Literary

Joshua Omeke’s Interrogation of Social Realities in Joe’s Collectanea

Book cover

A poet has one job: to communicate volumes of thoughts and ideas with the power of economy of words. Joshua Omeke seemed to have pushed the envelope with his 57-page anthology titled Joe’s Collectanea. This 2023 poetry collection by Harmony Publishing has the appeal of a cohesive multi-course meal: teasingly short poems, long and detailed introspective verses spiced up by a plethora of stylistic devices.

 

Delving in and out of relatable human experiences, the poet reaffirms his strength in storytelling with this new piece. Oddly familiar yet global in perspective, the subject matters raised in this anthology are quite a stretch from a typical stereotype of an African literature that projects ‘africaness’ through a deliberate use of indigenous languages. 

 

The language of Joe’s Collectanea- though elevated- is a reflection of the poet’s refined diction, most likely occasioned by exposure to classic literature. With snatches of historical allusion and nuances of epic verses, this poet weaves his unconventional style around existential themes, thus opening up pathways to neo colonial and postcolonial discourses.

 

With the allure of rich imagery, the poet roused deep emotions and collective memory in ‘Danilo the Farm Boy.’ While connecting present-day realities with the past, this poem provokes the idea of the then American dream of working in the slave plantation, underscoring a migrant’s quest of survival by all means possible.

 

Next comes ‘Aches of Waters’ which tackles a common situation with migrants: loneliness. Perhaps, one major sacrifice many migrants make is to sever friendship ties and family bonds to become a resident in another country. It is often the price to pay to move from contemplating greener pastures to living the experience. Using other titles such as ‘A Coloured Dream’ and ‘Flies of Wilderness’ to deepen the conversation around mass migration now known in Yoruba parlance as ‘Japa,’ the poet explores the issues of desperation and dangers of illegal migration. A pulsating experience is naturally evoked by the narrative poems through the thought of embarking on a near-blind odyssey to a promised life of better opportunities painted brilliantly and vividly by the poet.

 

Cutting the frame into the tale of COVID-19 pandemic in ‘The plague in our waves,’ the poet questions the fundamentals of human needs and the shift in our value system caused by global quarantine measures. With reference to the irrelevance of social gatherings, expensive garbs and everything in-between, the poet highlights the lessons taught by the pandemic.

 

What one could describe as Omeke’s most subtle title in the anthology ‘A friend of mine’ offers a very profound statement on the lip-service paid to the idea of embracing diversity. Burrowing into the roots of friendship and acceptance, he interrogates racism, class stratification and other stifling barriers that threaten peaceful coexistence and humanity. 

 

From the use of repetition to rhetorical questions, the poet’s philosophical stance pours over the lines. A case in point is ‘Daily Dose of A Mother’s Influence’ where he ponders introspectively on maternal love. 

 

Omeke is one poet who is unafraid of what some may consider as a taboo subject with his focus on weed culture in ‘The Grass of Our Time.’ As a socially committed writer, he sits at the altar of rational thinking and shifting values, almost glorifying this forbidden plant in his country of origin. No doubt, the cannabis industry is riddled with changes and conflicting legislation worldwide. It’s no surprise then that the decision on use of cannabis undulates from the perspective of its therapeutic value to its addictive component.

 

The poem ‘The People Vs Me’ should resonate with anyone who has faced judgemental remarks on personal choices, taking sides with the truth or simply propagating an unpopular opinion or lifestyle. 

 

With over 400 poems, three self-help books and a novella in the poet’s oeuvre, Joe’s Collectanea is set to consolidate Omeke’s inimitable voice in 21st century African literature.

 

Written by Yinka Olatunbosun, a culture journalist.

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