Poetry demands from the poet a heightened awareness of his surroundings and his inner self, a sharper and deeper sense of his situation.
Emman Usman Shehu shows again and again in THE RIVER NEVER RETURNS, this awareness of being, a deep immersion in the environment, a keen sensitivity to everyday things and events that the rest of us would normally ignore or forget. It is the poet within himself that inspires and guides us to put these in us
awareness, to encourage us to become aware of the new meanings of the things and events we face every day.
Shehu finds poetry in everyday situations and derives meaning from what other mortals would call mundane everyday occurrences. In Shehu the poet sees the beauty of ordinariness and captures the poetic rhythm in the simple monotony of life.
In “Slice,” the collection’s second entry, Shehu weaves the simple act of slicing an onion into the opening of a moving poem that brings tears to the eyes.
The poet’s inner eye sees beauty, rhyme, and rhythm in the ordinary, and captures and records them in time for all of us to embrace, hold, and enjoy. This is a gift of the spiritual and speaks of the deep thoughts and art of the works from which inspiration flows.
Shehu’s deceptively simple line draws and records life’s many experiences and vicissitudes is a gift, a skill that suggests a willingness and ability to meet life’s many turns and come out bruised or laughing. All experiences are accepted and are gifts that life promises.
“Reflection” goes deeper to analyze the oppression of the time. It reminds us of the roads not taken and the choices made over time. This is for me, the true reflection of our passage in this area. Life is fleeting and fleeting and the choices we make along the way ultimately define who we will be with our “thousand furry memories.”
In “Double Empty,” Shehu examines the poverty that stems from widowhood in our society, a painful cultural indicator of the heartlessness of our culture. A widow is not only left broken by the loss of a husband and a provider, she is also broken by a society that sends her without an inheritance. The poet captures in a few lines the cultural issue that has attracted so much anguish and bitterness and remains unresolved in our society today.
In the poem “The Earth Knows,” Shehu explores the unresolved conflict of predestination, the futility of human effort to change the course of the earth, and the inevitable passage of time. We are a product of the earth after all and in time we will end up in its bowels. The earth knows that.
“The earth already knows that it will swallow up all that source.”
This theme is continued and strengthened in the poem entitled “The river does not return”. The inevitability of the conquest of nature, in general. Nature never reverses its course, like the river, its power and greatness even in its simplicity overcomes everything that stands in its way. The river never returns, the will of nature must be obeyed and nature like a river flows patiently and inevitably to its fulfillment in eternity, the vast, open and endless sea.
By far the most evocative poem of all is, of course, “When the Little Man Spoke.” Kenule Saro Wiwa is a moving eulogy from the pipe-smoking writer and activist for human and environmental rights in the Niger Delta. This tear-jerking poem by Emman Usman Shehu brings into bold relief the life and times of Ken, the bold and timeless strokes of creative writing and the struggle for the fair treatment of his people that led to and ended his death. Shehu captures it all in this evocative poem, drawing tears from the words, a reminder of promises made and unfulfilled and the unforgettable injustice of it all.
He was not speaking only for himself when he saw the nets raised from barren rivers withered plants in a once fertile land”
This is Shehu’s fourth publication in poetry, each an improvement in depth and technique over the last.
Shehu has come a long way. From the campus’s leading playwright, something of a counterculture icon and a man who left so many more rewarding lifelong opportunities in the arts, it’s an offering to give the world a muse.
Basil Okoh is a writer, editor and media consultant.
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