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Amaka Obioji’s Poetry Collection, “Mother, Did You Call My Name?” Explores the Transience of Human Emotions

Amaka Obioji’s Poetry Collection, “Mother, Did You Call My Name?” Explores the Transience of Human Emotions

Amaka Obioji’s Poetry Collection, “Mother, Did You Call My Name” Explores the Transience of Human Emotions| Afrocritik

Mother, Did You Call My Name? is… buoyant in its message to the reader enmeshed in life’s vicissitudes; resolute in their rejection of patriarchy and misogyny, adoring in their admiration of the maternal, and wistful in their longing for home…

By Anthony Chibueze Ukwuoma 

The poems in Amaka Felly Obioji’s debut collection, Mother, Did You Call My Name?, are not only remarkable for their brevity and sublime simplicity, but they are portraits of the transience of human emotions; sadness, anxiety, and even bliss. Through this collection, the poet offers comfort to her reader, saying, “You do not have to hide your tears, there is no sadness that will never know joy, no darkness that won’t see light”, drawing inspiration from the alternating nature of life’s vicissitudes, to console the reader who may be overwhelmed by their present gloom.

Obioji’s, Mother, Did You Call My Name? was published in Nasarawa, Nigeria by Sevhage Publishers in March, 2024. The first thing I noticed as I held my copy of the book was the painting of a girl on the front cover. While it intrigued me, I wondered why the girl was wearing only one earring, leaving her right ear unadorned. What image occupied the visual artist,  Hillary Uzomba’s mind as he painted her with large glistening eyes? Was she wallowing in a state of despondency – too overwhelmed by distress to care about jewellery – before she heard her mother calling? I soon realise that it is the poet’s imagery of a mother as a goddess, whose voice, in moments of emotional drowning, uplifts her child. The notion of answering the mother’s call as the remedy for sadness becomes justified.  And so, if Uzomba’s beautiful cover art attempts to illustrate the themes of Obioji’s collection, then Zaynab Iliyasu Bobi offers readers visual representations of the constituent poems with her illustrative doodles displayed below each poem. This ranges from the image of a lady being bathed with the wax of a burning candle, to another basking in the sun’s warmth by the sea. From a figure of a girl hugging her knees as her body breaks away in little pieces, to another ascending after drowning.

Mother, Did you call my Name? Felly Obioji, Amaka| Afrocritik

 

Dividing the collection into four parts; “Uproots”, “Goddess”, “Homecoming”, and “Mother, Did You Call My Name?”, Obioji begins with a set of poems that animates human emotions — sadness, anxiety, weariness, fear, and agony — introducing the poem’s persona as a host to “repulsive feeling[s]”. But in these poems, the author also suggests that healing comes from recognising her strength when the negative emotions threaten her happiness. Hence, there is a conviction that confidence can be reclaimed through self-acceptance.  Rejecting the behaviours her patriarchal and misogynistic society projects upon her is one of the ways through which she gains confidence. Since the weight of society’s expectations of women is one source of the persona’s angst, when she rejects that burden, as she declares in XIV:

“Look at you now, blooming in the sun, with the universe cheering you on.” 

Obioji’s employment of monologues and dialogues enables the reader to empathise with the poet’s persona, as one would identify with a novel or play character, as she experiences different human emotions.

As Robert Frost informs us in his 1923 poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, happiness is fleeting and sadness visits at its season. Obioji’s fascination with this reality is demonstrated by her collection, which contains poems on a variety of emotional experiences that confront us at any given moment. The message of these poems can be summed up in these lines of XXVII: “At some dusks, I wash myself with tears and grief. Then wake at dawn, beaming like I knew no demons.” From this, we comprehend that sadness is inevitable. But the message is rife with optimism because it is understood that sadness is temporary. It is also comforting to note that the process of writing poems about grieving is relieving, as the persona suggests that, to  “grieve the pain you can’t talk about” is “a remedy for sadness.” This remedy which can be attained through surrendering one’s self to such devastating feelings, is a metaphor for the act of writing poetry. In this sense, poetry becomes a mother in whose presence the persona feels free to be vulnerable and be lulled.

Mother, Did You Call My Name?,  in general, evokes the maternal, not only with the verses of Obioji’s poems but also with some of Bobi’s drawings, particularly those of a mother figure cradling a child in her arms or playing with them. In “Goddess”, the poet paints god in the image of her mother, professing in XLI, that, “my god is a woman/in the image of my mother.” But this adoration of the mother does not imply that the persona wholly emulates the attributes of the divine, as it is with Christians and Christ. What Obioji presents is a persona that admires the resilient, protective, and affectionate nature of her god, but rejects its patriarchy-enabling attributes.  Whereas the persona idolises her mother, she concedes in XLVI, that “our mothers walked on fire…to fend for entitled men, who…bound them with chains, saying: ‘Quiet, you are but a woman.’”  With a form feminist voice, she resolved: “We are daughters that won’t sip from that cup.” With this allusion to Christ’s acceptance of his suffering and death as his destiny, Obioji draws attention to the patriarchal society’s expectations of women as beings who must endure their objectification and dehumanisation by men simply because they are women. In LXV, the speaker confesses, “Unlike my mother, I dispel men, with my little rebellious mouth.” Reading these lines, one cannot help but recall the following words from Sylvia Plath’s poem “Lady Lazarus”:

“Out of the ash

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I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air.”

Like Plath, Obioji is a feminist writer who uses poetry as a medium to confront entitled men for their oppression of women.

When reading Obioji’s “Homecoming”, it is Romeo Oriogun‘s 2022 poetry collection Nomad – which explores alterity and migration – that springs to mind, given the exilic consciousness embodied in lines such as these,  “Home calls me every day… reminding me of love. The glory I left behind, mocking my taste in places where I chose to settle.” Thus, the poet sublimates the nuances associated with living outside Nigeria due to necessity. Obioji’s collection concludes with a maternal, knowing voice that says in CIX, “Remember I told you everything good will come? It did!”  This suggests the poet’s optimism regarding the variety of emotional experiences associated with life, foregrounding the theme of the book. 

Ultimately, Mother, Did You Call My Name? is a collection of 109 poems buoyant in its message to the reader enmeshed in life’s vicissitudes; resolute in their rejection of patriarchy and misogyny, adoring in their admiration of the maternal, and wistful in their longing for home – which is, in a sense, maternal. Obioji’s new book is a therapeutic gift in poetry form. 

Anthony Chibueze Ukwuoma was born in Owerri. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Imo State University. His works have appeared in Lolwe, African Writer Magazine, World Literature Today, and elsewhere.

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