From Affirmations for Poetic Pedagogy to Cosmic Realms: The Poet as a Teacher

From Affirmations for Poetic Pedagogy to Cosmic Realms: The Poet as a Teacher

A Story by Echezonachukwu Nduka

A Review of Umar Sidi's The Poet of Sand


Reviewer: Echezonachukwu Nduka

Book Title: The Poet of Sand

Publisher: Saraba

Year: 2014

Author: Umar Sidi

Pages: 34

Genre: Poetry


Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, opines that poetry is finer and more philosophical than history. He believes that while history expresses only the particular, poetry expresses the universal. The universal, in this case, could be that which relates to the whole world and all conceivable disciplines of man. In this case, poetry becomes an enigma which, if one tries to understand fully, might be totally lost in its tapestry of simplicity and ambiguity. To this end, it becomes a journey which every poet begins, but never ends. This journey is full of adventures, experiments and discoveries, and this is what the poet, Umar Sidi, has tried to affirm in his epic poetic journey in The Poet of Sand.

Poetry is not philosophical because it has been stated over and again and has since become an axiom. It is philosophical because of its nature which, if one struggles to make certain affirmations, he only becomes a school of thought as opposed to others who might have variant approaches, comprehensibility and interpretations, and thus, belongs to another school of thought. Hence, poets are philosophers mainly because of the art of poetry. In the realm of Nigerian poetry, there are not so many poets who have attempted a delve into philosophical depths such as cosmological cum ontological arguments and discourses. Inasmuch as we read and write poems about love and affection, nature, political activism and the likes, the need to delve into more daring and experimental perspectives continue to stare in our faces. The poet, Umar Sidi, in this adventurous chapbook, challenges convention in contemporary Nigerian poetry.

The poems in the chapbook are basically in three segments. First, The Peninsula of Poets & The Peninsula of Poets (II), Second, Instructions to a Poet, and Third, Testaments of Sand.

 While some scholars like to argue that the sacredness of poetry lies in its power of self revelation without the primordial need of being taught formally, the need for an intending poet, or a young poet to sit under the tutelage of another poet so as to soar in the art continues to resonate. This could be by formal education in an institution, or an informal training via voracious reading and self study of the art. Inasmuch as poetry is being taught to literature students in institutions, it doesn’t truly make one a poet. The formal study serves as a push, a certain revelation of some sort, and instrument for refinement. This, however, does not make even the teacher a master in the art, for everyone continues the journey which seems to have no end.  If poetry doesn’t come to one on its own accord, forcing it could be a futile engagement. From the very beginning of the poem, the poet employs several poetic personas like MARTIN Espada, Gogol, ADONIS, DARWISH, SIMIC, BILLY Collins, RUMI, GINSBERG, Al-Arshad et al who play vital roles in this all important journey of discovery.

This very dramatic entrance scene in the first peninsula portrays the proposition that poetry could be taught.


MARTIN Espada welcomed me with a slap

On my left cheek, he pulled my ear

& tossed me into the ‘Academy of Poetry’ where Gogol

An ancient ape, the Peninsula’s poet Laureate

Sat me up and taught me:

Hukku yyakku huhhu huk

The ABC of poetry & the 7 articles of a poet’s faith


From the excerpt above, it is understandable that the peninsula’s poet laureate found it necessary to introduce the art of poetry to this learner by starting right from the rudiments. Of course, considering pedagogic principles and what it means to be a teacher, Gogol couldn’t have been more apt. In this peninsula of poets where an academy of poetry existed, which adventurous mind wouldn’t want to learn the art? Here, the personas played roles in an attempt to provide answers to questions about where poetry is, who a poet is, and what a poet should do. Here’s an excerpt that answers the very question of where poetry can be found:

It lies inside You, within You, about You, outside You

It is a dense fog of darkness, it is the meaningless(ness) of life


While poetry as an art enjoys an ‘incomprehensible depth’ which makes it somewhat difficult for one to claim expertise, it has become an axiom that poetry can either be good or bad. In Sidi’s The Poet of Sand, BILLY Collins, a persona, did not attempt to define what poetry is. The persona rather dwelt on one part of the divide which is Good Poetry. This, however, suggests that there is also Bad Poetry. The persona defines Good Poetry with a somewhat erotic metaphor, and the poet (a dude) as a companion which suggests they are into an intimate relationship. While the poet wanders in his little world of madness and adventures, he does not abandon his companion. Here, Sidi, via this poetic persona seems to be saying, “I may not know what poetry is, but I know good poetry when I read one.”

In the second question of who a poet is, the answers are vivid. Umar Sidi, via his personas gave descriptions which are suggestive to an extent. From all the definitions of who a poet is, here are two definitions from two personas. First, RUMI states:

A poet is nothing but a universal ambassador of love

The second persona, GINSBERG who was high on dope, perhaps marijuana or some strange drug, perched on a tree and wouldn’t stop chanting. When faced with the question of who a poet is, he said:

Holy Holy Holy Holy Holy

A poet is a holy fool

From the above definition, the suggestiveness lies in the choice of the word, holy. Knowing full well that any being or substance referred to as holy is sacred, saintly and often consecrated for the service of a god, or God, the poet is hereby proclaimed sacrosanct and his art, poetry, a deity. One might choose to ask, ‘What then makes this holy being a fool?’ Having stated that poetry is a deity, its worshipper, the poet, offers obeisance and sacrifices via writing, reading, performances, and to an extent believes he has mastered the art. The foolishness lies in that thought ‘I know what poetry is.’ But then, if poetry is a deity (which of course makes it mysterious), how does one, even if consecrated, claim mastery of it?

The peninsula of poets (II) is filled with further picturesque propositions and affirmations of the personality of a poet. Here, the skillful use of imagery in the practiced hands of Sidi is brought to bear. With about thirty five couplets accompanied with diverse onomatopoeic responses, one is left to wonder if the poet was possessed by a poetry deity when the poems were being penned. Filled with allegorical depths and brain-teasing lines, the reader is left to decipher who a poet really is. From this segment, I have chosen two excerpts which directly relates to what I have stated in this discourse so far.



A poet is he who searches frantically for his sexy chick (Good Poetry)

Knowing he will never find her even in the brothels of the sky


Jam Jam Dum Dum



A poet is Shaman, Babalawo, Sangoma, Boka Seer,

Healer, mental-patient, a penetrating eye

Through the dark regions of Night


Hush Hush Hash Hash

From the second excerpt, the portrait of a poet shows he is a prophet. He uses his art as a medium to foretell that which is about to happen in any environment he finds himself. This is very plausible because since the poet is consecrated and dedicated to the service of poetry, his deity, the ability to prophesy comes to the poet naturally as a divine package. He does not beg for it. He does not force it. The poet is not a common being. Of course, a poet has many sides, and too many sides of a poet are imbued in the imageries contained in The peninsula of poets (II).

In the second segment, Instructions to a Poet, we are presented with the answers to the question of what a poet should do. Reading the verses here, one could imagine the poet as a teacher, standing before a poetry class of budding poets and teaching them what to do so as to make good poetry. Considering the idea of schools of thought which I stated earlier, what is good poetry to one, might be very bad poetry to another. It only takes a kindred spirit to see the meanings in the verses which may seem meaningless. Nevertheless, the need to break away from certain conventions seems to be a sine qua non for poems to stand out. In the excerpt below, the poet teaches:

Poet. Create. Make Poetry

That will break the rules of grammar

& cripple the orders of syntax. Make poetry

That will throw shackled chains on metaphor

Torture & condemn it to a life sentence

In the impenetrable Dungeon of Words


 In the third and the last segment, Testaments of Sand, Umar Sidi marches into cosmological and ontological journey of discoveries. As it has been, not too many people are very comfortable with discourses that question the process of creation cum the existence and the nature of God. When one asks, ‘Does God exist?’ or, ‘What is the nature of God?’, some people, even scholars seem to evade such discourses so as not to challenge their faith or incur the wrath of God. Right from the inception in the first peninsula of poets, the adventurous pilgrim (whom I believe is Umar Sidi), having been slapped by MARTIN Espada and tossed into the Academy of Poetry, did continue his journey of discovery till he met Al-Arshad. Al-Arshad, being one of the personas seems to be a cosmic force and a spirit which means different things to different beings. In this segment, there’s a discourse on the creation of the universe and man, and Al-Arshad, being a force that existed even before the creation commenced, partook in the process of creation. Saliently, the discourse affirms the existence of God as a supreme being and the creator of the universe. Acknowledging the nature of Al-Arshad and its depth of knowledge, the adventurous pilgrim continuously questions the persona on God’s process of creation.

Here are some of the striking questions;


how did God mate with sky

is it with droplets of words, did he say BE and sky CAME?


and when God said LET THERE BE LIGHT, and there was light,

was that an affectionate smile from a love struck

couple longing for a kiss?


or did God use the Omniscient Force

the ungraspable power of thought?


 While still pondering over the daring questions of this pilgrim on the creation of the universe, several other questions are asked on the nature of God. Since God exists and He created the universe, there’s an undying quest to know the nature of God. Who exactly is God? What are the circumstances surrounding God’s existence? How does God think? Can one tell God’s mind? The quest is thought-provoking. To find God’s true identity, the pilgrim continues to question Al-Arshad.



is God the big old man with silver beard smiling in the sky?

is God the integer, the perfect number of Pythagoras and his ilk?

is God the invisible energy of Socrates & the unmoved mover of Plato?


The questions continued till the sojourner demanded to know if it was the contemplation of the letter Jim which is the invisible lock to the mind of God that made Hippasus of Metapontum to break the Pythagoras accord. Since the letter Jim is the invisible lock to the mind of God, there’s a quest to know the meaning of the letter Jim, which in turn should wholly unveil the entire mind of God. Here again, he questions;

AL-ARSHAD, what is the meaning of the letter Jim?

From this point till the close of the poem or journey, several meanings were given to the letter Jim. Strikingly, the poem ends with the same question, “al-arshad, what is the meaning of the letter Jim?” For the poem to close in such manner, Umar Sidi unequivocally states that the mind of God is as endless as a mystery. No amount of answers will suffice. Reading all the poems over and again, I have tried meticulously to find at least one line or a verse to disagree with. But how does one disagree with a pilgrim who journeyed to a cosmic realm all alone? The Poet of Sand is no doubt an adventurous journey of discoveries which every mind with an unending quest should read and keep as a companion. The chapbook makes a strong affirmation that the poet is a philosopher.


© 2014 Echezonachukwu Nduka

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Added on September 25, 2014
Last Updated on September 26, 2014
Tags: #Poetry #Review #PoetryChapbookR


Echezonachukwu Nduka
Echezonachukwu Nduka


Echezonachukwu Nduka is a Nigerian poet, short fiction writer and essayist. He is the Bronze Prize Winner of the 4th Korea-Nigeria Poetry Feast. He was listed by The Kalahari Review as the most read .. more..