Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Esiaba Irobi and His Muse

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Esiaba Irobi and His Muse

Article excerpt

WHY I DON'T LIKE PHILIP LARKIN & OTHER POEMS was published by Esiaba Irobi in 2005. It was his last published collection of poetry, and the dedication page bore "For Georgina Alaukwu." In the glossary he provided at the end of the book, Esiaba gave this short explanation: "Alaukwu, Georgina. My ex-lover now married." Further down, he described Festac Town as a borough of Lagos where Georgina once lived. Esiaba devoted the five poems which make up the entire Part V of the collection titled "Where Thunders Go to Die" to telling the story of this unfortunate love, which is intertwined with his life journey and his preview of its end.

Given the prominence Esiaba gave "Georgie of the World" in his written works, and as I was told by Nnorom Azuonye, in his life performances, I understand a lot of people think it is a metaphor. That is far from the truth. Earlier on, in his play The Other Side of the Mask, Esiaba had depicted a character, Ziphora, lurking in Jamike's bedroom, but with the persona of a dog in the manger of his matrimony. He called me his Muse.

Esiaba Irobi and I met at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), where we were students in the Department of English between 1979 and 1983. Our freshmen library cards were signed by Professor Chinua Achebe, who was Head of Department. Through our four-years sojourn, our young minds and dreams were influenced, moulded, and changed forever by the great UNN theatre maestros Professor Kalu Uka, the late Professor James Amankulor (J.A.S.), and the late Professor Ossie Enekwe.

In those heady intellectual days, UNN was brimming with men full of idealism, high intellect, and creativity. There was Dr Meki Nzewi in the Department of Music, Professor Obiora Udechukwu in Fine Arts, and Professor Ikenna Nzimiro in Political Science. Of course, we had Professor Chinua Achcbe, Professor Emmanuel Obiechina, and Professor Donatus Nwoga in the English Department. I mention these names so that the explosive liberation of innate talents that attended the English Department class of 1983 will be understood in that context.

Esiaba was a prodigy, and UNN was the crucible that forged the tools of his genius. His proclivity started budding when, instead of writing notes during classes, Esiaba wrote his own verses. When lecturers gave class assignments, Esiaba critiqued established literary works, analysed them, and gave his personal opinion. That required a lot of courage and self-confidence, because it often resulted in Esiaba engaging the lecturers in intellectual sparring, when his views were contrary. In our 100-level class, Wole Soyinka's The Man Died was a compulsory text. But it was difficult reading for the students. All of us depended on the lecturer to explain the narrative, except Esiaba, who started and finished reading it and even wove a coherent thread in his analysis of the novel. In our class, then, Esiaba was primus inter pares. He had a preppy look, and, pretty soon, the acting roles started falling in his lap. He was everything I was not and, naturally, many of us girls had a crush on him. I kept a reasonable distance from Esiaba - until a class essay I wrote brought me face to face with him.

Our nemesis in the Department was a certain Dr Orji, who prided himself on being a graduate of "Havard and Yales." This Dr Orji taught English Grammar and Style, and most students dreaded it due to the woeful performances and mass failures in the assessment tests and exams. It was difficult to please Dr Orji. On that occasion, we were given an assignment to write individual essays on 'A Person I Admire Very Much'. On the day Dr Orji returned our marked essays, he characteristically upbraided the entire class for sloppy and unstructured writing. Surprisingly, he was excited about one essay, which he commanded everyone to read and learn how to write well. He read excerpts from the only essay he gave an 'A' grade, and I recognized it was mine. Since the essay in question has been preserved by me from 1980, when it was written, to date, I reproduce most of it below:

Of all the people I have met in my 18 years of life, he ranks as the finest of them all. …

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