Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’s Dancing Masks begins with two important proverbs:
You do not stand in one place to watch a dancing mask – Igbo Proverb.
The world is like a mask dancing. If you want to see it, you do not stand in one place – Chinua Achebe.
Like Achebe, Adimora-Ezeigbo’s opening page with the Igbo proverb affirms her believe that cultures use folklore and poems and proverbs to pass on great cultural richness and values in the society. Hence, proverbs, which is often associated with wisdom finds befitting place(s) in the poetry of Adimora-Ezeigbo. The latter proverb, solicited from Achebe’s Arrow of God, recounts Ezeulu’s speech to Oduche in the wake of the new religion. ‘I want one of my sons to join these people and be my eye there. If there is nothing in it you will come back. But if there is something there you will bring home my share. The world is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well you do not stand in one place. My spirit tells me that those who do not befriend the white man today will be saying had we known tomorrow.” – Arrow of God p45-46.
Dancing Masks is divided into five different sections: Signs of the Times, Fingers of Feeling, Haiku Connections, Ikpem: Pidgen Blues and Infinite Cycles: The beginning ends where the end begins. Adimora-Ezeigbo raises enough concerns and issues that cripple the society in which we live. A myriad of themes from love to family to friendship to climatic changes runs through the book.
The opening poem however sends shivers down my spine and raises concerns of Global Warming and the “disaster” that “looms” in this weird world. As if human beings sitting on a time bomb, waiting to explode even when “time crosses the abyss of hope” and “poor nations await the guillotine”.
In Casualty, both young and old share their sentiments towards one another. For young casualty, her worry: “Why do you have to travel and leave me at home?” For Old Casualty, the desire to succeed in this profession of “publish or perish” roused her ambition for good prospects from elsewhere. The “mad competition to excel” in “this land that kills initiative” could better be the divine excuse for a year sojourn elsewhere? Nonetheless, the niggling trepidation for Old Casualty hangs in the balance; the fear of young casualty metamorphosing into “drug addict, rapist, thief or terrorist?” Could it then be argued that the insurgence of terrorism in recent times stems from the absence of proper parental care of young casualties?
Albeit, there are several Ways of Dying, this poem inspired by plane crashes in Nigeria between the years 2005 and 2007. Starting on the ephemeral make of mankind and ending on a rather hopeful note and like the biblical quote presents better: I will not die but live to declare the works of the Lord.
The second section of the book is all about love and friendships and relationships. Adimora-Ezeigbo’s description of love is thoroughly unpretentious. We meet phrases like “Woman of liquid midnight skin” in Celebrating Agbonma the beauty, “mind gestates in acrobatics” in Small talk, “love’s surplus banquet” in Joys of friendship, “frolic of a smile” in In brotherhood, “throttle our love” in Soul mate call, “air sodden with perfume” in Moon song to the beloved, “love-drenched eyes” in Sweet Havila.
Other sections captured in the book are Haiku Connections with poems touching on our heritage living abroad as portrayed in “Benin bronze in London”, illegible hieroglyphics analogous to ancient Egypt in “Grim faces thought-creased” and feasting on worm infested mangoes in “We sit at table”.
The last section, Infinite Cycles: The beginning ends where the end begins is a proverbial title that pays tribute to a number of important people. For instance “A hero for all seasons” pays tribute to Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, “Farewell, great compatriot” written in memory of Chief Emeka Obiabaka, “Tribute to Atakata Agbuo” written in memory of Col. Chinyere Ike Nwosu, “Homecoming of a Christian Soldier” written in memory of Elder Justin Ezeokwura and “A Matriarch Departs” written in memory of Madam Gladys Adimora.
In Dancing Masks, Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo presents many problematic societal issues to the reader in a most discernible language. The poems oftentimes sing melodious tunes, breathe and die like human beings, cautions the reader in times of looming dangers, cares for the family, worries about casualties, praises artists and pays tribute to some important personalities. Dancing Masks is no doubt a remarkable feat.