By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Plastics, Plastics Everywhere (Poetics of Environmentalism and the Paradox of Our Polymer Age) by Greg Mbajiorgu; Bookcraft, Ibadan, Nigeria; 2020; 68pp
What took hold of my mind once Greg Mbajiorgu’s Plastics, Plastics Everywhere got into my hands were the words of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to wit, “Water, water everywhere,/nor any drop to drink”. Not unlike the sailor on the becalmed ship surrounded by water, our world today has been completely taken over by plastics. It may surprise a lot of people that plastic was not in existence in the world until February 8, 1909 when, in New York, Leo Baekeland invented the first synthetic plastic called Bakelite. Ever since, plastic has taken over the world, for good or ill.
Greg Mbajiorgu subtitles his poetry collection “Poetics of Environmentalism and the Paradox of Our Polymer Age.” The environment and polymer are not exactly the best of friends.
According to Christian N. Madu, the NNPC SPDC JV Professor of Environmental Management and Control, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, in the Foreword, “Plastics, Plastics Everywhere is crafted in a brilliant and charismatic style, with language so simple but not simplistic, making it easy for both young and old to comprehend the complex scientific issues bothering on polymer science, engineering, technology, environmental pollution and climate change.”
In his Preface, Mbajiorgu explains his modus operandi thusly: “I elected to compose many of the poems in an easily accessible language to avoid as much as possible burying my thoughts and messages in cryptic scribbling. Simplicity is at the heart of my plasti-poems because the consciousness I intend to inspire through this collection is one that must be devoid of obfuscation or obscurantism.”
Simplicity is the word for Mbajiorgu’s Plastics, Plastics Everywhere. A comprehensive review of Mbajiorgu’s offering is showcased in Austine Amanze Akpuda’s Introduction: “In a very touching poetic excursion, Greg Mbajiorgu presents two dominant profiles of plastics — the irresistible charm of plastics in the march to human technological feats and the horror which the product has turned our environment into. With Plastics, Plastics Everywhere, Mbajiorgu is not only one of the first African poets to engage the complexity of the world of plastics but also the only one to have composed an entire collection of poetry confronting the phenomenon known as plastic. As one of the environmentally-sensitive poets reacting to the conundrum presented by the existence of this non-degradable material, Mbajiorgu has joined the league of authors who have wrestled with this subject in the past twenty years.”
Mbajiorgu kicks off the collection with “Ode to Plastic: A Techno-monologue”. The up-to-the-minute poem bears a dedication: “For a world overwhelmed by the Coronavirus pandemic yet aided in its battles by plastic”. Mbajiorgu explains the term “Techno-monologue” as “a new form of dramatic monologue created through my application and exploration of scientific knowledge. The aim is not just to bridge or exterminate the dividing lines existing between the sciences and the humanities, but also to simplify, popularise, conceptualise, institutionalise, pragmatise and humanise complex scientific issues for the common man, in order to achieve the intended mass education and mobilisation objectives.”
The exalting opening lines of “Ode to Plastic” serve as the set-piece for irony as Mbajiorgu names the who’s who in the development of the plastic industry, notably: Leo Hendrick Baekeland, Hermann Staudinder and Pierre-Gilles de Gennes:
Great substance that rules our age!
Most treasured synthetic substance!
Begotten from crude oil and coal!
Receive our cheerful and laudatory gestures!
Durable and strong!
Likable and famous!
And yet, so mild.
Much of the rendering of “Ode to Plastic” is in prose, and it ends on a note of deserving comeuppance: “Unrelenting and unfading plastic!/I now fully understand why we have no choice but to RECYCLE you/and reduce your ugly excesses that now satiate our planet.”
The counterpoise for plastic is nature as celebrated by Mbajiorgu in the poem “Take Me to the Flora Kingdom” dedicated to “El Anatsui, Ikedire … One in a century”:
Take me to the Flora Kingdom
Where there are no oil spillages
And junk-infested beaches
No tons of plastic trash
Just sound and smell of nature
In the two-piece poem entitled “Our World of Plastics”, the first bit bestirs “Living in a world of plastic flair/A world of colourful plastic fairs”, while the second portion bemoans: “Ours is a plastic-prone jet age/Defined by pliant waste and rage!”
In “Children in a ‘Pure-Water’ Generation” Mbajiogu does not beat about brushes as he goes straight to the point of his stark didacticism:
Poor children in a ‘pure-water’ generation
Whose drinks are sold in cellophane bags
Each time you sell to quench our thirst
Our lands are littered with piles of waste
Whether called “Pure-water” or “Sachet water”, there is the ever-present danger sold all across the country as captured by Mbajiorgu in “Awful Sachet Water”:
Welcome to Robba, the city of trash
Where paper stacks and aged plastics
Litter the streets,
Forcing teeth to gnash
In the end, after “awful sachet water” has run its ruinous course, people perforce revert to the heavens for salvation:
And when we’re sick we wail to God
To come from high and save our lives.
Those bags of water may seem so fresh
But, they are germs, well wrapped and chilled.
There is no escaping the fact that plastic has become a way of life, a plastic world, as depicted by Mbajiorgu in “Plastic Gifts on Our Wedding Day”, dedicated to the committed artist and academic Chuu Krydz Ikwuemesi:
Plastic is now our way of life
Common in weddings too
Synthetic goods are light and cheap
So nice when wrapped as gifts
Greg Mbajiorgu is a socially conscious artist who has over the years distinguished himself as a mono-dramatist, eco-dramatist, environmental poet and a much-sought-after performer. His social concerns are given gravitas in Plastics, Plastics Everywhere in the lines of “Say No to Flimsy Plastics”, “Time to Save the Earth”, “Freeing Our School from Plastics”, “Our Dreadful Abattoirs”, “A Gift from the West” and “My Hatred for Your Confection” etc.
On the downside, Mbajiorgu’s publishers, Bookcraft, ought to in the next edition correct the errors in the author’s frontispiece bio such as “one of Nigeria’s multiple award-winning eco-dramatist” (sic) and “one of the Nation’s leading exponent (sic) of environmental poetry.”
In blazing the trail of a single-issue poetry collection through Plastics, Plastics Everywhere, Greg Mbajiorgu has amply shown that he is an indefatigable champion of just causes.