By Yinka Fabowale
Title: The Songs of the Pipit
Author: Malcom Little Black’s
Reviewer: Yinka Fabowale
From the first sip to the last drop of his brew, Malcom Little Black’s The Songs of the Pipit echoes the curiosity of guests at whence came a later-served wine of finest taste at a wedding in Cana, Galilee attended by the venerable Nazarene over 2,000 years ago, as recorded in the Bible. More curious still, perhaps, is the apparent anonymity of the author. His name rings no bell in the circle of accomplished poets in Nigeria or anywhere, though his offerings bear the fecundity and maturity of the voices of the masters who send words on errands!
Black is a young Nigerian poet who has spent the past years grooming his voice and his ‘wings’ in order to someday soar and sing with the flock that rule the skies! This debut poetry collection recently published and on sale on Kindle Amazon is the fruit of his exertions. It is a message to the world encapsulated in 42 poems spread and over 67 pages: An indictment of humanity for the despoliation and degeneration of life and living on earth from its originally chaste and beautiful condition to its present phony and superficial state; and prescription on how to restore its innocence and raise it to the ideal, perfect pedestal.
Black enwraps this message in a compound of metaphors, paradoxes and ironies and encourages, or more appropriately, challenges the reader to fathom it from beneath the ocean of literary gems he tucks it! His delivery, therefore, comes not in the form of direct, harsh and critical apostolic eschatology, but a lullaby or subdued lament about the contention between possibilities of a beautiful and blissful world and the caricature it is choked with immorality, filth, chaos, and ‘noise’ – much like the sweet, soothing melody of the Pipit from which a seeking one could draw sublime insights and find peace and happiness in the serene ambience of the meadow!
The Songs of the Pipit, like Black himself, is an enigma, full of ironies and paradoxes in which the thesis unravels in the antithesis and vice versa! As example, the poet declares in the opening poem, from which the book derives its title, that he sings exclusively of and for nature – the sun, stars, which he calls ”gallant soldiers guarding the night sky”, landscape, tremors, tsunamis, showers, animals, insects, other entities he dubs ‘cosmic sentries’, ‘delicate weaving hands’, ‘the ancestors’, ‘the peal’, etc; indignantly warning: “I do not sing for the earthman, for his ears barely hear, I do not sing for vanity no matter the length of my penury,/With my lifted verses, I shall eulogise the coming ones, the beautiful works of art, coloured with indigo, the foresighted generation, sharp contrasts to the modern man. Thus shall my voice be heard/And thus shall I stand appeased/ I’m a Pipit, I sing for the world!”
But this proclamation is a tacit excoriation of humanity for being apparently placid and cut off from a perceived cycle of incessant and living activity involving all other creatures in the universe. Black thereby immediately registers his concern and sets the tone that predominates in the work which other poems amplify in diverse ways.
Among the interesting poems are: Nostalgia, Ideal World, Sotto Voce, For What it’s what?, Religion of Love, A Living Prayer, How Black is the Devil, Brotherhood, Values, Wealth, Black Orchid, Namaste, Flowers’ Canticle, To be (1), To be (2), Gratitude, Honour the Woman, Swan’s Inquisition, A Hollow Sound, Silence, Pilgrims, Millennia, Oodles of Melanin, and O.N.O.M.E (The African Child).
Some of these arouse nostalgia in their vivid portrayal of the chaste, tranquil, and enchanting scenery of the countryside, nature and rural life, present and past. The poet’s ecstatic celebration of the codes and practices of morality, love, integrity, hard toil, contentment and virtuous living which prevail in these societies is, however, sometimes tinged with a mournful tone of regret at their fast erosion by the superficiality and corruption of the ‘modern’ age.
However, the poet does not give in to despair. In poems such as Ideal World, he dreams of a rebirthed world: “Where darkness will never fail, kindness will fill every word and love the foundation of every wall…/…a beautiful world/ Where the earthworm will feel safe to crawl,/Abundance that everyman can afford/And beauty will permeate every skull/ A world that, like in the past, responded to every call, where empathy reigned like never before/ And the human tree grow giantly tall…”
Black ascribes the crises man faces today at the personal, community and global levels to ignorance, vanity, egotism, lack of compassion and his having always lived on a detrimental basis with his insatiable craving for materialism, enervating comfort, self-advantage often at the expense of other creatures. To enjoy a truly free, happy and fulfilled life, he directs humanity to take a cue from nature and other creatures therein which radiate beauty, harmony and health by simply being true to their character and faithfully carrying out the purpose for which they are created in accordance with the Will of the Almighty Creator.
Black submits that it only takes lighting up and warming the world with the flame from the candles, he says, lie within everyone’s heart to dissipate and banish the hindering darkness, and clean up the world of mad ambitions, greed, tension, wars, conflicts, ills and other ugliness and refashion it into a haven of peace and happiness the creator ordained it to be. He also decries man’s inhumanity to man, religious intolerance, hypocrisy, racism among other ideas, practices and lifestyles. For example, the author points at the contradiction and stupidity in men casting admiring look /Upon the rainbow in the sky, which beauty is wrought in a wealth of colours; but a mean stare upon their brother’s skin of a different pigment!
In the same vein, in A Living Prayer, he admonishes men to dump the verbose, wearisome pleas they call prayers, and instead emulate other creatures who by their selfless, up-building and joyful activities glorify and beseech and thus offer true, living prayers to the Creator.
He reiterates similar point when he admonishes in Save your religion: “Do not speak to me about Jesus/ and the religious cult/Show me His Word in deeds/ and in the righteous stalk/That I may lose my perch on the mound of doubt/ And plant my feet on the soil of Conviction. Don’t tell me about Buddah and the noble eigthfold path/If you must place Truth on the furnace of falsehood and turn up the furnace for cremation… /’ere you preach about Muhammad and the five pillars of Islam/First sprinkle peace like confetti/On the soul of Ramadan/ And raise stems of roses in place of sword/ That we may wage the Jihad in the name of Love.”
Black makes the point that man requires knowledge and guidance of the undiluted Truth to enable him successfully navigate life’s journey unscathed. But subtly warns against falling victim of the tribe of wiseacres and false religious teachers, who, for selfish motives deceived and mislead the gullible masses with their pseudo- knowledge as he notes that the seeker retains the choice of spurning the guidance of the Word for the half -baked pie hawked by the lot.
In poem after poem, he enjoins the reader to imbibe the priceless wisdom of the ages inscribed on the pages of the sacred scroll, which he says, is also to be found “seated in the abode of mother nature”. This, he says, implies recognising that: “Life is best understood not so much like a walking shadow nor a piece of half-baked pie/But a gift wrapped with leaves of Olive, A desert cactus waiting to be discovered” This, in turn, calls for patience, simplicity, fortitude, equanimity, empathy and selflessness among other virtues.
The Songs of the Pipit seems another blast of the trumpet of Divine judgement and the Good gospel with a literary tone and appeal. With the vividness of its language, imagery, rich lyricism and ecclesiastical flavour, one feels as if seated in a lone, sequestered park, listening to the sonorous voice of a monk waft across from a nearby sanctuary, calling attention to the glory and splendour of the magnificient creation all around and the reverence and worship due the Maker by the slothful, neglectful mankind, sometimes in solemn tones, at other times, with searing accusation in spite of the subtlety of the poet’s style.
The poems are sequentially ordered in a way that their subject matters dovetail into one another. This enables the reader to easily follow the central thread of the anthology, relate the interconnectedness of the diverse parts and comprehensively appreciate the organic whole. An example is where in a logical sequence As you wish it immediately follows What do you seek?
In The Songs of the Pipit, Black not only sings of the light, he has given us both a delightful artistic treasure and most beneficial work of spiritual enlightenment worth investing on and engaging.