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THE WITHERING TONGUE: A REVIEW- Isiaka Aliagan

Poetry is the most inaccessible genre of literature. Given its elevated thought, language and style, many consider poetry as the mathematics of literature. Thus, hypothetically, poetry may have the least of followers compared to prose and drama. This is general thinking of the common reader across climes about poetry. It however does not devalue the genre. It only shows that poetry is for special people, sort of being for the initiate. Those who appreciate poetry are capable of deeper thinking and reflection on life and its escapades.

Having made this preamble, let me proceed to my task, which is a review of the poetry collection, The Withering Tongue. There is a common saying, especially in this environment that cover should not judge a book. However, this is a maxim that may not apply to all seasons because the cover may judge some books as well their content. This aphorism applies to The Withering Tongue by Al-Amin El- Nasir, an attractive poetry collection in both its cover and its content.

Naturally, a review serves multiple purposes, among which are to inform, influence, promote, advertise and attract prestige to a work, amongother purposes. Thus, a review is undertaken generally to introduce a piece of work and to guide the reader who may know little to nothing about the work. Some of us obviously are seeing this poetry book for the first time and therefore will rely on the review to form our impression of its value and worth. As stated earlier on judging a book by its cover, you can judge this book by its cover and its content. It is not only captivating, it is also reflective of its content and the value of the poet. The blurb gives us a superlative impression of the poetry collection by some of Nigeria’s finest poets, Niyi Osundare and Remi Raji-Oyelade. What more to say about making your judgement of the collection from its cover. The publishers and the poet have indeed done great justice to the promotion and marketing of the poetry collection through the blurb.

However, the critical appraisal of a work can be done using three approaches, namely material, form and workmanship. Form is the label or parts in which you breakdown a book, performance or production. If a book, is it biography, or drama or prose or poetry? If music, is it pop, gospel, classical, symphony, reggae etc. The basic worth of the material of a literary work is also appraised in terms of its universality. Workmanship is the effort or craftsmanship expended on the work of art in terms of the inspiration, originality, freshness, conviction, and soundness of structure.

From the form, we know the book under review is a collection of poems on different themes and issues. There are 42 poems in the poetry collection, including the title poem, The Withering Tongue that sets the tone for the entire poems. The poems are structured into different sections called volumes and the poems in each volume speak of identical concerns. The thematic concerns have universal appeal; power, politics as they affect lives in post-colonial African societies, among others. In workmanship, the poet demonstrates his wizardry in forging words into fine poetic products. This is evident from the words of the elders in their appraisal of the collection. For instance, according to Osundare, the poet “has the right poetic sensibility and a noticeable sense of physical form.” To Remi Raji-Oyelade, the collection has a sense of “lyrical brilliance upon a deliberate labour to find the effective imagery.” In terms of thematic focus, the poems express “both homage and outrage,” and in the words of Ndubuisi Martins, the collection “sieved from the unconscious and laced with actualities, is at once piercing and soothing.” 

All poetry as it is to all art form, like politics is local. The poet let his readers feel the local atmosphere in many of the poems through several allusions and inferences that are peculiar to our environment. In his foreword to the collection, Wale Oyedeji succinctly observed that, “Ilorin serves as the bedrock of intellectual inspiration for the poet, and because Ilorin is symbolic in history and strides, he continues to penetrate the crucible of African world, weaving his thoughts to unfurl the various sociocultural and sociopolitical intimations that have characterized the African continent…” However, as a protégé of Osundare, the poet could build on the immortal rendition of the poet of the marketplace that makes him unrivalled decades since he forged that path, in order to make his mark in this realm.

In this short review I have fulfilled some objectives, namely to inform, influence, promote, advertise and attract prestige to the poetry collection, The Withering Tongue by Al-Amin El Nasir. Enu agba ni obi ti ngbo. Only an experienced poet can weave riddle from a withered tongue. The poet having thoroughly cleaned his forte can dine effortlessly with the elderly. The work is a fine and ambitious collection from a budding poet with a promise of greater things to come. According to Anatole France, the impressionistic critic “is he who narrates the adventures of his soul among masterpieces.” I can say therefore, that my voyage in the world of the poems is rewarding and enchanting, and many initiate of the poetry cult will share similar testimonies in reading the work. I recommend the poet and the poetry collection to all men and women who by reading it may enrich their soul and thereby find peace and succour in this our troubled time.

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