Wednesday, April 26, 2017
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Word to your mother

Uche Ogbuji Archive

Uche Ogbuji

A Thousand Words: Cousin. Nieces.

September 15th, 2009
by Uche Ogbuji

BOULDER, CO-

It was early in the morning.  Lori answered the phone and handed it to me.  My father’s voice.

“Uche…there’s been a terrible…”

“Uche…you should know…”

A pause as gruesome guesswork played through my mind.  I wanted to hear rather than continue imagining, but did I really want to hear?  He drew a constricted breath, and it came in a wave before his voice broke.

“Uche, Chika died tonight.  Imose died tonight.  Little Anya is just barely hanging on…”

Died.  Died.  Barely hanging on.

My nieces.

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Uche Ogbuji

Tongue of Warcraft, Part Two—Politics of Language

July 18th, 2009
by Uche Ogbuji

BOULDER, CO-

It’s common among the literati to carry around a bunch of grammar gurus, like¹ Erykah Badu’s Bag Lady. Usually you’ll find some mix of H. G. Fowler, E. B. White and Quiller-Couch, and perhaps some volume-by-committee such as The Chicago Manual of Style or Hart’s Rules.  I personally used to follow Fowler.  I would read from his The King’s English almost every day.  I enjoyed it only moderately, but I assumed it was a mandatory part of the writer’s daily diet and exercise.  I boxed like a fiend with Fowler in my corner.  I’d beat you down for any latent coordination of relative clauses, or any fused participle.

A funny thing happened early this decade. I realized I was in a quagmire and became disillusioned.  I’ve learned to make linguistic love, not war.  My attitude towards prescriptive grammarians has become “kiss my that-which-abusing, colon-and-semicolon-using, passive-voice-embracing arse, bitches!”

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Uche Ogbuji

Tongue of Warcraft, Part One—Taboo Words

June 14th, 2009
by Uche Ogbuji

BOULDER, CO-

I’ve studied martial arts most of my life, but I don’t enjoy watching fistfights. Sure, I sometimes watch MMA bouts, mostly as an exercise in making sense of techniques I learned in my Jujutsu days. But I am a salacious voyeur of one class of fights, one that weighs more in murderous intent than in mere blood. When it comes to fights over language, I’m part Don King, part corner, part cut man, part ringside rat, but never referee nor pugilist. This is the first of a few pieces about linguistic rage. First up, the real powder-keg: words of social distinction.

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Uche Ogbuji

Only one poem for the implosion of Capital

April 30th, 2009
by Uche Ogbuji

BOULDER, CO-

I’ve often heard it said that “there is no such thing as a communist Igbo”, a reference to our intense mercantile culture. Somewhat like stereotype of Lebanese, we’ve tended to structure our very existence around what we can sell, and in this 419 age, what we can con out of others. Ok, before I get an earful, that’s just a handful of petty thug “areaboy” “yahoozees”, but I digress.

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Uche Ogbuji

Slender Mitochondrial Strand

March 24th, 2009
by Uche Ogbuji

BOULDER, CO-

Mitochondrial DNA is a profound, primeval truth.  As far back as all the creatures we can see with our naked eye, ourselves included, it’s meant that the blueprints for the energy of our lives are passed only through the lines of mothers.  Poetry is all about such profound truths.  Sometimes those truths possess lives in cruel ways.  Sylvia Plath is known as a writer and a woman who killed herself.  Her daughter became a writer.  Her son has just killed himself.  A tragic purification of the mitochondrial line.  It so happens that Sylvia’s imagined rival, mistress of her husband Ted Hughes, and Sylvia’s rival to the dramatic (but not poetically) minded, also killed herself, and her daughter with Hughes.  But that is soap opera, not poetry.

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Uche Ogbuji

Do you remember the inaugural Poem?

January 21st, 2009
by Uche Ogbuji

BOULDER, CO-

The inaugural poem by Elizabeth Alexander had one of the greatest audiences for poetry in the past 16 years or so, ever since Maya Angelou in 1993.  It seeped over its huge audience just yesterday.  Do you remember any of it?  How about the opening?

“Praise song for the day.”

How about the opening two words?  These were repeated several times in the poem as an unstructured refrain.  I wonder if you remembered any of it, even those two leading words, by the time John Roberts misremembered the thirty-five words of the constitution’s presidential oath.  If you didn’t, does it make you question the entire point of the inaugural poem?
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Uche Ogbuji

Wæs Hæil (or scattered thoughts from the sunk sap of the world)

December 26th, 2008
by Uche Ogbuji

BOULDER, CO-

The northern winter solstice.  Christmas.  Yule.  Shab-e Yaldā.  Channukah.  Epiphany.  Kwanzaa.  Soyal.  (I left out Eid ul-Fitr because, though it happens to fall around the solstice lately, that’s sheer coincidence—In a decade or so, it will be marked closer to the summer solstice).  The Season is the New Year in a thousand shapes and sizes.  The year dies and is reborn on the shortest day.  This death and rebirth forms a mirror, broken on the surface, yet the surest device for appreciating the different perceptions of deifferent people.  And sometimes it’s just a useful screen.

For me it’s cyclone memory season.  Cheap Christmas crackers (more crick than crack) and ghastly weather in Birmingham.  More ghastly weather, in the form of the blizzard of the half-century in Cleveland (1977).  The first spoils of immigrant parent attainment in the form of a pile of presents under a Gainesville tree.  Wassailing (more on that later) with a hopeful pack of returnees and immigrants at a brand new university in Owerri (Nigeria).  Endless rounds of courtesy visits, punctuated by treat trips to Kingsway Rendevous and (when we were really lucky) the Leventis super-store.  Words.  Since teenage I’ve always swelled into literature as, in Donne’s words, “the whole world’s sappe is sunke”, as if words are for me the sponge that absorbs the sap.  Donne himself apparently found inspiration around this time, and its always struck me how obvious it is that I’m not the only one who reads and writes more and more from the Harvest Moon onward.

A mirror.  A screen.  A constellation of disjoint memory.  An immanent muse.  These dim days are so much a projection of who I am, and what interests me.

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Uche Ogbuji

Beyond the Palin

November 4th, 2008
by Uche Ogbuji

BOULDER, CO-

Wifey’s from Twin Lakes, Wisconsin.  My college roomie and long time business partner is from Wausau, WI, married to a biomedical engineer and patent lawyer who was also a good college friend, hailing from Sault Saint Marie, MI.  Another college roomie, the first guy I ever heard ranting against the Electoral College when Clinton won in ‘92, was from Menomonee.  A manager I’ve worked closely with at Sun Microsystems is from Shano, WI (draw that “o” out, will ya?).

Wifey cold kicked the Great Lakes accent ages ago, but as for any one of the others, all it takes is enough Blatz beer or something else similarly awful and they kick into that fascinating intonation, kinda like if you cross-bred a Norwegian and a Scot with someone born within fifty furlongs of the Mason-Dixon line, then stuffed the chimera’s voice into a deep well.

I’ve certainly never minded the accent, considering all these people, and many more from my college days in Milwaukee are very intelligent and eminently sensible, even the occasional punter who looked earnestly into my eyes to say “you know, you’re the only black person whom I’ve ever had a proper conversation with.”  I’m down with being the Olaudah Equiano of parts nort’ don’t ya know-oh.

So then a few months ago Sarah Palin came along and scrambled all the associations I had with that accent (my first reaction was: What’s with the patter? Isn’t she supposed to be from Alaska?)  Spouting a bewildering medley of sense, silliness, and savagery, she’s been good for laughs as well as fury.  I’m reasonably confident that after today she’ll begin coasting towards Trivial Pursuit 2050 edition, so here, in honor of everyone who got a shout-out in my first paragraph, is a Palin send-off. (more…)


Uche Ogbuji

Feast of One Soul

November 3rd, 2008
by Uche Ogbuji

BOULDER, CO-

The priest who guided me through catechism, old wotshisname with kebab skewer eyes, liked to remind me that since I was born immediately after all the saints had scoured the earth of Satan’s minions, I had a special duty to be a vessel of purity for the sake of All Souls my every birthday.  Right.  If you shake young Catholics they tumble into two bins.  One for those who ask questions, and one for those who don’t.  I was definitely in the former category, which ensured a pretty short expiry date on the grace of my soul.  I remember wondering “whose crazy idea was it to put me in charge of the whitewash kingdom on my birthday?”  As long as I can remember, what I’ve wanted most for my birthday has been serenity.  Serenity and purity sure as hell don’t go together.  At least not in the Catholic conception of purity.

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Uche Ogbuji

“BEFORE you, mother Idoto, naked I stand”

October 28th, 2008
by Uche Ogbuji

BOULDER, CO-

The title is the beginning of “Heavensgate”, by Christopher Okigbo, the greatest modern Nigerian poem, and I think the greatest modern African poem.  Okigbo is my patron saint, and my personal Janus (he died in the war that gave life to me), so it’s appropriate to pour out for him before I take a draught.  The second proper and good thing for me to do is to introduce myself.  I’m Uche Ogbuji, computer engineer and aspiring poet (I think I have a fair bit of skill with verse, but I set pretty daunting standards for myself).  I recently started reading TNB, following my dear friend Erika.  I’ve enjoyed my time here, so I was thrilled when she recommended me to Brad as a contributor, and twice thrilled when Brad welcomed me.

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