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Book Review & Art

Book: Songs of Paradise, A Harvest of Poetry and Verse
Author: James Ogoola
Publisher: Word Alive Publishers
Volume: 170 pages
Price: Shs 32,000
Reviewer: Martyn Drakard
Available from Aristoc and all major bookshops

Poetry is something very personal, in composition and appreciation. So I thought twice about buying (Justice) James Ogoola’s collection of fifty-two poems, Songs of Paradise, for review. I’m glad I thought a second time and decided to buy. The book is a jewel, and one to read once and again and enjoy more each time.

Many people are put off by poetry because, they say, they can’t understand what the poet is saying. Too often they’re right. No such danger with James Ogoola’s well-constructed verse and well-chosen imagery. He has also managed to successfully combine the beauty of the English language at its best with aptly used modern idiom – and a bit of tongue in cheek – without doing damage to either.

The description of the Massacre of the Innocents in the poem, Born to Die, provides a good example.
It reads: “In His infancy, the earth quaked in awe, A foxy wimp of a king panicked with fright, Babes in arms the timid king slaughtered. The thirsty desert sands flowed crimson red with the blood of innocent infants.

But He, into a far exile He was led, to commune at the tranquil edge of the Nilotic waters, safe and secure from the desert pogroms.” Or from the story of Zacchaeus in The Sycamore Tree: “The altitude that Zacchaeus sought lifted his attitude. He raised his face….and locked eyes with God. …..that very night at supper, Zacchaeus dined with the Divine in his house.”

Not all Ogoola’s poems are spiritual, but none let us forget that true poetic inspiration is divine, and his point of reference is always the Creator of Man and the beauty of Nature, humorously as in The Orphan Tree, ingeniously as in The Incredible Egg and pensively as in Carnage in Paradise; and they ring all the more true because of this.

Ogoola joins the small group of poets, such as George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins and T.S. Eliot, whose faith was the foundation and purpose of whatever they wrote. In Ode to a Dear Mum from the chapter Love and Life, we read: “For nine magical months, mother, you and foetal me buddied and bonded intensely. You gingerly caressed me, spread your protecting wings totally around me as you delicately enveloped me, sealed in the safe shrine of your sacred womb.

Like the teetering lamb that I was, you tenderly tethered me to the essence of your own being through the mystical umbilical cord……….” The Last Journey reminds us that we all die alone, “In the lonely coffin I lie; all by myself in solitary confinement: no escort; no family; no friend - no-one to accompany me on the way…”

His trilogy on the two State sieges of the Ugandan High Court (Rape of the Temple; The Cannibals, and The Cross of Justice); the King and the Ninety-Nine Clowns; and The Snakes, the Spiders and the Scorpions (Kenya’s Poisoned Chalice) point out incisively and ominously how greed and violence can take over in our fragile democracies.

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