Book title: Desert of Gardens
Author: Emereonye Livy-Elcon
Publisher: Alphabet Nigerian Publishers
Number of pages: 159 pages
Reviewer: Agozino Agozino
That good books are not necessarily written by globally renowned authors is a fact of life. Emereonye Livy Elcon, a Lagos-based pharmacist and writer has demonstrated this by showing that he is a master of his craft in this short poetry book, Desert of Gardens. The 159 –page book was first published by Alphabet Nigerian Publishers Limited.
Desert of Gardens is a creative insight that shows the budding poet’s passion for social justice. It also attempts to be a voice to show the bitter pills which the Nigerian masses have been forced to swallow for years by their leaders. In Desert of Gardens, Livy-Elcon’s concern for moral order is also overwhelming. He is disgusted by the insincerity of men in politics, masquerading themselves as messiahs. He denounces the excesses of the military in politics and the corruption of ‘civilian’ politicians.
In Tigon, a picture of the painful past, the poet saliently delineates the characteristics of politicians in power who mount up deceptive campaigns to blindfold the masses in the name of changing things in the system. He spares no effort at lambasting the ineptitude and gross misconduct of politicians in power; and he seems to allude to Lord Denning’s adage: “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
The masses are allowed to die while those in power embark on endless oversea trips. He calls this a democratic rape that turns a man into an ape. The change of baton from military to civilian is an exercise in futility and our nascent democracy through “tactical negotiation or election” are a rape of democratic ethos.
Even the programmes established by the government, like anticorruption agencies, are businesses more than usual. Thus the poet laments that in the African Independent nation, despotic and undemocratic policies of the rulers have quarantined the masses and forced them to become cynical of the system.
He calls on the masses to stand boldly for morality and come together to stamp out the malaise inherent in society. The same tone of futility and hopelessness permeates the poem Fallacy. Millions are trapped by what the poet describes as National Charade. Everywhere you turn and whatever people do are informed by insincerity, cosmetic promises and betrayal.
The society is out of joint. Cultism reigns supreme and those who fought for our sovereignty are not remembered. But the poet hopes that “one day the hunter will be hunted/ and the killer will be mercilessly killed/No matter how the fallacy’s been buttered and balled”.
The poet acknowledges the Almighty God as the source of life, providence and protection in the poem titled “If not God”. Dominated by rhetorical questions, he asks if not God where would he have been, what would he be eating … if not for God’s mercies? His story definitely would have been different; therefore he praises God and pledges to worship Him. The poet considers the necessities and other desires of life in the poem as Dorminant Desires. He delineates them, food, shelter, love, sex, money, and clothing as wanton desires of man, the invaluable essentials of life.
Though they have associated pleasures and values, the poet cautions that their morbid pursuits make us idolaters, leading us into more temptation than anticipated. In the poem Uniting for Disunity, he questions the rationale behind the forced amalgamation of the different regions of the country into one indivisible entity. A land with no love for one another, but “tribalistic bigotry”, cities without light and virtually without peace.
He decries the social misery in the land. Like Blake’s “London”, he paints a society blackened by chimneys of injustice, hunger, disease and hatred. There is so much pain in the land. He believes that the only antidote to the social problems inherent in his land is a “truth session”, perhaps a sovereign national conference which will define the true parameters of our mutual existence and unity.
“Frivolous Holiness” is a wholesale castigation of religion and ineptitude of holy men of God. The poet blames the masses who follow these religious leaders sheepishly, thereby promoting “foolishness amid hopeless crusade”. He thinks that many of these prophets are gold diggers who compound their disciples with calculated lies to swindle them of their hard earned money.
In Power, the poet questions man’s insatiable desires for this vane, frivolous pursuit in life, as John Keats remarks: “But men, proud men ,Drest in a little brief authority, Plays such fantastic tricks before high heavens, As makes the Angels weep” Power then is only a complex that most desire, because it is just a euphoric fantasy. The many that have sought power and attained it, never go beyond with it.
The same tone of irony embedded in “Power” is present in the poem The way of Man. It was Shakespeare that said, through his creation Macbeth, that life is a stage, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. Irony operates at the level of illusion, and in dramatic irony, the character does not know his fate, but others do. So when we boast like the person in “The way of Man” we are only being mortal, proving our mortal short-sightedness. The poet advises that “the earlier we accept facts, the better for us.
Mortal man has little or nothing to contribute towards the running and affairs of life”. We can only accept the fate, which God has signed for us. One of his poems “Nigeriancracy” is the poet’s definition of Nigeria’s nascent democracy. The poem presents the anathema of social actions that defy the true definition of the term democracy. The majority rule of a democracy is subverted by minority rule and things become askew, resulting in what he describes as “the suffocating turn of bold militarism”.
The subject matter of love and death also run through the tapestry of this poet’s imagination. He celebrates romantic love in such poems as Missing You, From my Love, The Elconic Love, Uduak – My Ud The first poem in the collection This Life of Death, like other death poems – “Transiting Transit”, Dignity of Death, Night Before Death etc, the poet paints the paradox of the meaninglessness of life, which ends eventually in death.
He says human beings should make use of the best of their abilities to create relationship of love and tolerance, because after death nothing of course matters; life is nothing and nothing counts. Emereonye has a tendency to work in blank (unrhymed) or free (irregular) verses. This adds even more richness and variety to his work. His poems are captivating, precise and they interlace with one another like the tendrils of yam.
In the language of everyday parlance the poet, even when he is not necessarily trying to, chooses precisely the right word. Clarity of expression, therefore, is definitely one of his hallmarks. Desert of Gardens is a collection which offers its readers a coherent vision of life. The central concern with sweet sounds is a steady preoccupation of this poet.
These poems contain the sweetness and freshness of the rose, the languor of nightingale’s song and the softness of spring. The poet’s ability to open up a seam of beauty or profundity is remarkable. With this volume, Emereonye has helped to increase the small number of the growing list of Nigerian writers, with passion for intellectual records.