Introductory Note | Chisom Okafor
CAEDMON, SING SOME SONG FOR ME
The English monk and historian, Bede, largely regarded as one of the greatest teachers to have ever walked the surface of the earth, had an intriguing story on Caedmon, the first known English poet, whose only known surviving work, Caedmon’s Hymn, gifted to him in a dream, will serve as basis for this short introductory note. Bede’s story, told in the twenty-fourth chapter of his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, reveals how Caedmon, an illiterate herdsman, retired from a party one night in shame because he could not comply with the demand made of each guest to sing. However, just as he started to fall asleep in the stable, “someone appeared to him,” Bede writes, “and saluting him by his name, said, ‘Caedmon, sing some song for me.’ To this, he replied, ‘I cannot sing, for that was the reason why I left the entertainment and retired to this place, because I could not sing.’ The other who talked to him replied, ‘However, you shall sing. You shall sing the beginning of all created beings.’” And he went on to compose that memorable hymn, for which he is known till this day.
The contributors to this amazing publication are singing as did Caedmon, a testament to the transformative power of our art. They may be veterans, or relatively new to this art of singing but each song, fastened to the other, is supple with the fulfilling mark of excellence. In the engaging conversation with the incomparable Obinna Udenwe, we learn from the maestro, useful tips on the mathematics of writing, a much-needed food for the journey ahead, a voyage that begins with the metaphoric, as we encounter Nwosu Prayerlife Onyinyechi’s beautiful poem and journey with the poet to a world of magical sparks, an ecstatic world. Elsewhere, the poet John Onyeche guides us into even more phenomenal things, namely: the ocean of bodies, a baptism in contours. There is love here, too, one that dates back to ancient civilizations, to the beginning of all things: love, flowing like the Nile River, irrigating all things, as in ancient Egypt! There is an awakening shared as an open secret between these poets. The poets ask questions and are in perpetual conversations with themselves and with the art that they have made. They, like Olalekan Hussein, have mastered the art of enunciating Love without stuttering. Hussein speaks of a twisting, too, seed of a cherry fruit. But this twisting is also a precursor of this thing that binds all the poems (and indeed, all the works) we see in this publication. For, “I would walk into the room / beneath your thighs,” confesses Yahuza Abdulkadir, “and paint its walls with colors of pleasure.”
Pleasure, empathy and agony are also juxtaposed in the selected short stories. Ibrahim Oga offers a gripping, shattering tale about love and loss and the materialistic. “For family members and loved ones,” he writes, “what’s worse than the dead body of their beloved is a missing beloved.” This reminds us that virtue always rests with moderation, but we’re left with very little time to mourn, before we’re immediately plunged into the next tale, a story dripping with tenderness and sheer literary grace, where Adeleye Josephine tells of that great moment of ‘becoming’ — the wedding day — and paints a sweet picture of the micro-histories of a bride’s heart.
Elsewhere, there is Ezioma Kalu serving an alabaster of gleaming goodness as evidenced by a heart-wrenching, achingly beautiful story of unrequited affection, culminating in a lovely twist. Such joyride in prose! In ‘Ecstatic Fireflies,’ we journey through a familiar path, experiencing longing in all of its risks, innocence and intricacies, arriving just in time for an awakening. Diane Parker’s attention to details makes this story gleam with an extra literary lushness. In ‘Incognito’, the excruciatingly brilliant Matthew Kunashe Chikono tells a chilling tale about familial love and the otherworldly, leaving us with more questions than answers, while Christine Du Bois concludes with yet another gripping story, carefully exploring the intersections of geriatric love in the face of death, which reminds us of that old vow: for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health. What binds these unique works of art is the enduring nature of love in the face of loss, departures, agony and even unto death. Also, embedded in this issue are book reviews: Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar interrogates the breaking (or not) of patriarchal boundaries in Lola Shoneyin’s ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’, while Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli takes us on a voyage round the recently released ‘Toast Soldier’ by legendary poet and storyteller, Bruce Meyer.
Even in a world invaded, on multiple fronts, by insurrections of terrorism, wars, bigotry, violence, climate change, rising global food prices and waves upon waves of a pandemic, the writers featured in this issue have continued to sing psalms to light and hope, like Caedmon. They have demonstrated, like Brecht, that there is always some singing, even in the dark times and this is the enduring power of the creative arts. Legacy is a complicated thing, but these writers have (un)knowingly contributed to the larger discussion on legacy itself, creating works that would give rise to more conversations around that question, in an ever-evolving cycle. With this interrogation of the ecstatic, they have made their own legacy.
Here, my friends, is a rich literary offering, something to smoothen your jaded feet, in these dark times. In language made pliable, unbridled and unconstrained, these writers, awash with the euphoric, seem to say: sit, travelling friends, and feast, for you require food for your journey. We already have a song, why not sing with us?
Poet, Clinical Nutritionist,
Editor, Libretto Magazine