay titled “In Lieu of a Preface,” the poet explains his projection for poetry in years to come (2045 precisely). He envisions a gathering of poets who will issue a manifesto demanding that poets use poetry in the service of humanity, poems that will fight against mendacity, inspire political and scientific-cum-technological revolution, antagonize religious intolerance and its propagators, celebrate heroes of freedom, engender good leadership, expose poetasters, permeate into all spheres of life, move everyone emotionally, poems that will venerate those who stood and spoke for good poetry (a reference perhaps to a friend of the poet, Femi Morgan).

We have seen the poet’s handling of universal themes in the first part, here we meet him dealing with societal issues such as terrorism, racial and religious intolerance, irresponsible political leaders, and the tendency to breed hate and lead people astray on the part of religious leaders. Without further ado, let’s go see the poems.

“This is not a Poem This is not a Prayer” is my favourite of Sidi’s poems in this collection. It deals with the inability of the poet to compose poetry because he is shocked by an experience of suicide bombing. He says:

Today, the machinery of the poet is scuttled
No ambivalent metaphors.
No silent birds
Whistling delicious melodies to the hearing of the poet,
No magic mirrors reflect images of dancing maidens
Nor storytelling blue parrots in royal chambers
Pillared on chrysanthemum, porphyry and jade,
No Shakespearean hammers for beating
Recalcitrant quatrains into submission,
No more polish to shine the dull surface
Of newly crafted verse

Today, the poet cannot sing,
A self-appointed
Soldier of God
And his vest of bomb has just
Detonated in his box of voice (47)

It is instructive to note that Nigeria, a West African country and most populated country in Africa, has suffered the continual onslaught of the Boko-Haram terrorist group. This terrorism is inspired by extremism and preachers of hate. Sidi’s takes the fight to these hate preachers and calls imprecations upon them in this poem, he calls on God to:


Strike the evil preacher and his dogs
Destroy the camp of carnage, demolish the forest of flames (48)

The poet’s anger is not only directed at the evil preachers. He blames the political leaders who have been unable to halt the attacks. He calls out the political leaders for being irresponsible and insensitive to the plight of their people. For those who sing the song of peace and love and shun ethnicity, the poet asks for the conservation of their lives:

Conserve the shepherds,
Professors of Truth
Who declare:
Identity is Fiction
Ethnicity is Fable
All is One
All descended from the adamic line
Or from the loins of australopithecus afarensis (49)

He calls on God to act by striking these anathemas of the society else people will do it themselves. I find this poem quite interesting due to its use of imagery, pun, and alliteration to convey its ideals.

The next poem, “Soul Song or South African Knows,” takes us back in time to the apartheid era in South African and the poems seems to emphasise that once a poet knows what love means, it will be hard to teach him hatred. This, essentially, is the philosophy of Dennis Brutus and Nelson Mandela who preached and yearned for a racially blind South Africa.

With Sidi, negative or bad has the semblance of positive or good. His perception of bad seems to have a glaring ironical twist to it that may puzzle an observer who is not careful enough (this manner of expression is also very present in the lingual of youthful social classes). We experience this in the next poem in this anthology; “Things Poets Do”. Here the poet gives us of how good poets should write, approach, and view poetry although he ironically qualifies them as “Bad poets.”

In “The Veiled Secrets of Kama Sutra or the Way a Certain Poet Interprets the Surrealist Manifesto at Night,” we meet a persona who  abandons all intellectual yearnings to engage in sexual acts which proves the controlling and overbearing nature of love on man.

In the last poem titled “Poetry in the Republic of Love or A Goddamn Poem about Goddamn things & Similes Vomited by a Motherfucking Goddamn Bard,” the poet calls upon several images in describing his love for his lover. These images are mostly salacious, and sometimes even negative. But as we all must have known by now, Sidi thrives in employing negativity to express positivity.

Umar Abubakar Sidi is most certainly not your everyday Nigerian poet for he has not only shown his dexterity, he has also shown a propensity for profound thoughts by tackling universal subject. I like his style of poetry, and appreciate his penchant for diction (except the salacious ones of coursewhere he seems to begiving the ‘middle finger’). His uncommonness as a Nigerian poet stems from his adoption of salacious lingual cum innuendos and imageries in discussing and analysing serious issues. A scatological study of the work will surely leave the analyst with enough material to work on.

It is quite evident that the poet is well-read for aside from featuring names of great poets in his poems, his language also makesclear a long period of traversing in Islamic, Judeo-Christian, and philosophical spheres, which his writing profits from immensely. I noticed his inability to control his lines in certain instances where he allowed himself a forgetful basking in the poetic aura. However, this does not do much damage to his poems, neither do they hinder understanding. These can be understood as quirks, for who truly is more human than a poet?  I comprehend the poet’s yearning to break tradition, but he must thread softly so as not to bastardise the art of poetry. We could surely make do with less prosaic lines and bombast. Also, I would advise the poet to stick to single and striking titles, rather than reflecting confusion by using double titles for his poems.

Umar Abubakar Sidi’s The Poet of Dust is a collection I think will pass the test of time as most of its poems are tied to universal themes rather than epochal or societal related themes. Here we meet a young bard attempts to understand questions related to poetry, existence, creation, and of course dust (death). May this stunning collection be a rite de passage for this poet, the world cannot wait to see what he turns his erudition and abilities to next.

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