Escape from the unseen dungeons, a review of Peter Okonkwo’s “A Cry For Mercy”— Omotoyinbo Babatope

Peter Okonkwo’s A Cry for Mercy is a gloomy book of poetry that can be likened to the Book of Job in the Bible. I like to consider it as a book of plea and lamentation that encompasses the troubles of life, as told from the poet’s point of view. I was captivated by the degree of questions raised by the author, asking whose fault it is when a man is faced with harsh tribulations. All of these could tempt one to question Peter’s sanity and make one curious as to where he sourced the inspiration to write a book this clinically despondent, heartfelt, and critical.

From the titular poem, the author drives us through a rocky path of plea, as he asks his creator, who was referred to as God in the book – why he has forsaken him, suggesting maybe he has wronged him in many ways, and if he could be paying dearly for his sins. This part raises the discussion as to if a man’s troubles could be based on a fore known phenomenon, or an unjust act he had committed, or some unknown forces wrestling against him. This section of Okonkwo’s writing raises deep-rooted questions on the spiritual nature of man’s predicament: Is there a pre-established automated process for all individuals or are we just the major wheeler? At some point in our lives, we all search within and ask questions about the constructs that determine the bearing of our lives.

The author further drives us through his unrelenting pleas, lamentation, and what he perceived as the incomprehensible things that tie a man down. This collection delves into relatable phases of the life of a troubled soul, broadening on questions born out of realizations, and deep self-reflections on the entities surrounding reality. Reading through the poem titled “A Conversation with Obstacle” I was held captive like a deer caught in headlight by the level of raw emotions, and hard questions instilled in every line and stanza, this wants me to question if Okonkwo himself has been beset with chronic obstacles in his life, as I found his poems so heart-wrenchingly inspiring, lines like “You left me in years of melancholy that I disputed the realness of my fate, and ignominy was the only friend available to keep my company. Obstacle, who exactly are you? A spirit or a fiend?” reminded me of Anne Sexton’s Live or Die. 

Okonkwo takes us on a journey of many boulevards constituting different tangles of questions, lodged from experiences as he seeks answers by clamoring with anomalies responsible for his disturbed soul. Each poem is a masterwork of different, yet connected entities that create ambiance with fate, questions for obstacles, the impact of the flesh, acknowledgment of one’s shortcomings and the superior creator, all as prospective dynamics that sways his reality. Just as he attempts to lay blame in the pages of Whose Fault, Fate or Mine? “If I am yet to receive it, if I yet suffer from arriving at the junction of fate. Is it my fault? It has never been my wish to slow down the journey that leads to success, fortune and fame. But what will I do, when fate says it is not yet time?” There are other poems that caught my attention, like those found in A Soul at War, A Question for Fate, Intercession, Who is at Fault, In the Dungeon of Despair, A Letter to my Flesh, and the remembering poem, Destiny, Don’t Forget.

In poems “Comfort to my Dead Self” and “Like a Snatched Destiny,” Okonkwo yelps for help from his creator having realized that he is the only one who can save him. The one that enthralls me the most is the dialogue with obstacle, querying its immeasurable cruelty to find comfort in watching him languish in the pool of stagnation. He wrote in Like a Snatched Destiny, “How do you feel, when you impede the success of a man? Tell me, is it your joy to watch a man languish in the pool of stagnation?” 

Okonkwo’s lamentation as reflected in this book is melancholic. Some poems like A Heartfelt Plea, Agony of a Loser, and Longing for Help oscillate between heartfelt petition and despondency. I felt captivated reading this part as much of it is a look into the lives of many people, the pains of life, and the things that are beyond human comprehension. I for one am looking forward to seeing how this book is developed in the second series, as Okonkwo’s take on spiritual bondage is what I would love to explore more. I am eager to know what becomes of our tortured narrator, and expecting what Okonkwo has to communicate of the contrast between human life in the spiritual and physical realm, how in fact does the spirit controls the physical? Are our lives a reflection of what happens to our spirit being? And the question if it is possible for a man to be in bondage and not know. All of these is what I look forward to exploring in How the Demons Leave.

As illustrated in poems titled Intercession, On the Altar, and Forgive Me, this collection is an embodiment of rousing contemplations as it expounds on several oddities, acknowledgment, reparation for sins, and exhibition of a selfless outlook that accommodates compassion for his fellow men even while he struggles within the walls of his bereaved soul. Okonkwo has a lot to convey in A Cry for Mercy, even though some notions expounded in this book might counteract certain beliefs and long-held intuition. If you are a lover of poetry that leaves you thinking long after you’ve read it, you will surely find insight in this poignant, melancholic, and evocative book of poems.

Peter Okonkwo’s style of writing is raw, and differs from what I’ve read of other contemporary poets as his poems are crystal clear, and transparent in a way that it engages the reader. He has a way with words that are stylishly uncomfortable, harsh, instilling emotions, atypical, and fierce. In my opinion, his poems are unflinchingly angry, and he is a poet who is not scared of his words. His exploration of topics like Fate, Lamentations, Obstacles, Spiritual Bondage, and other divine subjects’ cuts directly to the chase. Thoughtful, and wise, this is yet another impressive collection from a young poet to watch. 

-Omotoyinbo Babatope is a literary critic, and author of “On the Spectrum: Among the Neurotypicals.” 

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