Book Review

by Ifeoma Akabogu Chinwuba

Ifeoma Chinwuba

Introduction to Poetry: A Critical Anthology of Selected North American, British and African Poems. 4th Edition. Author: Obi Maduakor Shidaanikei, Toronto, © 2019, 192 pages.

Many of us have encountered poems at school or on the pages of newspapers, or in mass transit vehicles. Some have tried to scribble a quatrain or a stanza without knowing component parts of a poem, much like a driver gets in behind the wheel and zooms off, without regard for the mechanics of a car.

Maduakor’s Introduction to Poetry fills the lacuna. In very clear language, he deconstructs the poem, rendering it accessible to the uninitiated. The author starts by explaining in simple terms what poetry is. Thereafter, he plunges into the taxonomy of poems, (the ballads, elegy, ode, sonnet, etc.), as well as the diction and figures of speech used to birth verses: simile, metaphors, alliteration, metonymy, synecdoche, etc. After providing the tools for appreciating a poem, Maduakor takes the bull by the horns and dissects inter alia, Anne Sexton’s Her Kind p.77 and Gabriel Okara’s Were I to Choose, pp.64-65, showing practically, how to appreciate and assess verse.

 From this perspective, the book achieves many feats: firstly, it empowers the reader to understand and appreciate a work of poetry. Secondly, it equips the reader to assemble words and create a more nuanced poem. Finally, the inclusion of a portable anthology acquaints the reader with a handful of English language great poets. They include PB Shelley, Milton, John Donne, not forgetting the African-Americans, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and African voices such as David Diop, Dennis Brutus, and Wole Soyinka. Maduakor’s book is a mini treasure house of poetic works. Angelou’s Still I Stand, The Caged Bird, and John Pepper Clark’s Abiku all feature.

Ironically, one could fault the book for the legends it leaves out. Niyi Osundare is not mentioned. Neither is Sedar Senghor, nor Bernard Dadié, Femi Osofisan, and modern Nigerian-Canadian poets like Nduka Otiono, Uche Umezurike, Amatoritsero Ede, and Titi Sonuga. Perhaps, it is the need for portability that explains this triage.

The flip side to this important tome is the whiteness of the pages, which I found too bright. Beige colour pages are in vogue because they are more eye-friendly. In addition, one reference was wrongly made; at p. 46, we are referred to p. 110 for Sir Walter Raleigh’s The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd. It turns out the poem is actually at p. 94.

Furthermore, Maduakor routinely indicates the birth and demise dates of the poets cited. Maya Angelou (1928-2014). Yet, he omits the information for several poets such as Ahmed Knowmadic Ali, for whom he states ‘date of birth not available.’ p.133. A Google search provided the poet’s birth date as 28 November 1984. In other words, the information was a click away.

The above oversights notwithstanding, I strongly recommend Maduakor’s Introduction to Poetry, to students, parents, and poets. Students will find it a useful tutorial, while parents will be enabled to understand and assist wards with their poetry assignment.  To poets, both budding and established, this book is a must-have in their quest to hone their craft and understand the architecture and art of creating verse.

Ms. Ifeoma Chinwuba is the 2021-2022 Writer-in-Residence of the Department of English and Film Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton. A retired diplomat, she is the author of five books, made up of novels, poetry in dialogue, and a juvenile novella. HerMerchants of Flesh” and “Waiting for Maria” have, at different times, won the Prose Prizes of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), while “Waiting for Maria” was on the Long-list of The Commonwealth Writers Prize, 2008. Web: