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Femi Morgan’s “Dogs Alert” poem: A commentary by Ugochukwu Anadi

Dogs Alert is the opening poem of Femi Morgan’s Chapbook, Silent Drummings published in 2008. It was written when the author was still a “bourgeoning linguistic scholar in Obafemi Awolowo University”, and as he signed in my copy of the chapbook, it was a beginning that meant great things.

Dogs Alert speaks of the political situation of a country as of that time. Unfortunately, any who reads it will think that it was written today as “death perches” still like the eagle on that country’s coat of arm.

The poem decries the awful state of a country not mentioned but which a reader familiar with Nigeria can rightly conclude is Nigeria. This country is described as a country where “spiders in centre stage” are found, that is to say that Nigeria is a country in which nothing functions as expected and thus even the stages are bereft of human performers but are not in lack of spiders to perform. Considering that the poem also attacked the hypocritical nature of Nigerian politicians who suddenly (towards election times) come as “saviours” “with a basket/Oh! A basket of typhoid fever,” one can also say that these politicians are the ones who the poet refers to as spiders who are on the centre stage (for our politicians weave lies the same way spiders do their cobwebs). The poem promotes skepticism of such politicians for while baskets are normally associated with foods in the Nigerian scene (where they are used to transport foods bought from the market), theirs come with typhoid-fever and “kwashiorkor-like stomachs and dry days,” the exact opposites of what comes with food showing that “though the teeth maybe white// There lies … a ghost!”

The poem is written in three stanzas of irregular verses with the first stanza having six verses, the second seven and the third three. The lines are also of irregular lengths and these go to show the irregularity and the dichotomies evident in Nigeria where “beautiful edifices” are always found “hugging crises.” Rhymes, rhythm and musicality are luxuries the poet cannot afford. Considering that the poet lives in Nigeria and thus experiences these first-handily, it’s understandable that the poet is not here to entertain us with his sufferings.

The poet employed the use of personification where he wrote “chicken coughs” and where he presented to us “beautiful edifices// hugging crises” for coughing and hugging are things humans do. As a common man relating the experiences of fellow common men, the poet wrote colloquially.

The poem presented the Nigerian situation perfectly as it is without much care for refinements and artistry.

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