The Deconsecration Of The Angelic Orders In Ebi Yeibo’s White Masks.
By Tares Oburumu for The Yellow House Library
When one reads Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem God’s Grandeur , one seems to have withdrawn into an entire universe of despoliation created entirely by an emboldened spirituality identical to the images Ebi Yeibo, like a painter, has contrived, in the beautification of the ideas found in T.S Eliot’s work on tradition and the individual talent, with a pint of nostalgia and a show of prepossession. I have been a lot more keener on Ebi Yeibo’s works these past years than any other poet from the Niger Delta region. His works draw parallel lines with Gerard Manley Hopkins’s, Christopher Okigbo’s and T.S Eliot’s. Ebi Yeibo’s idiosyncratic creativity is the result of interactions with the aforementioned three. If my comparative study of his previous works, over a breadth of seven years, is anything to go by, this new collection White Masks falls into the term “ The Hopkins Disease.”
It is largely an attempt to deliberately create opaqueness and sublimity, with a view to allow the reader dig into the unknown, without first bringing the self to the knowledge of the truth of what lies beneath. It foregrounds the spirituality found in Ebi Yeibo’s poetry as much as Hopkins’s, and like a single thread which brings the whole fabric together, it brings all the images of Hopkins’s and Ebi Yeibo’s oeuvre into one: the God motif. This can be done even with a single poem from a collection, which, perhaps, stands out as the definite harbor from where all others set sail, as seen in God’s Grandeur, from Hopkins’s second collection Piesta Metrica.
The world is charged with the
grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from
It gathers to a greatness like the
The ooze of oil
crushed. Why do men then now not
reck his rod?
God’s Grandeur, as Hopkins intended, unified all the other themes in all the poems in Piesta Metrica. The poem became the spirit from which all the other poems took flight, and I find this fascinating, not only in Hopkins poetry but Ebi Yeibo’s , as well as Okigbo’s.
White Masks and Piesta Metrica are two books produced mainly not to answer the God-question, but to aggravate it, as sustained by church and society; intricately woven in patterns as religious as they are political. In the poem “ The Road To Heaven” the patterns are maintained and heightened by Ebi Yeibo’s impulsion, and his radical leanings against whatever that is dystopian.
And the nebulous pew attracts a swarm
Of white souls throbbing in their inner recesses
Like a stray Jerusalem pilgrim. The road to heaven
Is long and dry. Sometimes hanging
Like an overhead bridge paved with rotten plywood.
Sometimes hosting incandescent suitors – their origins
Prickly unknown, feeding
On white myth, skewed desires, twisted
And tainted trances, carnal revelry in brothels;
The priest in search of swanky bullets and jeeps
Roaring across the six worlds of the earth, sinks
Deep into toothed dreams, like the eagle’s talons
Engraved in a prey’s crimson flesh in moonlight
And we are left with nothing, practically nothing,
After the priest has made his choice.
Although it is a collection totaling fifty-three pieces of works, it is the poem “The Road To Heaven” that is the nexus between his choice of the christian priest as a symbol of the putrescence that’s the Church being a representative of God, and the brothel as a sociopolitical cafetorium; an extension of the piety yet unsettling. The poem is the single work, the definite harbor from where all the other works set sail through the turbulence marking the poet’s traditional roots and his individual talent, bolstered by his forebears not necessarily Hopkins, Christopher Okigbo and T.S Eliot but by a host of poets notably Tanure Ojaide and Niyi Osundare.
The contemporary Nigerian Church is both political and social. Political in defining its spiritual scope within the precincts of the government of the day, and social in its typical character of self-indulgent. The forms by which they exist, remind me of the last words of George Orwell in his classic novel “ Animal Farm “
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which”
It is quite impossible to say which is not priesthood, or which is laity, but not so hard to tell the priesthood from the laity when one, with an eye clear but deeper than the conscious, looks closely at the mileposts. The poem “ The Priest’s Pouch” is the point where sheer annihilation of the character of the persons in view and the events that shape them upends constructive criticism.
“ … never mind a river mongrel roaming
The landscape, reveling in the sacrament
Of smoke and gunpowder, or some sore pastime
In the name of survival which, itself,
Is much maligned in the spirit
Some credulous self-delusion, a white mask
Covering a grueling monster in human blood
Plodding fulsome flags in faltering winds.”
The literary rebel in Ebi Yeibo, balky in ways not so subtly couched in the snug visions shouldered by the bohemian lot, bares the reservationist in him by calling a spade spade. It is not in his character, as seen in the poem “Nothing” to hide behind the smokescreen, and revel in the name calling, such subterfuge in his world should be thrown the iron blow. “Nothing” as a reactionary poem gives force to this restive niche, to the difference between taking kid-gloves to the ring and having an almost transcendental eye on the match. There appears to be no caution in appropriating the names for his opponents, which bestride the religious world of protestation, outrightly banal. Ultimately, the prevalent milk-and-water spirituality takes on the hypocritical forms as absolute as they are sham and bossy.
Illumining the world; a nocturnal transparency, steamy rains
Breeding sweat; an outer peace laden with inner crisis,
A pregnant compunction; loves full of flea
Resident outside the tapestry of the heart
In some dark corner of the stony street
Undermining the infinitude of God’s grace.
The success of White Masks, first, as a collection of poems, and as an account of the relative decay of church and society, is the triumph of the poet over the collateral hypocrisy, and the covert yet open idiocies both institutions are bottled in. One makes the other foolproof, detrimentally.
I have read Ebi Yeibo’s poetry with an eye of a man trying hard to make sense of his own experience and existence in relation to the sacred, and as a poet, of metaphysical aptitude, charged with a chaotic mind, trying hard, through mental turbulences, to balance the figurations natural to writers as much as scientists, psychologists, and extremists. Ebi Yeibo, in this collection, seems to have provided that balance, revealing and laying bare the deep-seated answers needed to safely navigate through the rot that religion and society is, to the shore of self- awakening. If there are poets that outbrave dispensational illusion the church and the society brazenly live on, Ebi Yeibo is one of such yodelers. White Masks is work of groundbreaking art, and it is aesthetically more spiritual in meaning than it is a social commentary on degringolade.
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