By Rose Ure Mezu
Thinking is the
activity I love best, and writing is simply thinking
through my fingers.
- - Isaac Asimov
Without knowing the force of words,
it is impossible to know men.
For my people
... tied and shackled and
tangled among ourselves by the unseen creatures
who tower over us omnisciently and laugh . . .
For my people standing staring trying to fashion
a better way from confusion from hypocrisy
and misunderstanding . . .
Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born
Let a . . . generation full of courage issue forth
let a people loving freedom come to growth. . .
Let the dirges disappear.
Let a race of men now rise and take control!
-- Margaret Walker
This second collection of poems, essays and
stories represents a more deliberate attempt at poetic and
esthetic experimentation. For a long time after Songs
of the Hearth (1993), I sincerely believed that I
would not be able to write any more poetry. I felt that
within that first volume is contained every possible range of
emotions, desires, prayers and so on. I thought I had written my
heart out. At appropriate moments, I would look up the particular
poem to suit the need of the present and read it over again.
It was therefore with great surprise that I
found myself beginning once again to scribble down
(sometimes on any available scrap of paper) thoughts, emotions,
needs and questions as they would occur to me. Whenever the
inspiring thought flashed through my mind (sometimes even while
driving), I would pull up by the roadside and scribble; I would
sleep and wake up and scribble feverishly because experience has
thought me that if I do not, I would forget the particular
inspiration. Thus, I had learnt to trust my intuitions and dreams
In essence, I now know that I have to, and must
continually write because human beings are not static and neither
are their thoughts. People grow daily in their thoughts, and
in the emotions they feel as they go through different life
experiences. My earlier feelings on issues, or even my perception
of the same people would in time change. This is the dynamic
process of organic growth which is continual. Change is thus the
only constant there is.
These poems, essays and stories thus represent
my effort to think more clearly, to work out problems; they
constitute "my momentary stay against confusion," my
effort to attend to the interior life, to explore new
feelings and to gauge the quality of both old and new experiences.
I accept now what I have always known - that writing for me is a
continuing act of survival. It is as indispensable as
sleep or fresh air. Without writing, life would become
cluttered and dreams would remain hazy.
Consequently, many of the poems serve as a
gauge of the growth of my philosophical, political and spiritual
life. "Thinking through my fingers," I can keep
track of the various stages of my growth as a thinking person, the
different kinds of challenges that daily confront both me and the
people I know and love, and how these challenges are met and
I mention dreams as a vibrant source of
inspiration because I have from experience learnt to decode my
dreams sufficiently to recognize a foreshadowing of some probable
future events, to listen to an internal alarm system quickening me
to intensify prayer as a means to forestall imminent
calamity. Another source of prescience perhaps more
vital is my intuitive feeling. For me Intuition means
an inner knowingness that comes from the spiritual depth of me
that connects me with the wisdom of God and which I rate higher
than the rational mind. It represents the voice of the
spirit ever gently but insistently helping me in crises,
urging me to avoid dangers or to take risks or to renew, stretch
and re-invent the Self.
Susan L. Taylor, Essence editor-in-chief
and a kindred spirit sums up intuition as "the synthesis of
heart, mind and soul working to expand awareness and
understanding." Intuition is an inner knowing that links me
to the wisdom of God. A moment in my life when I failed to heed
the urging of that inner warning not to travel and nearly perished
in an aborted air-crash decided me to pay close attention to this
hidden but vibrant part of Me. Some of the poems
therefore testify to the activities of this inner monitoring
agency - my intuition.
As earlier mentioned, this collection contains
a deliberate effort to construct thought-concepts and to
experiment with word usage. The essays are an elaboration in
prose of concepts, themes, beliefs already dealt with
in poetic form. Conversely, some of the poems synthesize
more tightly thoughts verbalized in prose. This exercise has
afforded me immense pleasure as I see myself struggling to
find just the right words, to turn ideas into just the right
phrase, to write and to rewrite, to formulate the more appropriate
ideological or philosophical conviction. The crafting and
the search for appropriate words prompt me towards a better
appreciation of T.S. Eliot's concern for the
"integrity" of language -- the pains of its
crafting. In "Four Quartets" for instance,
T. S. Eliot paints the agony and the ecstasy involved in crafting
just the right word -- the pain of turning words into just
the right phrase or sentence:
Trying to learn to use words, and every
Is a whole new start and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the things one no longer has to say, or the way in
One is no longer disposed to say it.......
And every phrase
And sentence that is right (every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning
every poem an epitaph
(Four Quartets in Bergonzi 33).
This search for the integrity — ‘magic' — of
language becomes la force inspiratrice for these poems.
Even more personally significant, this search
is indeed a quest to rediscover, deepen and renew with "the
force" of words what it is I believe in about my family, my
culture, my race, my spirituality and my Faith. Faith is of
cardinal importance in any spiritual life. As many before me
discovered, Faith is a precious but very fragile gem that must be
guarded carefully lest it be lost in a beach of gleaming pebbles.
Like a plant, faith has to be watered and nurtured
constantly, nay, minute by minute or one faces the risk of
seeing it ossify and die off.
The alternative to a life of faith is spiritual
and moral if not physical decay and death. The daily events
that happen to us continually confront and test the quality of
this faith and at times seem to want to overwhelm and crush it.
I find that faith is about Love or Trust - that has to be affirmed
and reaffirmed and treasured. Faith represents the building blocks
with which to construct that one edifice of Love that towers above
The poems on Faith epitomize my struggle to
recapture, deepen and hold on to this gift. These poems seek to
capture my struggle even when I fall, to not give in to despair
but to summon up a cheerful determination to rise above fear, and
to take that one step that will re-energize me on the march of
life; it is a faith that gently explains courage as being not the
absence of fear but right and constant action despite fear; it is
a faith that finally urges an absolute trust needed to flow with
the tide of life, believing that by God's grace, joy and relief
are around the corner.
It is for these reasons that the short story
"The View from Above - Resurrection" holds a particular
appeal for in it are subsumed the core principles that have guided
my life. The construction of the story helped to clarify and
synthesize themes that run like a thread through many of the poems
as well as philosophical concepts that have haunted me for a
number of years - such concepts as life and death, God and the
After-life, my Catholic Faith and the place of the human
Self in the cosmic scheme of things. Its writing still
excites me because it is a fictional exercise which enabled me to
experiment with plot, dialogue and above all Surprise as a
Family has always been an indispensable base of
operation. Children, husband, parents, relatives, friends,
country and people of the world make up our universe and without
these, there is no world, no life. Several poems speak of the pain
of separation, homesickness, unspeakable anguish at the
prospect of near-total loss, gratitude to Almighty God for the
miracle of survival, a daily invocation of vigilant angel guards
for constant protection. The spiritual poems include also my
homage to that holy man of prayers, Pope John Paul II, an
inspiring model for all the aged and all sufferers of illnesses
as, stooped with years, constantly in pain, he soldiers on for
Christ, courageously, despite criticisms, performing his official
My family home, Akwuosa represents a haven
always. In the essay and poems that speak of this abode of
love, Akwuosa assumes a human character because I feel for this
hallowed space in which I raised my children as I would feel for a
loved and absent family member. Anyone familiar with the
kind of love Russians feel for their native soil will understand
my homesickness at being away from Akwuosa.
Politics and the state of the nation both in
the United States of America and in Nigeria — two countries that
are both home to me — equally preoccupy my waking thoughts.
Problems infesting the world — especially these two countries — in form of devastating wars, all forms of social injustice,
increasing juvenile violence, the importance of the Vote in the
democratic process, the threatening extinction of the traditional
Family structure as we know it. Also, poverty and global racism
receive their share of attention. Equally important is my
love / concern for the African race, for a needed understanding
and an ideological if not geographical rapprochement among
peoples of African descent.
The misconception, the distrust and at times
the cultural discrimination that exist amongst Blacks are
explored and it is my hope as we struggle to teach, write, lecture
and interact with one another that in time Black people will
re-discover what earlier Black nationalists knew and suffered for:
that the fate of all Black peoples is inextricably linked
irrespective of geographical location and cultural specificity.
La lutta continua and this verbalized poetic effort to keep
peoples of African descent together remains my individual
contribution to the ongoing struggle for an equitable and
dignified existence. This Black Nationalist Ideal also
informed the Conferences and the Writers' Forum I founded and
organized at Morgan State University known as Writers of
African Descent Speak on Black Creativity and the State of the
Race (1996 - 99).
In the end, every piece of writing boils down
to Character or who we are as persons. The English
novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy believed that character is fate.
Any lover of his novels, be it The Mayor of Casterbridge,
Tess of D'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure or Far From the
Madding Crowd, et al, will easily agree to the truth of his
assertion that character is fate. And writing is the one
tool that enables us to dig and delve into the deepest recesses of
our very being to drag out the reality of who we are, the stuff of
which we are made (character). Writing as a thinking activity
enables us, to clear the forest of impediments, to resolve
confusion and frustrations that cloud our sojourn in this life;
writing empowers us to crystallize our personal qualities and show
how our character has determined our actions and therefore our
Some of the poems thus represent the steps of
my growth and the nectar and ambrosia of success at
achieving things which I hitherto believed I could not do.
Those are my motivational poems of which the creation reassured me
that nothing is ever impossible. Their composition convinced
me of the truth that one succeeds at anything to the degree that
one believes that the specific endeavor is worthwhile and
achievable. As the cliché goes, "nothing ventured,
nothing gained!" This belief is woven like a delicate
thread through the fabric of these poems.
All of these endeavors culminate in the
expression of Me as a Woman, as a Black woman and as a black
African woman. These different aspects of Me have become a
limitless quarry of scriptive materials helping me to achieve
authenticity, subjectivity and transcendence. Given the
historic devaluation of the woman and even more pertinent, the
global denigration and marginalization of the Black (African)
woman, writing empowers me to courageously and without apology
listen inwardly and define my essence as a thinking woman. The
ability to wield words emboldens me to brazenly verbalize and give
utterance to my thoughts and feelings as possessing
intrinsic beauty and worth. Manipulating ideas
enlivens me to affirm the grace and magic of writing
as a boon from a higher Divinity. Writing represents
the Truth as I see it, no one else's but my own Truth, my own
philosophy and my own vision du monde, so to say.
Evidently then, this collection has a lot to do
with Words: the construction, the use, the beauty of words. As
expressed in the opening lines of the essay "The Power of
the Word (Nommo) and Social Change," words have a life
and a power all of their own, in themselves and over all else.
Words have infinitely more power than the physical brains
that conceive them. Words cause things to become; they give life.
New Testament Christian theologos by declaring that "[i]n
principio erat Verbum, et Verbum est cum Deus, et Verbum est Deus
— In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and
the Word was God" – expands even further the potent force
of the "Word [which] became flesh and dwelt among us"
(The Gospel according to St. John).
Similarly, African traditional folklogos
reinforces the New Testament Christian theologos that life can be
said to also spring from the thunderous potency of
"Words" -- a fact that is made clear in the excerpt of a
Wapangwa Creation myth from Tanzania quoted below:
|The sky was large, white and very clear.
It was empty; there were no stars and no moon; only a tree stood
in the air, and there was no wind. This tree fed on
atmosphere, and ants lived on it. Wind, tree, ants and
atmosphere were controlled by the power of the word. But
the word was not something that could be seen. It
was a force that enabled one thing to create
Since "the power of the word . . .
was not something that could be seen . . . [but] a force that
enabled one thing to create another," to command with words
is indeed to practice "magic" so to say. To
practice "word magic" is literally and
figuratively to write poetry. Who then has more power to
change negative realities, to effect social change for the
betterment of the world than the writer, the poet who is
griot or wordsmith creating and empowering with words, erecting
verbalized edifices of peace and harmony with the building blocks
of words, causing change to become with words expressed as ideas
which in turn move the hearts of people and transform the world.
In the final analysis, writing is all about the authentic Self.
To the degree that one writes effectively,
writing becomes an exercise not only in Self-discovery, but in
Self-affirmation, validation and transcendence.
Tenderly, using words, I pay this homage of
love to my people and to all peoples of our universe. And to you,
Reader; come and journey with me on this odyssey of search and
discovery, renewal and affirmation, validation and final triumph
over limitations. At our journey's end, may You, I
pray, find in this collection, the force and magic of the
written word, discover the authenticity of Self and the joy of
Dr. Rose Ure Mezu, April 2001
* * * *
What is in Time?
Close your eyes
Open your eyes
Behold what was not
Become what is
Dark night gives way to sun rays
Rain clouds yield to rainbows
Dreams for which the heart pined
Become the concrete Present
And so I ask,
What is in Time?
* * * *
Now is the present moment
Now is the time of Becoming
All that we're capable of being.
Yesterday is past, dead and gone
And with it all the ills we've done.
All unfulfilled plans merely seem
Like memories of what could've been.
Tomorrow is pregnant with dreams unborn
The future is a pot of Hopes yet unboiled -
Dim visions only capable of Becoming.
But Now is the Real Moment
To be all that we really can
Building on the failures of Yesterday
Buoyed by dreamed visions of Tomorrow
All capable of becoming because of Now
For Now is the Only Time we have
To make dreams be concrete action
Now can seize Tomorrow by its horn
Now can arise and make the Moment be:
More than memories of Yesterday
Or dreamed visions of Tomorrow
Now becomes the Best
This Now can ever Be!
Source: Rose Ure Mezu. Homage to My People.
Black Academy Press, Inc., 2004.
* * *
* * *
The Price of Civilization
Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity
By Jeffrey D. Sachs
The Price of Civilization is a book that is essential reading for every American. In a forceful, impassioned, and personal voice, he offers not only a searing and incisive diagnosis of our country’s economic ills but also an urgent call for Americans to restore the virtues of fairness, honesty, and foresight as the foundations of national prosperity. Sachs finds that both political parties—and many leading economists—have missed the big picture, offering shortsighted solutions such as stimulus spending or tax cuts to address complex economic problems that require deeper solutions. Sachs argues that we have profoundly underestimated globalization’s long-term effects on our country, which create deep and largely unmet challenges with regard to jobs, incomes, poverty, and the environment. America’s single biggest economic failure, Sachs argues, is its inability to come to grips with the new global economic realities. Sachs describes a political system that has lost its ethical moorings, in which ever-rising campaign contributions and lobbying outlays overpower the voice of the citizenry. . . . Sachs offers a plan to turn the crisis around. He argues persuasively that the problem is not America’s abiding values, which remain generous and pragmatic, but the ease with which political spin and consumerism run circles around those values. He bids the reader to reclaim the virtues of good citizenship and mindfulness toward the economy and one another.
* * *
Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
* * *