The Gambia’s only literary publication
Part VI: The poems
Mr Hassan Jagne
Jagne published two poems entitled An Inverted Question Mark and Father’s Mother. Both poems are short but the second poem is the longest of the two. An Inverted Question Mark is a short interesting poem. One would wonder what the question mark signifies. A closer look reveals two angles to the poem: First, the poet could be talking about the famous ‘nerve syndrome’. He seems to address those already gone to look for greener pasture. In the first stanza, it seems the poet is asking what the ‘hustler’ is doing in the West especially where there is no progress:
How many years have you been poised there,
An inverted question mark in despair?
Just as the magnet draws up the filings,
So you’ve been attracting curious kings,
They returned, your questions left unanswered,
And your progress could not but be hampered.
Jagne tends to remind those who have spent years in foreign land without much success to learn to return home and remember that the earlier the better. As long as one is healthy and sane, it is possible to make it in one's hometown. He advises that reason, and not emotion, should guide us. In the last stanza, he writes:
Your brains are good, and your sharp eyes are meek,
Ah! But your digestive organs are week.
Depend more on your head than on your heart,
And your constipation? – purge for a start!
You have forfeited much on foreign food,
And this has done you very little good.
In his second poem entitled Father’s Mother, Jagne plays on the words daughter and grandmother. The narrator has a daughter who is named after his grandmother. In the daughter he sees the grandmother whom he does not know.
I have never seen you before,
Merely knew you by name
As my father’s mother.
Now I can see and touch you,
For you are here with us-
My father’s mother,
And so my grandmother.
The narrator finds it difficult to treat his daughter in any other way as she reminds him of his grandmother. The poem ends beautifully with:
Now you are young
And I am old,
I treat you kindly as my daughter.
When I am grey
And you are old,
You treat me kindly being my grandmother.
For you are my daughter – grandmother
And I your grandson – father.
Mr Gabriel J. Roberts
One tend to believe that Mr Roberts is only good at scriptwriting or drama. He does have hidden talents too in poetry which he proves in the issue with remarkable skill. A Jarra Encounter and Ode to Amata are the two poems published in this edition by Mr Roberts. Both poems are, without any doubt, past experiences of the poet or of a friend close to him. In the first one, the speaker narrates an incident as he was driven through Jarra. A postscript describes Jarra as a district in the Gambia where the men folk are extremely hostile towards strangers developing any form of association with their womenfolk. The poet, in the first part of the poem, is mesmerised by a young girl in her prime youth:
There she stood, naked,
In the sun. She smiled
And waved a hand
Her pearls glittered;
Her pomegranates dangled.
And the blood ran furiously
Through my veins.
Probably fascinated by the car, the youthful damsel ran with agility to the car, smiling to the speaker (the poet?), whose heartbeat keeps accelerating as the damsel presses her body against the car. As she is flimsily attired, her pomegranates (breasts) pressed against the car…
I saw her pomegranates
Nailed against the car, with blooming freshness.
My blood boiled.
I looked down, I couldn’t help it;
She looked up, our eyes met,
Tempted, the speaker stretches his hand and touches the nipples. The damsel ‘yelled, and jumped and bounced / Away, across the ricefield.’ This reaction shows how innocent and vulnerable the damsel is. The pleasure of appreciating this exquisite view did not last long. The driver suddenly starts the car and begins to advance. The speaker gets angry but suddenly realises the danger they were in; the damsel’s father waves a cutlass towards the car and equally swings it towards the car. He is the damsel’s father. I have to admit nudity is not a well developed theme in Gambian literature. Yet through this poems one can easily conclude that "the flimsly attired damsel" hardly sees her nudity as provocative. Only one not used to her environment may feel what the speaker in the poem felt.
The second poem Ode to Amata is a touching poem about an exceptional person, well known to the author, who passed away. Throughout the poem, one comes across the two lines: Come, boys, let’s drink to him / He was a man! As one reads the story, a sympathetic feeling over Amata engulfs the reader. Great exploits of a selfless man, strong, kind, friendly, entertaining and most of all, respectful. That was Amata.
For one good hour
He spoke, he sang, he danced;
He was his own musician,
Comedian, wrestler, artist,
All in one.
Come boys, let’s drink to him.
He was a man.
There is evidence enough that the poet was very much attached to Amata. At stanza seven, the poet gave a description of an encounter with Amata. He expresses how much he was fond of him. Amata died a believing catholic and the poet says: Come boys, let’s drink to him. / He was a man.
Dr Lenrie Peters
A recognised master in the art of poetry, it is certainly no surprise to see Dr Peters' name figuring in this category. He presented one poem in this edition entitled A Poem. It is composed of ten stanzas each of which has four lines. As the title indicates, the poet intends to portray the power of A Poem. It shows how the poet uses poetry to express thoughts and feelings but especially express issues pertaining to the lives of the voiceless. The poet gives examples of other poets in stanzas seven and eight:
The old man in a dungeon
what does he understand
or roving legs bedrenched
on Hamstead Hearth
Okigbo for love of tribe?
where now your jewelled talent
roaring at the door Soyinka
for love of principle?
In a way, the last stanza tends to immortalize the poem.
Mr E. Midnight
Like Dr Peters, Mr Midnight presented one poem entitled Involvement. It is written in free verse and consists of exactly twenty lines. The poem describes someone who asks himself what he has offered to the KINGDOM. Reading through the poem many times though, one tends to find a big question asked: what has pushed the person to ask questions to himself? Why has he to confess? Why is he a GAMBIA WATCHER?
He must speak – For he is
A definite breed. He knows!
He is a GAMBIA WATCHER.
Mr Swaebou Conateh
Mr Conateh, who is also an accomplished poet who has already published three collections, published three poems entitled The Fading Form, Summer Lines, and The Farmer. In the first poem, the poet intends to demonstrate how time has transformed an important building, a temple, from a useful building to a relic. In the last few lines, he writes:
And anger grips the heart of those who know the past,
Who regret that their temple would be
Just a monument
Its capered head
In the index of a history book.
In Summer Lines, the poet attempts to describe the normal reaction of people and the scenery in summer: the unbearable heat, the dry scorching wind, and the feeling of being in HADES! The third poem, The Farmer, recounts the life of a rural farmer. It is a much longer poem with four stanzas. Each stanza comprises of eight lines. In the first stanza, the farmer walks to the farm. The poet is sensitive to little elements that make up the real life of the farmer: the old single trail renewed, the morning dew, the same old farm. In the second stanza, the farmer works on his farm. The poet shows how proud the farmer is to do work he loves to do:
Then on the farm as he scratches at the ground,
The feel of the hoe soothes his fingers;
And gives him reason to live again.
To behold the earth freshly turned;
How chunks of the black earth lie exposed,
The day is advanced, the sun has paled;
The mid-day meal is a memory away...
As shadows throw their easternly lengths.
In the last two stanzas, the farmer finishes farming for the day, cleans himself from the stream, he goes home to find his daughter has finished cooking (hot peanut stew at times), he sits around a fire with his children, with a well-lit soothing pipe between his teeth, he tells tales to the delight of the children.
Mr Salif Kujabi
Mr Kujabi is much more famous with the President's Award Scheme. But he loves poetry and manifested it in this maiden issue of Ndaanan. The Weaver Birds and Chief Mamba are the two poems presented by Mr Kujabi in this edition. The first tries to show how weaver birds live, and a comparison is made with man.
Oh what a great lesson one could learn
From so common little birds
That life is built on hard work
And duty comes before pleasure.
This stanza is very heavy can have several interpretations. The comparison is powerful. We will contend on leaving the answer to the reader. In the second poem, the poet is apparently angry with corrupt and selfish chiefs. Chief Mamba is undignified, insane, selfish, boastful, enslaving, corrupt, childish, impervious to reason, wicked, dark-minded, bad-minded, and cruel. In four stanzas, twenty-four lines, there are twelve adjectives, all describing the negative side of the chief and none crediting him of any good. Not even a but is given. That’s Chief Mamba.
Mrs Kwela Robinson
It will be a great pleasure to copy down the full poem and give chance to people to appreciate its richness and discover its powerful message. It’s entitled AFRICAN NIGHT.
Soft as a woman with velvet skin
A largeness, all enveloping
It rests relaxed
A full perfumed aphrodisiac.
Strong smelling jungle, thick and heavy
Hugging the still river
Moonlight reflecting, silent flawless
Cloaking a world of conflict deep, beneath.
Pungent, lascivious heavy air
Still with a million scents
Moon-flower, neem and unwashed drains
Acrid smoke form burning wood.
The talk, unhurried
Walking figures cast their shadow
Minus clock control
Shining skins strain to echo beat.
Lit in the neon lights
Amplifier and liquor bar,
But part of largeness still
And full perfumed.
Soft, warm, dark bodies
Movement pure pleasure
Symphony of line and form.
Birds calls pierce the velvet
And Cicadas lull for sleep.
NDANAAN 1st issue ENDS
To bring to a close the Ndanaan maiden issue, it is worth mentioning that an immeasurable experienced has been gathered from the research, the typing and the publishing. The attempt to expose literary art, if ever it is accepted fine enough, can’t rule out the much needed in-depth research to make a better presentation of Gambian Literature. Is there any Gambian Literature?