Monday, July 22, 2019
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Why We Are Where We Are (II) 

(In this second and last segment of Mwalimu George Ngwane’s review of Mathew Takwi’s‘Messing Manners’, he (Ngwane) continues to examinethe poet’s style and zeroes under the title of the review: ‘Why We Are Where We Are’).
Poems Of Praise

Though few in number, these poems highlight innate virtues and celebrate living or dead icons as if to draw the reader’s attention to what ought to be. He [Mathew paints a picture of role models who draw inspiration from what Bernard Fonlon says in Latin “corruptio optima pessima “ or “the corruption of the best is the worst”. The poet rebukes discrimination and hypocrisy by endearing the virtue of selflessness in the poem “Altruism” and the sharing or ubuntu spirit in the poem “Dining Shade”. In the poem “The Call” he invites us to emulate his role model Bishop Immanuel Bushu who, according to the author, “has gracefully grazed his word and deeds up the hills and down the valleys”; in “When his bell rang” the author devotes in both a dirge like an incantation manner the feat achieved by the late Bishop Pius Awah.
He moves from spiritual to secular icons as in the poem “Grass to Grace Gem” in which Pa Yong Francis “refused to be young in ideas and ventures” to “L’Ame Immortelle de Simon Nkwenti” ah! Simon, who I once described following his death as one in whose heart was entrenched the sterling qualities of a society’s spokesman; in whose soul was sown the grains of a People’s Advocate and in whose spirit was engraved the fighting splendor of a committed crusader. In the poem “When women decide” he celebrates women empowerment, female leadership and crafts a vision for female power that shall “sweep of men’s mean manners” and hopefully “men’s rugged floors would be smoothened”. In “Be a parent” he condemns male or husband irresponsibility by bringing to the fore responsible motherhood.
Yes, after going through the dark dungeon of messing manners, these icons shed light for future generation and provide a succor of hope for society. The debris of our messing manners shall be buried and be used as manure for the growth of blessing manners. The poet is not indifferent to nature as an integral element of our environment. With poems like “When the birds sing”, “Mother Moon”, “Of Water and Juice”, “Solid Water”, etc, the poet uses the device of personification to build an organic link between man and his environment as well as develop the reader’s critical, moral, cognitive and aesthetic awareness of his surroundings.
While, in his poems of protest, he acts like a housefly settling on the wounds of human frailty, in his poems of praise he acts like a butterfly settling on the beautiful flowers of human nature. Indeed, through these poems Mathew assumes the role of a poet-pedagogue on the pedestal of society.
One can safely call Mathew Takwi a puritan poet because the Bible provided a model for Puritan writing. Puritans saw direct connections between biblical events and their own lives. They used writings to explore their inner and outer lives for signs of the workings of God, and most of all, they favoured a plain style, clarity of expression and avoided complicated figures of speech. Like many poets, Mathew uses Inversion frequently to accommodate the demands of meter or rhyme and sound effects. Like Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac, Mathew’s use of aphorism “Light a candle”, “Build a home”, “Know your neighbor”, “Be a parent”, is done in order to create an assertive tone and mood in the mind of the reader. His use of alliteration like “fan shameless fanfare for feeding masters” or “they bark, bleak, meow and meander” creates onomatopoeia.
His use of conceit or extended metaphor like “God-sent angels you discarded to languish” or “while some bluff in elephantine Accounts in prestigious islands and cities, others admire in pious hope of picking up remnants and crumbs from deserved due,” makes us see connections between vastly different things in the world.
The poems are characterized by satire, personification and similes. Right from his first collection of poems “People, be not fooled”, Mathew decided not to eclipse his message through obscurantism. In a society where poor reading culture and intellectual laziness have become rich but expendable commodities; in a society where young people have allowed the unbridled obsession of all forms of social media to invade their book space; in a society where young people recite the names and salaries of footballers in European clubs more than names of characters in a single novel; in a society where young people find more time in cyber cafes rather than libraries selling imaginary chameleons to gullible white people; in a society where young ladies are busy watching Eurocentric TV soap operas and situation comedies while their fountain of inspiration and the ink in their blood (courtesy CharlyNdi Chia) runs dry; indulging in obscure writing can be both artistically irrelevant and financially suicidal.
Mathew’s stylistic wealth is drawn from his use of local colour in time, space and place as well as his poetic license to merge English language and French language in the same poem while, like Max SakoLyonga, painting cosmic and mundane realities on the same canvass with the same brush. In his poem “Of Poets and their Antagonists”, the Nigerian Booker Prize winner, Ben Okri, says “the poet turns the earth into mother; the sky becomes a shelter, the sun an inscrutable god and the pragmatists get irritated; they want the world to come with only one name, one form.” What makes the poems in “Messing Manners” easy to read is the use of run-on lines or enjambement which sometimes makes the poems look like prose on stanzas when they are indeed poetry on wheels. Some of the lines come straight and shocking like what NgugiwaThiongo defines as a writer using the barrel of a pen; some are sensuous and soothing like what MbellaSonneDipoko calls the use of art as a diplomatic weapon.
Because he mellows temper with tempo, because he merges shape with sound, because he combines memory with history, because he cushions utter revolt with evocative rhythm and because his writing character readily establishes a bonding chemistry between him and his reader anyone who knows Mathew the person can justifiably conclude of every writer that “You are what you write”.
In his poems of protest, where the seductive experiment in authoritarianism is becoming familiar in most African states, his outrage may not compel Mathew to like Wole Soyinka seize the radio; his frustration as an Anglo which Anglo Bate Besong describes as “one who now occupies the centre of hell” Mathew may not contemplate going to the battlefield like the poet Christopher Okigbo did during the Nigerian-Biafran war.
In his book, “Home and Exile”, Chinua Achebe says there are three reasons for becoming a writer. The first is that you have an overpowering urge to tell a story. The second is that you have intimations of a unique story waiting to come out. And the third, which you learn in the process of becoming a writer, is that you consider the whole project worth the considerable trouble. Like other Cameroonian writers before him and those of his generation, Mathew has responded to these reasons.
Why Are We Where We Are
Finally, why are we therefore where we are? We can summarise the poet’s work “Messing Manners “by saying that we are where we are because “men are still kissing men and women still fondle women”, we are where we are because as an Anglo “one cannot ride state horse but can only be an ox to be ridden”, we are where we are today because “people see no wrong in wrong but wrong the right”, we are where we are because someone once asked “Ou en sont les preuves?” Yes, we are where we are because “deformed faces of yesteryears’ supple body scare crows before nagging kids emerge and parade Lower House in macabre dance”.
But when women shall decide, when Our Lady shall call us and when each of us shall be transformed into a Noah, we shall all light a wholesome candle of faith for ourselves and for our society and the consequences shall be as the poet predicts in his last poem “Emerge” “our once sunken eyes shall gracefully protrude amazed at the miracles from our faithful endeavours”. That will be the day. But, for now, the poetry book has been served, get your copy and enjoy your intellectual meal. (END