To The Disabled, Two Crutches Are Better Than One!
To The Disabled, Two Crutches Are Better Than One!
(A review of Femi Onasanya’s Soul Refreshers and Pleasant Dreams, launched on Thursday, April 25, 2013 at the Function Hall of The MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos, under the chairmanship of Alhaji Musiliu A.K. Smith).
By Femi Akintunde-Johnson
In certain works of art, the creator may attain high ground by mistake - simply by a deluge of sheer ignorance at the conventional and established order of doing things within that art form.
The Author, Femi Onasanya
In some other cases, the creative height is obtained by intellectual arrogance - a desire to chart an iconoclastic route, deliberately upturning all standards and structures prevalent in that occupation.
Yet in some other cases, the creator detours from tried and tested format, and surges on a path of self-mesmerism... an insistent pre-occupation with self; the denial of any sense - common or rarefied - that goes contrary to his or her own estimation of what is true and what is wrong in the society of his or her mind. Such perspectives are endless.
My initial dilemma in confronting Femi Onasanya's Soul Refreshers was how to categorise it. Is this three-part assemblage of 242 pages produced in ignorance couched as soulful refreshment? Is this book a by-product of arrogance passed off as life-long instruction? Can this book be seen as self-mesmerism of an author obsessed with sharing his private world with the larger society?
In my introspection, I decided to dig deeper so as to add more flesh and sinews to the personality sketch of Femi Onasanya... Nothing I Googled or searched added anything enlightening to my confusion.
Then I dug further into the book - and this is what I found.
Soul Refreshers, as earlier stated, is in three parts. The first part, of 78 pages, harbors 100 poetic pieces. "Humor" fills up the next 72 pages, while "Riddles & Smart Questions" take up the last 64 pages.
All through the three parts, are good "search engines" to browse in order to define and collate revealing information about the author and his motives; the most intriguing and therefore "revealing" is the collection of poetic pieces.
I may be wrong, but the dominant persona seen through most of the poems reveals the true nature of the young poet; his world view, idiosyncrasies, challenges, passions, philosophy and his relational frame-work.
The poetic pieces are further divided into six sections: Tough Situations, Vices and Virtues, Pleasant People, Optimism and Hope, The Tide Turns and Love, Romance and Marriage.
It is obvious to see that the persona of the poet has a great regard for women - which is not to suggest that the author is a Lady's man. The themes of Love, appreciation of feminine care, an unashamed embrace of untainted romance, pervades 23 poems within the first five sections and virtually all the 12 poems in Love, Romance and Marriage.
Without unduly dwelling too much on the poetry, let me quickly run through the emotions that arguably expose the hidden person behind the mask.
Many of the pieces in "Tough Situations" are quite simple and straight to the point - lamenting voices in "What's The Matter With Me?", "Homeless”, “Do I Deserve This?", "I'm Not Getting Younger", "When Shall I Reap In Joy?" and "Why Should Money Locate the Wrong People?" simply bemoan the inequalities prevalent in our societies; the devastation secretly lacerating our youth; making it virtually impossible for them to look at the future with any ounce of hope or progress.
When it comes to prayers, I'm not a novice.
In singing, I'm a nightingale
But I can't understand why men close their eyes
When I walk up the aisle.
(- What's The Matter With Me?)
Such despondency is carried to the next section, Vices &Virtues. Here, the Sunday school teacher, who obviously had been exposed to relational and emotional issues endemic in fast-growing metropolitan cities, peeps through. We can hear searing echoes of frustrations, inadequacies, conflicts, personal failings and such disruptive influences. The poet's selections attempt to mollify anguished souls; reassure troubled minds and motivate sagging spirits, with some simple yet graceful interjections.
Here are some:
He did not a long sermon.
Though his advice was short and precise:
It was deep and rich: all he said was,
‘Conversational generosity, you must practise.
(- An Elderly Man’s Advice)
The beauty of nature
Parades in silence...
When silence reigns
Blessings find no barrier
Where the tongue reigns
Curse travels fast.
(- The Virtue of Silence)
Poems in Pleasant People are bouncy, full of life, love and adventure - exploring the themes of good home building, fatherhood, and reciprocal respect. Then you wonder why it is the shortest section in all - just 10 poems.
Optimism & Hope lives up to its nature… as many of the poems are didactic - attempting to motivate and rouse tired soldiers of our troubled worlds not to give in...
Works like “Inspiration from a Dead Cockroach”, “Peace In A Stormy World”, “Mad Man’s Message”, “Winner’s Mentality” and “When Luck Is Created” are clarion calls to recharge and retake the bulwarks.
Here is a gem;
We shall multiply what we have.
If only we will dare
To cross the bridge of risk
Fortunes we will share
(- The Bridge of Risk)
And The Tide Turns returns us to melancholy - Can we ever avoid that, really? Life is a turning wheel - good and bad are mere spokes in the wheel of life. Usually, a poet sees the colors of the larger world through the tinted glasses of his own private experiences. In this section, you understand that it takes the Messiah to die for us properly, simply because He shared our infirmities.
The persona here appears to have battled through a turbulent childhood, a challenging track of adolescence and aggravating adulthood. Though one needs not be poor to appreciate the gripping suffocation of poverty, you nonetheless must have passed its doorstep. Some of the pieces in Tide (the longest section with 24 poems) invoke clanging tolls of loss, denials, deprivations, isolation, unkindness, and disappointments - in physical and emotional dimensions.
However, like a trained teacher or storyteller - most of the painful experiences dovetailed into hopeful conclusions; ‘bitter’ becomes sweet, loses regained, disappointment to appointment.
Here's a windower… In '’Bitter Days To Better Days’' the persona whines:
I remember those days my wife and I
Were so poor we fought over drumstick…
Better days are here, things are better…
We have a car with sufficient gadgets
Right from my school days, I have been
An eminent failure...
Some of those who didn't believe in me
Came to my celebration…
(- A Dullard’s Dream)
The second part of Soul Refreshers is Humour. A caveat is relevant here: if you expect the variant of humor associated with Ali Baba or Basketmouth, you will be sorely disappointed.
The humor in Humour appears to be moderated by the spiritual and spatial background of the author. His humor may provoke chuckles from residents of Britain - with whom he shares familiarity of names, locations and landmarks. To a Nigerian cooked in the hoi-poloi of our grueling existence… only very few of these pieces will sneak a chuckle.
You will find wise cracks and ditties that will prick your fancy out of the 100 pieces published. A note to the author though - few of the pieces are better tagged as homilies and exhortations… as they may cause the reader to wonder exactly what the author considers “humorous”.
The final part of Soul Refreshers is where the author seems most at home. With 100 riddles and smart questions, the author succeeds in arresting the mind of the inquisitive - but also encourages the slothful to flee. As usual, many of the riddles expose the inner workings of the author – whose main audiences are obviously not residents of Nigeria. His apparent awkwardness when sometimes he “mistakenly” uses Nigerian (or African) names and locale, show his peace of mind is guaranteed in a European atmosphere.
Yet, in Soul Refreshers, that in itself is not a flaw. It may be argued that the book seeks to expand the exposure and interest of the Nigerian reader and thus internationalize his perception and reasoning.
Before zeroing in on the technical issues of the book, permit me to make some comments about the second book, Pleasant Dreams. A confession is in order here: Since I was not fortunate to see the actual finished product, stylistically, some of my conclusions maybe a little off-key.
It is larger, compared to Soul Refreshers, and yet it is singular in its thematic pre-occupation. Simply put, it’s all about dreams. And as Onasanya is quick to note in the introduction to the 310-page collection, he chose to write this book on the backs of some bitter experiences he was “lucky” to suffer between 2003 and 2007 - in Nigeria and the UK. As you will see, challenges are not synonymous with our country.
The work (in progress) dwelled on the author emotionally and physically, even up until last year (2012), which is why he says: “…That period I lost my job in 2007 was not my first ordeal. I passed through some bitter experiences in 2003… Some days, I would come out to my car and find the rear glass window smashed. Sometimes, my radio got stolen and once my car battery was stolen. Several times, I got penalty notice which I scrimped to pay. Those were tough times for me… When I moved to Lagos in July 2003, I was in severe emotional pain.… Some people who knew I was going through pain did not know the depth. Words spoken to soothe me only aggravated the pain… When all these things were occurring in 2007, nobody knew I was trying to compose a book. With all these happenings in 2007, some folks may say, “It wasn’t your year” and expect me to pour out bitter things …”.
My first reaction to Pleasant Dreams - as I did not have the benefit of the finished product being launched today – was “here is long string of tiny stories of religiously advanced people in tales broken deliberately to teach some lessons”. In the format I studied, the illustrative cartoons were amateurish. How, the final copy I can now see, may God forgive me, the cartoons are of a very high quality and very appropriate.
Since life’s experiences, like one’s faith, are peculiar and personal; yet there is some sort of universality in the process of responding to faith matters. One, you must believe; therefore you have to be ready to disbelieve what you had hitherto believed, if it’s contrary. And in believing you must recant and verbally confess your new reality. Then you must make up your mind to remain on your new Way…irrespective of what may come to challenge or threaten your new reality.
It is on this platform that Pleasant Dreams takes a special significance. The book seeks to illuminate your mind that experiences in the intangible worlds which you used to call nightmares in your unregenerated reality could actually be windows to great advancement in your new reality.
Reviewer, FAJ (Right) At The Event
Your old nightmares can now be interpreted and categorized effectively as life-saving, pleasure-giving dreams. While earlier, they frightened and tormented you… now, with adequate prayer, fasting and counseling; they are windows of heaven throwing light into your darkness so that you can soar and fulfill your actual destiny.
In a convoluted yet progressively enthusiastic manner, the book unleashes snatches of dreams and half-bodied visions… by ordinary people (whether real or imagined I cannot tell). Sometimes, as it is consistent with dreams, Pleasant Dreams appears disjointed as the author attempts to sustain readers' interest in these 90 dreams, by constantly encouraging us to "find out from the Key" at the end of each piece - for the full impact and interpretation.
Many of the dialogues are stilted and unnatural to a reader who is not steeped in Pentecostal Christianity - and therefore appear "out of synch with reality".
However, many people can see glimpses of their private experiences in some of the recorded dreams. Illuminating interpretation and seemingly "reluctant" addendum by the author at the end of each story allow us to "see" the actual real-life conclusions of the dreams. I said "reluctantly" because there are insufficient attribution, data and landmarks to persuade, beyond doubt, that these characters rendering those dreams are flesh and blood like you and I.
But as earlier indicated though, Pleasant Dreams is not written for doubters and rabble-rousers. The apparent focus is on those who believe that dreams are one of God's ways of revealing a part of Himself and His redeeming works in the affairs of men.
Now to technical matters. First, I commend the level of progress attained in the over-all packaging of the books. It is a good leap from the author's maiden book (The Missing Ingredient). The covers are very attractive; printing sharp and eye-friendly; fonts and graphic designs are attention-getting; and generally as units of visual pleasure, very satisfying.
Only one suggestion though: henceforth, all of Onasanya's new works must sufficiently advertise and highlight his old books.
And this: one of Onasanya's major achievements (another may say deficit) is his great interest in poetic rhyme scheme and rhythmic patterns. In many of his poems (in Soul Refreshers) he strives relentlessly to deepen his sometimes prosaic sentences with rhyme cadence. Here is one:
My Child is a scarce commodity
Few like him (sic) in society
She's not a toy!
She brings much joy!
(- My Precious Child)
On many occasions, the rhymes flow well; at other times they seem contrived, and few alternate rhymes refuse to jump to his poetic prodding.
But wisdom is a defence
Only five percent of
The human population really think
Others are too busy
To pause at this brook, and drink
(- Wisdom Located Me In Hard Times)
Other features consistent in almost all of Onasanya's works are fluidity of language; absence of jargon and simplicity of imagery... His poems convey images and themes in passionate ordinariness. And yet suggest depth and rich sense of correctness. His works glorify integrity, strong family ties, dependency on the Almighty and portray deep understanding of human foibles and eccentricities.
There are still typographical errors that more adept proof-reading could have eliminated; they are especially more pronounced in Pleasant Dreams.
The use of "Keys" as guide in tying together the dreams and riddles may be more effective if placed in-between the collection of stories and their explanations. Having to read on and on… only to realise down the road that the "Keys" are further back… can dissipate interest. The Glossary of answers on Page 229 (of Soul Refreshers) should have been headlined appropriately instead of leaving it bare.
And to the author, whatever his intention, never advise your readers that "one does not need to read everything. He/she may concentrate on an area of interest that makes him/her feel good". It is not part of your office to suggest how your readers should proceed in their relationship with you. To put it mildly, that is "dangerous."
So, in the light of my opening remarks, what is Soul Refreshers really all about? What fuels its author? What perspective is this young writer motoring from? This is my conclusion: Femi Onasanya, having overcome his personal challenges; having overwhelmed his private devils, is now eaten up with a quiet but raging desire to tell all who care to listen that there are broad pastures behind debilitating obstacles - whether physical, mental or metaphysical. He is afraid to create a holier-than-thou taskmaster image in the hearts of his readers; so with deliberate and sensitive application of suasive techniques, he struggles to stretch a plank across different cultures and consciousness in the hope that his readers will look long enough into the wells of God's indescribable love and mercy - and that all we need do is peep intelligently into those wells, at Femi Onasanya's promptings… scoop as much as we can, and drink as long as we can.
So, what are you waiting for? Get your own cups...
Thank you for listening.