The work of Aka Teraka, a Nigerian poet living in Germany, is an eclectic mix of music, poetry and novellas. Aka Teraka writes in three languages, English, Igbo and German, simultaneously projecting three– different paced and distinct voices in his work. This conflict is aptly captured in the poem Language from the artist’s anthology, Softly, it Rained.
In a foreign language
I asked my friend a question –
He answered me…
And then I asked him
The same question in my language –
He answered me
…I understood that no two languages
Are the same …
For the answer my friend gave me the first time
Was not the answer he gave me the second time…
This postmodern polyglotism, a consequence of the poet’s broad experience, is both his greatest strength and weakness. Come, In The Lake and Hunger, first written in Igbo and published both in the original and in translation by Boxwood Publishing in 2011 as part of the anthology Softly, it rained, achieves a poetic economy, which is absent from the anthology Cumbrian Lines.
One cannot help but get the feeling that Aka Teraka’s poetry is most powerful in Igbo. Often prosaic in English, the poems in Softly, it rained, presented in both English and Igbo, have a subtle economy of form, a spiritual simplicity and moral desire. Both these themes reappear regularly in Aka Teraka’s work, most notably in the novella The Lake of Love. This allegory tells the tale of Scimarajh who, according to the great classical traditions, undergoes a long journey to find his true self, or the Kingdom of Bliss. His trials will lead Scimarajh to The Lake of Love, where small creatures and the hallucinatory waters of the lake itself will test Scimarajh’s desire to find harmony in the world.
The Lake of Love is ultimately a strong parable about redemption and salvation, one man’s journey of initiation. A deeply personal spiritual journey is laced with Christian values and universal beliefs. The story takes place in “the landscape of the author’s soul, detached from accepted time and space”.
Somayinozo’s Stories, a collection of tales for children, are a welcome addition to the genre. Based on Igbo oral traditions, the fantasy tales of elves, sunset warriors and adventures by the stream, bring out a strong voice in Aka Teraka; these stories are perhaps the author’s strongest work.
The poet is too often his own subject in Cumbrian Lines and the surrounding Lake District, the poet’s muse on a holiday in the UK, is poorly captured.
Cumbrian Lines fails to capture the Lake District’s natural charm or seduction; the poet focuses on his own “awakening”, and the role of the poet engulfed by natural wonder, while the creeks, coves, streams and sinews go practically unnoticed. Too many adjectives such as “incredible”, “intuitive” and “friendly”, fail to bring the landscape alive. The Lake District was once home to the Lake Poets, among whom were Wordsworth and Coleridge, and unfortunately Aka Teraka’s volume does not reach these heights. In the words of the early 20th-century Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro: “Poets do not sing of the rain, make it rain.”
The Anthology River, published simultaneously in 2011 along with Aka Teraka’s other literature by Boxwood Publishing, navigates between global themes with at times simplistic yet at others distinguished rhymes and tones. The poem African Rebirth, cries:
Seeds of confusion.
The lion and the unicorn
O the Grand ol’ duke of York
Bah bah black sheep
How can you be free?
The poem Grace also portrays the poet at his best:
If you’re poor
Wear your poverty
If you’re rich
Bear your prosperity
If you have nothing
But this small thing
– Grace –
You will never lose face.
Innengart, Aka Teraka’s work in German, does not achieve the same lyricism as certain poems in River or Softly, it rained, although the poet’s ability to write in three languages must be lauded.
Like the name of his funk, hip-hop, electro-experimental album Different Strings, Aka Teraka is a man of many forms and also a musician. In track one, I’m Chuxx, Aka Teraka raps “I’m a Nigerian, Aryan and tall…” and tracks nine and ten, Striking resemblance and Y-club, bring out the lighter side of Aka Teraka’s work. But Class Act: The Nature Within, a mixture of cheap keyboard, symphonised sounds and pre-recorded notes, fails again to recreate the chilled-out, hazy, “rustling-waterfall” sound desired. It is, unfortunately, one to be missed.
Aka Teraka’s work will undoubtedly appeal to followers of Igbo poetry and his children’s tales and novellas have strong moral values and aspirations for children. As to the author’s poetry, the use of archaic English expressions, German word-plays and Igbo myths have something to offer new audiences.