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BOOK REVIEW OF ‘A BRIEF HISTORY OF JULY’, BY NKET GODWIN

I would like to start with Tessa Roynon’s statement in her Cambridge Introduction to Toni Morrison, that “the aim of this […] is to provide one way into and one path through that world”—the world of Tares’s poetry, and not necessarily a working or reworking of his poetry, at least, not here.

In Tares Oburumu’s poetry, every poem opens through a kaleidoscope of epiphany, even when it is an ode, even when it is an elegy. It’s a poetry of consciousness, demanding conscious reading, beyond the sylvan portraiture of language in the narration: it imbues one with a sense of familiarity, as well as unfamiliarity, which impels lingering adjudication. As one’s familiar thirst can’t be easily slaked by the taste of the first line (or the first poem), one is often compelled to read on—even so, the language intertwines: metaphors/symbols throw one’s imagination about. But that’s where its beauty lies: where “water” becomes the symbolic fluidity of itself, assuming multifolds of meanings: struggle, dream, life, Tares’s poetitude of revival and survival, et cetera.

Click here to download ‘a brief history of july’, by Tares Oburumu.

a brief history of july, is a collection with which Tares sets the sail for a voyage of memory. The “I”, “you” “we” and “us”, which imbue the poems with a sense of an overarching autobiography, are deliberate stamps of typical Tares’s poetry. They are peculiar to other poets, especially contemporary poetry, steeped in psychic swirl, in Freudian archetype, poetry of pond-ful of grief, poetry of angst. In such poetry, the “I” may be symbolic… But in a collection whose spatial reflections (as in “i was born in a field floating on water”) are those of the poet—“Ara”, “rowing”, “brackish water”, “bracuda”, and the peculiar flow of “water”, “sea” and “river”, as evocations of certain nostalgia—it becomes both a landmark towards the personal as well as the peculiarity of the history recounted of July.

under the sheets

The poems are of love, family, lost, dreams, happiness, heartbreaks, nuptial bliss and its recession; they are poems of selves: struggles. One centering chain in the wheel of thought is the sense of bildungsroman. As a collection that reads like a bildungsroman, the sense in “there’s no end to this july; place-name of my birth” is a deliberate reinforcement. Also, we read: “where the little lamps i bend over book are the stars that brighten the night you held the love He offered you as tares with both hands”, the use of “tares” being a pun intended to glimpse at the circumstances surrounding not only the persona’s birth but the reality which ensued between the persona and his father after his birth, whom he says “we do not miss you”/rather “the love in rowing the boat which you took away with you” is what they miss. His mother (his dear love, his struggle mate, one who plants celestial hands of dream above his head) also has a fair share of conjugal alteration.

A Brief History of July
A Brief History of July

Click here to download ‘a brief history of july’, by Tares Oburumu.

The poet’s childhood is not a rosy one, has never been a rosy one, even while he grows up. Even so, his relationship has not been a rosy one. He struggles for the plants to be green just to keep his raft equipoised on the tide of his nostalgic July. But even as he and his mother are trapped in the tide of dreaming/struggling, “you are wet with swimming/as i am with rowing” is a reflection of how one’s reality tints the other’s. Hence, in another poem, “the dropout”, he writes:

                this is a world not of this world: the child      wearing blue shorts

                 to keep the sky in his blue eyes white.      waiting for heaven.

                hope is the bridge between craft & dream.     we all, like shoot,

                grow towards sunlight.

What the persona lingers for is “heaven”, a place of solace. This is only found in his poetitude (not the immediate attitude of life) to keep his hope alive, for he has chosen “a world not of this world”, the seeming-unusualness in chosen to write just to see heaven, to “grow towards sunlight” someday is paramount, hence, “hope is the bridge between craft and dream”—the craft is a roof over dream. This is why in the poem “fishing – 1997”, dedicated to Dan, the poet reiterates the significance of choosing to be a poet just to find a sort of life that could easily proffer a pulley to the rigours of living that surround his existence. He writes:

                     i know the boy in me has finally become a father & fisherman,

                     who will someday turn the dorsal fin of a fish to pen, the pen

                      to a dorsal fin, & write out the salty history of the sea.

His life has become a sea filled with nothing but salty history. But to admit that salinity is one of the lineaments of the sea is to equally admit (such as the poet wants to once again familiarize us) that that life is a sea also means saltiness is an integral part of the sea. Howbeit, one just learns (however hard and rigorous it may appear) to filter the salinity of one’s sea. His is turning the fin of a fish to pen and write the salt of his sea away.

It is important to once again highlight that in the midst of the sorrow and grief-imbued narrative, the need for the determination to keep one’s boat afloat the water is still necessary, before, as Toni Morrison says, “someone leans near/and see the salt your eyes have shed”. But Tares wants us to “lean near” and have a taste of the salt his life has been, however, as a father who has struggled against “a boat swells with loneliness”, against the pelagic heart of his sea of affairs, one who survives against “touch(ing) you where absence torches you/on the fifth page as spent as loneliness”, one whose dreams, although swerved on wavy ledge of his sea, still rows towards the coast.

Also Read: Ozoemena: History waiting to be Harnessed

a brief history of july is a chapbook in which Tares does not intend to recount the watermarked history of moments in his life. Rather, as he illustrates in one of his poems, first music – a note full of water, (not contained in this chapbook), even this collection revalidates the statement, “the boats i rowed the slow child i was/to what i have become/are shaped like memories”. Hence, he, rather, wants us to see his poetry (through the lens of such memories) as one in which survival is a maxim, not the history that informs the zest for it. For him: “that way we survive best because/scars too comport themselves with the light/that slips in & out of the night like the stars”. Our survival should come from them, not the setbacks they uplift.

-Review by Nket Godwin, poet, critic, essayist, Port Harcourt

a brief history of july
a brief history of july

Click here to download ‘a brief history of july’, by Tares Oburumu.

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