(127): Review of Isma’il Bala’s Line of Sight | by Abubakar Isah Baba
Title: Line of Sight, Author: Ismail Bala, Pages: 114, Publisher: Praxis Magazine, Reviewer: Abubakar Isah Baba
As a genre of literature, poetry is the most intensely focused one. Often, writers choose it as their transmitter of inward messages. Line of Sight in its first appearance establishes that poetry is a carrier of experiences and a painter of life. Ismail Bala’s personal experiences are apparent in his collection of eighty-one poems. His blending of layered themes: arts, love, politics, friendship, mundanity and Eurocentrism will continue to define poetry as both elusive and straightforward. And this is what gives the collection a startling flavour.
It is not the intention of this piece to review every poem but rather to discuss some. The book’s title displays the most famous painting of George Seurat called Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. It depicts the poet’s high level of exposure to the western arts, as the title Line of Sight showcases his watchful eyes on temporal issues. Thus, Bala’s stamp in this collection adds a fresh dimension to the world of poetry, for it is a galaxy of colliding experiences bursts with pathos, humour and solemnity. The anthology is rich with thick layers of metaphors, effective lines, uneven and run-on stanzas.
In “Winter Show” the poet satirises the dereliction of duty exhibited by the humanity on earth. The “two giggling palace guards” symbolises humanity, while “fire water guns at each other” depicts their utmost pretence to safeguard the world. Their futile effort to protect the world against evils makes the world meaningless /they duck and bow/acquire a target and shoot/ yet they are /lurking about like a kid playing sentries/. This showcases the sophistic nature of humanity on earth.
In “Tasting Champagne for the First Time” the persona expresses his grotesque love of words. He even dumps his bedmate and makes a rendezvous with the words /Each night once my spouse goes to sleep, I begin/to smuggle poetry under our beddings/, although the poems appear to him as “tormenting” like a “tooth extraction”, but he chooses to continue, his love for words is unconditional. The pleasure he derives from the words is intoxicating /...my lips kiss every word/which feels like a pebble till/it becomes tongue of a living person/ that has just tasted champagne for the first time/ This depicts the uncustomary affinity between the persona and the letters.
In “The Undead” the poet debunks the myth of the supernatural beings. He makes a mock of their omnipresent /The Undead are always watching us, they claim/. The poet mocked the common assumption that the living dead are eternal/they are watching us through the crystal-bottom planes of Hades/ as they fly themselves swiftly through perpetuity/.
The poem “Like a Parasol in the Rain” talks about the hardship, transience and the fleeting nature of life. It also showcases the vanity of love in which “many days” of courting spent /for just one night of passion/about profusion and about combustion/And how without pain life/ And the most disheartening is the expiration of love between lovers /like a Parasol in the rain/.
“The Picture” is a romantic poem, in which the persona displays his love erotically, admiring her romantically as she rests with a “magazine that had slipped out of your hands...” In her style as described by the poet “... reading/Raptly, with her robe revealing little by little/. He enjoys and arouses by /The swinging bosoms and plunging deep/ cleavage/ captivated by her “romantic murmur” as she reads.
In the poem “Poetry Inc.” the persona takes the role of a scholar by offering to us what poetry is, and how poetry should be. He considers poetry as a simple task and open door. He rebels those who ‘super-idolise’ poetry and makes it difficult and limited it to serious topics or high arts, so to him poetry is “sovereign” / I trim on the stacks of abhorrent poems/on the production line./. Writing poetry should not be limited to look serious topics but rather mundane things such as friendship, ecstasy, love, sympathy, kindness etc. /Manufacturing your poems from discarded words/Like amity, sentiment, and swoon.
“The jewel” poem is like a juxtaposition of “Poetry Inc.” Here, poetry was personified as a lady who /sneak to a tryst/ but despite the fact that a lady should be adorned with jewelries and beads but she goes /having no jewelries/. This is an indirect critique of those who make their poems bare, unimaginative, a kind of simple arrangement of words on paper, ignoring the fact that poetry is an invaluable, worthy of embellishments in which simplicity of it does mean dullness. Even if poetry should be in the tradition of romanticism, so let it be natural like /the skies comely with stars/.
In the poem, “Tercet” as the name implies it appears in a unit of three lines of verse bemoaning the Music city Nashville /every blessed evening, / always the same rhythm, / a throb you could wake a city with/. This becomes a nuisance to the drop-in persona /The basses are beads of sweats on my forehead, /a drop for every inhabitant of Nashville/. The music industry appears unbearable to the inhabitants, thus the persona, despite the knowledge of operating some musical instruments he acquired, and the gift he received from his Christian acquaintance, he dawdles home fancily /And though by now I know some keys/and a few notes, / I still fancy dawdling at home/.
The “Little Night Fun” poem presents love erotically, the two lovers enjoy their company through different channels, like a staircase leading from the bottom step to the top ones, /On long warm evenings/ With the curtains drawn. As the lovers “moved closer, and “held tighter to each other” becoming unconscious, the game ended and they feel empty, even the night becomes bare /I couldn’t think of anything to say/. The fun ended, night turned chilly. This is natural to the fulfilment of sexual desire.
In the poem “Hitch-hiking with Cletus in the Mid-west we see Traces of the Absurd”, Bala ridicules the preposterousness of life, like a hitchhiker who struggles to get a ride but ended standing at the roadside. Life appears meaningless and empty like “jalopy Japenese van”, a woman washing a saxophone” and “boys on swings”. People and things are mingled together aimlessly without feeling or showing any concern about the sufferings or problems of others /one carousing, into the shadow of the other/.
“I Wish I Could Draw You” is a love poem written in a kind of Picassonic syle. The love of his lady conquered the persona to the extent that he artistically and ‘picassonically’ undress her. His desire to draw her /... from hip up your elegant eyes/ and flush chest, your dreamy face/ (it would take Picasso to paint it) displays the nude figure of her. The depiction of her bodily figures is obvious / I wish I could draw you/ from hip down your naughty bum your honey-pot like the sturdy eye/.
In the poem “Two Love Poems” an uncustomary exchange of fondness is shared between two lovers, in a kind of conversational style. The lovers, a book and a persona. The book, being personified as a lady, calls his love to come and discover her / I was like the fragments of ancient terra cottas/ hidden in a cave at Nok/ and you were the archaeology I had been longing for all these years.../ In response to the request, the persona replies/ Stroking your body/ I was like a priest toiling over a psalm on passion/.
The poem “O-Ren Ishii: An Authorised Biography” is biographical, it is like a tribute wrapped up in satire to a Japenese lady O-Ren Ishii, the top female assassin of the world. The traumatised lady witnesses the merciless killings of her family at younger age /She was born one cloudy Japanese morning/ and fought through most of her cradlehood/ As a woman, she never engaged in any womanly chores, her grotesque lifestyle bemuses the World /She never had a jab, a friend or a dour face/She never washed a plate/ But despite all this, she dies in a woman garment counting success /She died in a frock weighing a fortune/.
In the end, Line of Sight presents itself as a unique and 21st-century vintage; it is rich in language with western poetic tradition. Readers will find the collection a Eurocentric for its stylistic affiliation with European writers. Ismail Bala espouses simplicity in poetry and the power of free will.
About the Author
Abubakar hails from Kano. He is a graduate of English and Literary Studies, from the Bayero University, Kano. He can be reached via email@example.com.