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There are people whose births were celebrated by the world and there are those who came uncelebrated but when they left, the whole world stood still and mourned for them. One of the latter is Dr. Maya Angelou who came into this world on “April 4, 1928 – St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A and left on May 28, 2014 – Winston-Salem, North Carolina, U.S.A.” The world instead of mourning and lamenting, showers encomium with a stint of piety on a woman who lives all her life in the struggle to make the world a better place. No single document encapsulates the spirit of the moment, than Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha & Ogwo David Emenike’s The Phenomenal Woman Poetry Anthology. The 105 pages anthology, divided into five sections and each with the photographs of Angelou documents her life, works, thoughts and world-view and the perception of the living on magnitude and significance of her life and death.

The anthology is one of its kinds. There must have been other anthologies published in honour of the poetess in a bid to beatify her and to place her among the giants and canon of world literature. But this anthology, a harvest of well woven poems by poets from all over the globe, and edited by young Nigerian poets and editors, detached from Angelou by space and time is really a phenomenal and commendable effort. The anthology is not only to beatify the poetess but to serve as “a pillar for the promotion of poetry/literature as a tool for societal progress and development.”

Mr. Eriata Oribhabor, did a great job in the forward to the anthology. He supplied the historical background of the poetess and elaborately exposed her to readers who may not be familiar with her life and work. Oribhabor supplies her bleak past and how she surmounted it by sheer willpower and the light of education: “A school drop-out who later went back to school, Maya Angelou was the first female African American cable car conductor, single mother at age 16, […] who became reputable as an author, poet […]”

There are excerpts from world leaders who eulogized Maya Angelou who lived to see her 86th birthday before leaving the world. And being a black African American, Barrack Obama and Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey eulogized her differently. Where Obama sees her as “a fierce friend and truly a phenomenal woman,” Winfrey sees her as a poetess who “passes on the poetry of courage,” whilst Clinton notes that Angelou calls humanity to see “life as a gift, manifest in each new day.” (ii).

The first section of the anthology begins with a poem titled: “Maya’s Endeavors will Endure” by Rosemary Onyango, a Kenyan. The poetess eulogizes the contributions of Angelou to the advancement of human life and poetry. The metaphor of a bird caged in a nest is aroused. The bird broke the cycle of silence and flew out of incarceration, thus able to sing new songs. “Like a bird awakened in a lonely cage, you flew out/Bracing yourself to embark on voyages of growth/You tore the veil of silence into shreds and tossed it into the air (1)”

Although, it must be explicated here that, the metaphor of the “caged bird” is an echo of Maya Angelou’s Magnus Opus, “her award-winning memoir; I know why the caged birds sing [which] won her national and international recognitions.” The poems in this section celebrate her phenomenal legacy in literature, philosophy and sociology. Lerato Matsaneng’s “When I’m Gone” admonishes that instead of lamenting, the world is to “Read the words I wrote you” and by so doing, the world would be reminded “ why the Caged Bird Sings” (5). Contributions that are worth noting include: “Women who made us to be” by Christena AV Williams,  “Electric Asphodel” by Károly Sándor Pallai, “My Kind of Phenomenal Woman” by Elizabeth Esguerra Castillo. Castillo takes her eulogy further by insisting that the works of Angelou are immortal:” Your words imprint a lasting effect on our minds/ The immortal messages still linger in our thoughts.” (10) Other phenomenal poems in this section include “The Extraordinary Maya” by Paul Alowo, “Used and Abused” by Mamello Keketso Sago “Maya Goes Higher” by Abegunde Sunday Olaoluwa, etc.

In the second section, the contributions dwell on the career of the poetess. The first poem in the section captures its thematic thrust. In “Maya – The Phenomenal Muse” by Anurag A Sharma, the poetess is seen as a goddess of poetry who inspires the world. She is describes as an “angel of bright wings” who has migrated to a higher realms and now has become a “guardian of Heaven’s bliss.”(20). The poetess Maya, is able to unleash the potential in her in the service of mankind. This sentiment is captured in “Unleash the Hero Within” by Amaka Imani Nkosazana. Other poems in this section that evince in us the poetic power of the poetess include: “Super Woman” by Sanni Oluwole, here the poet appreciates her “for pouring out all your ingenuities!”(24); “Maya” by Bob McNeil, captures the plight of Maya as she tries to find her voice in a society riddled with racial prejudice and chauvinism. This struggle to liberate herself and to find her voice and footing reinforces the thematic thrust of this section of the anthology. However, she surmounts all odds and has before her demise become a powerful voice of hope to a dry and hopeless world and in death; she lives because her words which are words of hope still linger on.

The third and fourth sections deal with her life as a source of inspiration for others, life as a fleeting shadow, futility of life and her indomitable contribution to the stability of the world, her fight to bring to light the plight of the subaltern race and class and to make the world better than she met it. In the poems “Tribute to Maya Angelou” by Olamide Oderinlo and “She Lives On” by Ajise Vincent, the poets observe that she has touched many lives and that Maya is not by any means dead because her legacies linger on.

This sentiment spill over into the fourth and fifth sections of the poem. The poetess although dead, she is seen as not really dead because her thoughts and words are still with mankind and her words being words of wisdom and peace should be seen as living spring from which hope and strength could be drawn from. This sentiment and sensibility runs through the following poems: “The Star that Shines” by Malgu Seebaway, “Your Crown” by Mmakgosi Ophadile Anita Tau, “Woman of Substance” by Liketso Ramafikeng, “My Evocation” by Michael Olusegun Babajide. “My Evocation” is a poem that structurally calls the reader’s attention. It is couched in the form of oral rendition. The poet takes his art to a higher level when like the African groits of old chanted incantations and calls on the dead and the living to appreciate his art and dance, the dead which in African cosmology is not really dead.

The last chapter continued the tradition laid down in the two previous chapters. Here, Angelou is raised from the dead and placed among the echelon of the living dead. She is beatified and given a place which she was able to attain only after death. The first poem “Beatification for Maya Angelou” by Oyin Oludipe sets the ball rolling. The poet dons metaphysical garb in describing the process by which Maya is beatified. From her “grace” emits “light” which is reminiscence of the pietas of Mary, Christ’s mother. We see light emanating from her breast, brightening the world. From this light emanating from the beatified, “new worlds” are born. Poems that further beatified the poetess include: “Letter to Death” by Idowu Joshua, “Woman” by Dumiso Gatsha, “The Poet” by Maphehelle Mokete captures the poetess as she ascends into the eternal realm. She is equated with “The moon offers her light,/And flashes it upon midnight.” And above all, “She kisses the earth, /oceans tremble” the phenomenality of this great African American bard makes it pertinent for her to be beatified in the living memory of men and in anthologies worldwide.

Above all, “Phenomenal, Indeed” by Kearoma Desiree Mosata is an article which the writer tries to make us see reasons why Maya is beatified. He calls her a “poem” he says: “Phenomenal woman however is one poem I think every young woman must read in her teens.” In “A wonderful Woman” by Ipinlaye Oluwakamiye Phebe, “Doleful Melody” by Bismark Seth Opoku, however, the poets observe that although the poetess is dead, “It is now time for echoes of her songs/To ripple with perpetuity through history.” (89).

The anthology is a compendium of powerful message of hope handed to a jejune world. It thus becomes imperative for all of humanity to read the message. It must be said that most of the poems in Phenomenal Woman Poetry Anthology are well sculpted and have attained the status of “poetry” in diction, and sublimity.

The editors have done a marvelous job, harvesting powerful poems from across the globe and publishing same in a beautiful book as this is commendable and indeed a herculean task. However, the editors try to dodge critics’ hammer by saying in the Disclaimer page that:

This book contains original work submitted by the authors. There has been no editing of grammar, punctuation, tensing, phrasing, or style of any of the submitted work. This was to ensure the authenticity of the work and the authors’ complete freedom of expression.” (xv)

This is a feeble attempt by the editors to hide behind the mask of mediocrity and to exonerate themselves from faults in the semantics, syntax and morphology of the poems which are out of the immunity of “poetic license.” An editor will always be responsible for avoidable deviations in an anthology he edited. He is not just to harvest and publish but must edit and prune away chaff from the grain.

However, apart from the few editorial oversights, the anthology is thematically meaty and the poems therein are powerful messages to a world bereaved of jocundity and to the race of man grappling in the dark conundrum which they have turned the world into.

 

Review by Akwu Sunday Victor: A Poet and Critic.
He teaches Use of English, Taraba State Polytechnic, Suntai. His papers have appeared in ONA: Journal of English Language and Literature and ANYINGBA Journal of Arts and Humanities (
akwueneojo@yahoo.com

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