Meaning Is a Kobo Coin
An Interpretation of Clinton Durueke’s “Eureka”
This is what the reader of poetry thinks as they pore over the words of a poem-what does this mean? Why is this word that naturally means one thing displaced to mean something else in the stanzas of this poem? Why do I sense more than one meaning? Which of these meanings is correct? Quite unfortunately, this review does not answer all these questions as meaning often does evade every reader.
The meaning of the poems in Clinton Durueke’s “Eureka” presents itself as a coin; the head and tail both serving as true interpretations of the work. Since every idea in the poem is presented simply, in narrative style, the reader cannot help but suspect a double entendre, that there is, in fact, meaning that they’ve not taken away. To begin, the Greek title ‘eureka’ tricks the reader into expecting a collection of poems about discovery, a breakthrough or a moment of knowledge.
I have found it! What was found? Isn’t searching done only when things are lost? What was
Since recovery only results from loss, the title in itself is paradoxical. What the reader finds instead is loss, utter devastation and an unending search for the essence of life after one loses a loved one. The title may lead the reader to ask questions, or not. Clinton Durueke’s “Eureka”, on one side of the coin, may remain simply a poignant collection of 21 poems about grief, loss, the search for closure and the need to trudge on. However, when one concerns themselves with the harrowing events of 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic, the EndSARS protest and its aftermath, the Lekki Toll Gate Shootings and how near the narrations in poems in this collection are to these events, it is easy to choose this
interpretation as the determinate meaning of the collection. It is then this tail side that concerns itself with the political interpretation of this work that this review leans towards.
In Have You Found It?— the first of 21 poems in this collection, Durueke introduces the reader to the ‘plot’ of his anthology. His vehemently upset persona who is the voice of protest throughout the collection expresses regret and anger at a ”day of martial law”. ‘Martial law’ suggests the use of military force in an otherwise civil state therefore, the reader is not wrong to think of the killings of EndSARS protesters on 20th October, 2020 and Nigeria military’s involvement in it. To sustain the rage felt by the persona, the refrain “Cursed be this day of martial law” is repeated in three of the four stanzas of the poem. The persona rightly goes on to describe martial law as a “…storm that rages on like an angry judge,/Like an unhinged sadistic assassin, a wild dog/With no leash.”
Underlying the feeling of sadness and regret that permeates this poem and the rest of the anthology is the weakness and helplessness of the persona. Described as “children of the mansion, now orphans”, the persona is presented as having lost their protection. The persona is presented as weak and lost as to the senselessness of brutality. Noticeably, even the reader is included in this feeling of helplessness by the continued use of the pronouns, “we” and “us”.
For we have lost our essence, a sweet-smelling Savour.
A lot like J.P. Clark’s The Casualties, the poet insists that the victims of the brutality are not only those whose lives have been taken by it. Victims of the Lekki Toll Gate Shootings include those who survived, the families of the missing and the deceased and Nigerians traumatized by the news of the killings. These individuals, persona and the reader share in the guilt that follows loss.
Loss and grief are the integral concerns of this collection. The poems bemoan, first, the loss of perceived security. The persona’s “mansion” and “paradise”—metaphors for security—are reduced to “the stench of smoke and rubble” and they are left vulnerable. Coupled with sorrow is the survivor’s shame and disbelief at being vulnerable and unprotected. Again, when the reader considers the #EndSARS protester’s innocent belief in protection behind waving a national flag and the senseless killing that still followed, the events regaled by the poem are no longer unbelievable. Instead, what remains is relieved trauma.
…this visitor, draped in unknown colours,
Who creeped up on us with sweet-smelling savour
But flipped the tables in unprecedented havoc.
War descended on us with no prior warning,
But how could we prepare for war in paradise?
From the second poem, the reader follows the persona (and survivor) through stages of grief. Although grief is said to follow phases, the events in the preceding poem are so devastating that several emotions are packed into this one narration. In the first stanza of Clues, the persona switches from narration to retrospection. In what seems to be an action of thinking out loud, they voice the extent of their despair to the reader. Despair, they say, leaves the survivor “like bread unleavened” with “no yeast to rise with.” By this, the poem retains its distance and connection with the reader at the same time. Quite interestingly, the persona immediately resolves to seize sorrowing to now “face the war and find clues”.
In the same rollercoaster of emotions, the persona alludes to The Fates in the poem. The Fates in Greek mythology are believed to be vested with the responsibility of spinning threads to control length of life, love and destiny. When the persona says that “Destiny and Fate have dropped the needles”, they accept first that the happenings are done by the Fates. This builds their resolve to suspend belief in the spiritual, accept what has happened and move on.
Noticeably, this is the first instance of acceptance as a stage of grief in the poem. In a way, the persona by portrayal of a loss of hope in spirituality tries to seize control of the situation by themself. This is the first step to seeking closure—accepting that the deed is done and deciding to pick up what is left. This in itself is the survivor’s mechanism of coping with loss.
Sadly, this does not do away with the feeling of uncertainty about ever finding answers. This
uncertainty is portrayed using rhetorical questions.
Would it be reasonable to sift for clues,/As long as truth remains a recluse?/ Should discovery leave us enthused,/If the oracles raise shoulders and, for help, refuse? These questions persist in All That’s Left is Lightning and Whatever Lies Beyond Death, the fourth and seventeenth poems in the collection respectively.
But no one ever knows/Exactly when closure arrives,/How it looks or feels;/If indeed it arrives in all circumstances,/If indeed it would meet everyone before death does.
To sustain the narrative style of the poems in this collection, new personas are introduced. The “sheriffs”, perhaps symbols of unbiased bodies who took it upon themselves to investigate the extrajudicial killings of young Nigerians or simply young Nigerians resilient in unearthing truth about police brutality, are introduced. The sheriffs are vested with the responsibility of finding answers and clues to the reason behind the day of martial law and the loss of essence and time.
Oh, here they are. Have you found it, kind sheriffs?
Have you, by any chance, salvaged our essence?
All through the remaining part of the collection, the reader follows the sheriffs on their quest for the essence of life and time, truth and closure. In Midnight Laundry and Mansion of Horrors, Durueke foils the idea of protection Nigerians may have about their country by presenting this sense of security as bogus. The country is out to kill its young since it takes “thrice as many prisoners and dead bodies as those who were lucky to grasp salvation.” The poems show disillusionment with the Nigerian government’s refusal to take responsibility for the killings at the Toll Gate. In Wail Wail, Nightingale, feelings of sorrow and desolation heighten at the level of unreported crimes and extrajudicial killings unearthed during inquiries at panels and investigations into the nationwide issue of police brutality. The rude revelations cause the reader to question if indeed there is a “lucid end in sight” to “the heights of their sorrow.” And indeed, there is.
Can a letter survive a burst of Hellish flames?
Could it be more indestructible
Than the very mansion?
The collection reaches its climax when in Forever Yours, Live in Ibiza, a letter is found. The letter’s preservation despite the destruction of the mansion suggests invincibility. Simply, truth will never die. “The Instigator” and writer of the letter is described as one who “saved our heritage by reducing it to ash”. Again, from the tone of the letter, it is telling that they have fled for safety. If the Nigerian reader upon musing remembers several attempts by the Nigerian government to denounce the live Instagram recordings at the Lekki Toll Gate as false, the reader may connect the indestructibility of digital recordings and the part it played in ensuring justice for those in the shootings. Considering once again the distant tone of the Instigastor’s letter, this poem may read as an ode to DJ Switch.
Finally, Debris sees the resolution of the conflict in this collection. At this point, the mood is zen yet expectant. The reader understands the tone of finality—although the country will never be the same again, its children must move on. From the poem, it is obvious that there’s no choice other than surviving and trudging on. In searching for answers, the survivor only unearths more. The resolution, therefore, is to move on.
Before, it would have been revelling and debauchery.
But that is no more,
And the Country must move on.
Up until this point, Durueke maintains perfectly an intimate and evocative conversation between persona and reader by the use of the narrative style (like Dennis Brutus’s Letters to Martha). This he achieves by an unbroken flow of narration. As the reader will notice, the last line of a preceding poem is usually answered by the first line or even the title of the succeeding poem. For instance, No Loose Ends ends with the lines, “Everywhere is deafening, but it is also a silent night;/A night of endless parallels that lead to nowhere.”
Immediately the reader reads the title of the next poem, All That’s Left Is Lightning, they know that the narration simply continues. This pattern is replicated throughout the collection and shows a mastery of language in heightening the beauty of poetry.
Again, in the poem, Durueke shows his mastery of subtleties. His Poco A Poc-alypse not only suggests that closure will be found albeit slowly, it heralds the resolution of the conflict in the poem, as well as the end of the entire collection. By hinting and not telling outrightly, the reader can only make guesses until they are confronted by the truth in poems that follow.
Reading this collection then must be done actively. Meaning in Clinton Durueke’s “Eureka” may present itself at many levels to its reader. However, what the politically-inclined Nigerian reader may consider the interpretation of the collection is what is highlighted in this essay.