Goosebumps couldn’t have hoped for a more illustrious take-off, says Eze
By Godwin Okondo
THE evening descended too soon on the sleepy university town of Nsukka. The setting sun hid behind clumps of dispersing clouds and sprayed a bust of golden rays over the trademark green hills in the distance. Inside the impressive hall of the Senior Staff Club, a lonely banner announced the event to members and patrons trickling into the venue.
Journalist and poet, James Eze arrived ahead of time, dressed in a remarkable bespoke jumper with a bold print of the famous Igbo-Ukwu bronze covering both the chest and stomach regions. Although he had not spoken about it yet, it was easy to surmise that the poet was silently paying tribute to his Igbo heritage and pointing a proud finger at the line of great craftsmen in whose shadows he walks as a creative force. Poets and symbolisms!
Culture activist, environment advocate and dramatist, Prof. Greg Mbajiorgu glittered in his all-white outfit as he made his opening remarks, explaining the big idea behind the ‘Great Talents Forum’ and why the initiative had become an absolute necessity. He praised the President of the Senior Staff Club, Prof. Chidi Ugwu for working assiduously to ensure that the ‘Great Talents Forum’ took off as planned. He quickly introduced Eze, recounting his long history of curating creative writing workshops and poetry festivals and the impact of his debut collection of poems, dispossessed on the nation’s literary and cultural landscape.
James Eze reading from his latest poetry collection, goosebumps
Mbajiorgu’s remarks and introduction of the star poet drew a decent applause from the eclectic audience of university dons. In the audience was also the famous British economist, political scientist and Harvard professor and co-author of Why Nations Fail, Prof. James Alan Robinson who was visiting Nsukka with his team and had decided to stop by to listen to the poet after hearing about the event from his fellow academics.
Eze took to the stage shortly afterwards and explained that he was delighted to share some poems from his latest book entitled goosebumps at Nsukka, exactly one week after its official release into the market. He quickly switched into the performance mode and delivered a masterful rendition of the title poem of his collection, goosebumps. He followed it up with a handful of other poems before he motioned the singer and multi-instrumentalist, Masthamind to join him for a more compelling performance with the melodious accompaniment of his guitar. He then performed the heavily hip-hop themed ‘Make the world a better place,’ which had been set to song and released on global music platforms. Eze suddenly kicked up a rap verse and performed it to the melodious twangs from the guitar, waving and swerving to the beat in a manner quite reminiscent of American hip-hop artistes. He made such a big impression with a smooth flow and enchanting cadence that made the audience take to the song in unison. The audience didn’t see it coming. They rewarded him with a generous applause.
Without warning, he switched from the fast-paced hip-hop song to a soulful ballad entitled ‘Hourglass.’ He sang the lead while Masthamind weighed in with smooth backup vocals. ‘Hourglass’ is a poem in goosebumps that Eze had set to song. The song has an infectious chorus that is easy to memorize and sing along as it plays. The audience drew a deep breath and exhaled when the song ended. The song obviously toyed with the audience’s emotion, moving them from cheers to tears and then back to cheers. The string instrument heightened the intensity of the feelings provoked by the song as Masthamind plucked away tenderly on the guitar. The effect was overwhelming on the audience.
Thereafter, Eze took a break after that performance, ceding the stage temporarily to Favour International Band of Nsukka. The band rendered a beautiful medley of the 70s Highlife songs that brought the academics to the dance floor. Prof. Mbajiorgu was a delight to watch as he swayed to the rhythm along with the Head of Department of English and Literary Studies at UNN, Prof. Stella Okoye-Ugwu, who radiated so much charm all evening. The band kept a tight grip on its performance, luring many academics to the dance floor. It was a lively evening. The band knew just what to do, what tunes to play and when to switch the tempo of the music. The outcome was a very fascinating evening that stretched beyond the usual banters and hilarious jokes over glasses of beer among academics.
James Eze and Chukwudi Utazi in convwrsation at the launch of goosebumps in Enugu
When Eze returned to the stage, he was all serious and bristling with a sudden energy that showed in the pitch of his voice as he read the next work. Maintaining the same vivacity, he shared more works including ‘waistbeads,’ ‘love,’ ‘unzipped desire,’ ‘rubberband,’ and ‘love in time of corona.’ Then suddenly, he declared that the next two poems he would share were dedicated to Prof. Robinson and his wife, also a professor. Addressing Prof Robinson, he announced that he wanted to lend him words that would evoke memories of the time he was courting his wife: “i came into being when i met you/your face is a map with details of my life,” he declared as he read the poem titled ‘like a thousand swans in flight.’ He also read the poem ‘sleepwalker’ in the couple’s honour.
After Eze’s performance, Prof. Mbajiorgu returned to the stage to formally introduce goosebumps to his colleagues, who warmed up to the offer and bought many copies of the book. When Favour International Band of Nsukka struck the next tune, it was a farewell tune that faded slowly until the last guest had exited the hall.
Speaking shortly afterwards, Eze expressed deep gratitude to Prof. Mbajiorgu and his fellow dons for what he described as a night of amazement, adding, “I am stunned speechless. ‘Goosebumps couldn’t have hoped for a more illustrious take-off. I am grateful to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka for this rare privilege.”
Eze is planning to bring his poetry-cum-musical performance to Lagos, a city he plied his journalism and corporate communication careers for 17 years, in much the same way he has regalled Enugu and Nsukka with his two poetic offerings – possessed and goosebumps.