Poems on birth and infancy

[Crossposted with the Kin blog]

Yesterday David Orr of NPR blogged, "It's A Genre! The Overdue Poetry Of Parenthood," in which he suggested that poetry celebrating childbirth and early infancy has ben historically rare, but is emerging as a new genre.  Maryann Corbett, poet and author of Breath Control, mused on FaceBook that she thought there have long been a fair number of new-baby poems, leading to an interesting conversation on her wall.  I've gathered up some of the poems that were brought up in the thread and elsewhere.

I'll start with Corbett's own "Circadian Lament, Sung to a Wakeful Baby,"(Umbrella Journal) which was linked by one of her friends, not the poet herself.


Go back to sleep. You’ve made a slight mistake

switching your days and nights around this way.

The time will come for nights you spend awake,


for cough and colic, ear- and stomach-ache.

Though now you babble charmingly and play

the infant hours away (a light mistake), …


I mentioned  Catherine Tufariello's "Aubade" (The Nervous Breakdown).


Your language has no consonants.

No babble but a siren’s cry,

Imperious as an ambulance,

Yanks me upright, drains me dry,

Returns me to the languid trance

Of timelessness in which we lie.

Your language has no consonants,

Imperious as an ambulance.


Kin Poetry Journal co-founder Wendy Chin-Tanner ups the ante by touching on all the brute biology of birth, including post-partum marital sex, in "Veteran", also in The Nervous Breakdown.


When our bodies parted, it was without

violence. She slid from me like a sloop

on the crest of that final mighty wave,

the surge sucking her backwards before

spilling over, like breath, like confession,

her arms reaching forward towards the dry

open shore and mine reaching down between

my legs to receive, meeting her, round bright

bud of us combined, her astonishing

glaucous eyes staring steadily,

curiously, seeming to see.


A correspondent mentioned "The Victory" by Anne Stevenson, a taut, sharp lyric.


Tiny antagonist, gory,

blue as a bruise. The stains

of your cloud of glory

bled from my veins.


Some of the discussion was about whether such poems are a new phenomenon. I suspect some of the explicit imagery and language of recent poems is new, but the topic certainly is not, though the article seems tangled upon this point, mentioning, for example, Blake's "Infant" poems from "Songs of Innocence and of Experience." That brought me to mind of the twist represented by To an Unborn Pauper Child by Thomas Hardy. Every good poetic topic wants for a strong, countervailing current.


Breathe not, hid Heart: cease silently,

And though thy birth-hour beckons thee,

Sleep the long sleep:

The Doomsters heap

Travails and teens around us here,

And Time-Wraiths turn our songsingings to fear.


The list could go on and on. One of the correspondents mentioned A.E. Stalling's Olives, which includes poems on early motherhood, and the NPR article itself mentions Morning Song: Poems for New Parents. The latter of course recalls "Morning Song," by Sylvia Plath, one of my favorite poems.


Love set you going like a fat gold watch.

The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry

Took its place among the elements.


Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival.  New statue.

In a drafty museum, your nakedness

Shadows our safety.  We stand round blankly as walls.


Engineers of the Copia family

It's St. Patrick's day. While most people go about wearing the odd green, drink excessive amounts of beer, try to get lucky (and not in the Leprechaun sense) while figuring out how to pronounce "Éirinn go Brách", I've always had a very different view of the holiday. I come from a household of engineers and was also at least nominally raised Catholic, so for me St. Patrick's day is all about his patronage of engineering, which became a tradition among US Engineering schools about the turn of the 20th century.

And this is where my father, Dr. Thomas-Ogbuji, came in 1976 to earn his Ph.D. in Materials Engineering at Case Western Reserve University. After the Nigerian Civil War the flagship university of the east, UNN, where I later started my own engineering studies, was in complete disrepair, and students from the defeated Biafra were being shunned by other Nigerian universities.  My father took his best available option: an Association of African Universities scholarship to the American University at Cairo to study Materials Engineering, studying on the crowded boundary of Tahrir Square. It was a winding journey that took us all from Egypt to Cleveland.

He was on a superstar trajectory among Engineering Ceramics and Metallurgy societies because of his prolific papers and pioneering work with electron microscopy in that field, but eventually he decided to take his career in a more pedestrian direction by heading to Nigeria to lecture. I suspect he must sometimes feel he fell a bit short of his potential, but I'm personally very grateful for his detour because it resulted in my spending almost ten years in my home country, during my crucial teenage years.

My father's work in putting engineering into African context has another angle. He has long studied the bronze and gold casting techniques of the exquisite smiths of West Africa from Igbo territory and Benin City all the way to Ghana and beyond. The "Lost Wax method" of casting apparently invented in Benin is, as my father points out, "a technique still preferred for the precision casting of aircraft engine parts, bioengineering prostheses and other components for exacting applications."

Inline image 2

Of course my father was my main inspiration for becoming an engineer, and he similarly inspired others in our family, including my brother and co-Copian Chimezie, and a cousin Brian Nnolim. That brings me to another dear cousin Ubu Ana. Her younger siblings both eventually became doctors, like their father Dr. Ana, but she had spoken to my father a great deal about his work, and decided to also study Materials Engineering. Sadly, she died of an acute illness soon after receiving her Ph.D. at Loughborough University. None of us who knew her doubted what a bright future she had in her profession, but recently her doctoral supervisor, Dr Gary Critchlow, Chairman of the Society for Adhesion & Adhesives, has been explaining to her extended family just how groundbreaking some of her work had been, even as a student.

Ubu’s work has, in part, been published. The attached paper is from her research. This will one day be regarded as a very important paper IMHO as it turns one of the theories of adhesion on its head. It shows weak adhesives give better strength in bonded structures than strong ones which is very counter-intuitive!

....Her work though on the reaction kinetics of silicone-based adhesives is still World-leading to this day. I really should find time to publish more! Out of interest her work has been presented at major conferences as far away as China so her theories of why things adhere and, importantly, why they fail have been quite widely circulated and discussed.

The paper is "The attainment of controlled adhesion by incorporation of low level additives in a PDMS-based adhesive"  and from what I can tell, it offers findings that contradict prior assumptions with respect to how stearate compounds might operate as lubricants through interference at the molecular, surface level, even in the presence of strong adhesives. I've learned from my father how such subtle, esoteric distinctions can affect issues such as (from his research) preventing the space shuttle from burning up in reentry or (from Ubu's) improving molding and manufacture in the rubber industries which result in so many everyday products.

My father has always complained that engineers deserve a Nobel Prize every bit as much as scientists, and especially Economists, whose representation among the prizes is probably as much due to their influence on financial matters as any merit in fundamental contribution to humanity. Maybe one day my father's dream will be fulfilled and engineers will receive he recognition they deserve, but for now, on this day that we'll adopt for our profession, I have my own awards in regard for the fellow engineers of my family.

A Trip to the Big Apple and Escaping the Black Hole of Tragedy

The last few weeks have been pretty emotional and quite busy for our family.  I received a call from producers of The Nate Burkus Show who were looking to do a 'while you were sleeping' episode in our home where they refurbished or remade a room for a a spouse (or family) member while they were unawares and over night.  They wanted to do this for my wife and for the cleveland area audience.  So, for a whole week or so, I had to help them coordinate the logistics remotely so they could come in and out smoothly.

Now, the first thing I asked them was if it was going to be discreet.  For my family, our home is very sacred and there are rooms in it that are essentially hallowed ground despite the fact that it is very different from the home it was before the fire.  For one thing, the room that they chose only needed to be refurbished since - on account of an incredibly philanthropic community effort - that floor had already been reconstructed.

It was alot of fun, very emotional, and cathartic for me to close some of the loops in the narrative of surviving the violent ebbs and flows of life.  This was definitely more fun than I have had in a while.  It was a great opportunity for Roschelle to have a stage to talk about some of the themes that are important to the both of us (and Andrea): Patient advocacy (as it relates to technology and law), organ procurement advocacy, surviving the violence of life, etc.  

Andrea Stricker - community organizer and logistics manager extraordinaire - was instrumental in keeping us all sane.  She helped coordinate Roschelle's schedule so she was out of the house with the two tornadoes that are Nkiru (9 months) and Ngozi (2 years) and upstairs during the night.  I (and almost all of the crew) literally had no sleep that night as they moved in furniture and incredibly personal effects (such as family albums with pictures, etc.) into a space that has seen jubilant love, gut wrenching fear, bustling reconstruction by various local union members, neighbors and friends, etc. - the full anthropological range.

The room has been completely transformed in a personal way and we are still trying absorb the sum total of it all.  Some days, I wonder if thousands of years henceforth, how much of the history of the events of a house remain.  One of the items they moved into the living room was a pair of columns that (we were told) were build in the 18th century.  

I don't know anything about them, which house they were a part of, whether the house they were a part of suffered moments of tragedy similar to the house they have been moved into and (in particular) into the location they were moved into (a location where so much utter destruction occurred).  Given how old they are, they must have their own history and memories that others might have chosen to forget and that I may never come to know about and not knowing them might help in being able to appreciate them for the great work of art and architecture they are.

I don't think people should be so quick to relocate from a home where disasters (natural or otherwise) have occurred.  The fear of wandering specters and/or perpetually revisited memories is only as much of a problem as we let it and this is proven certain by the fact that we don't have any fear about being in that house (at least to that effect), despite the fact that there are many people we know who have great trepidation stepping into it.  So, being able to transform that room and facilitate the journey along the determination to not allow our house to be defined by the events that occurred in it was a special thing.

Soon after they shot the 'revealing' (as they call it), they returned to New York and we flew out on Wednesday and Thursday of last week.  That first shot is of Ngozi, who sat with me and I was lucky enough that she was sleepy just before boarding and - after having her ultimate pacifier (her "ba ba") - slept most of the way. 

On the way to the hotel, Roschelle convinced the driver to pass through the heart of the African American Harlem Renaissance, stopping by Silvia's, Central Park, and the Apollo.  I was doing too much contemplation and observation to take as many pictures as I wanted, but I did get a few in front of the Apollo.  

Given all the incredible history of the building, it seemed much smaller physically and belies its historical stature.  The hotel we stayed in is was in uptown Manhattan.  Soon after arriving, we turned the hotel rooms into a control center for a toddler and infant (as you can see in the picture of Nkiru rummaging through our things)

The last shot is of us heading to the CBS/BET studios in the Limo they were nice enough to pick us up in.  Outside the studios was this enormous line of people waiting to be in the audience of the BET taping where Cello was performing (we ran into him coming back from the on set taping at the elevators).

It was very interesting seeing the belly of the beast that carefully prepares the media that churns the vast entertainment engine of America.  Everything is carefully coordinated, and it reminds me slightly of The Truman Show.  I learned a few things that I found interesting:

  • The tapings of interview scenes are not continuous but can involve1-5 takes per 30 minutes
  • The framework of the narrative is stitched together with a priori editing work that is filled in with onset footage in a very coordinated way
  • Editing is a major part of how such things are put together

All in all, it was alot of fun but it was stark reminder of why I subscribe to the philosophy that once you understand that change is inevitable (and perceive its wave form), you learn to not become a slave of the amplitude of the wave.  Soon after we returned, my father became ill and had to come to the Heart and Vascular Institute.

The last few weeks, I have been reminded of my mortality and the mortality of the people I love in my life, of the wave form of change, and the importance of securing your family as insurance to the violent twists of life.  Keeping together the assemblage that is my family is hard work, but it is even harder to navigate without that foundation. 

Nkemjika Chloë Ogbuji

Lori and I have always wanted a girl, and it seems we're fourth time lucky.  Nkemjika Chloë Ogbuji was born 16 August 2010 at 2:26am weighing 7lbs 9oz, and 21in long (I'm sure all those archaic units of measure mean something).

Nkemjika is Igbo for "What I possess is greatest."  Short form "Nkem."  Chloë is of course from the Greek for "blossom," and echoes her parents in its letters.  It's a sacred epithet of Demeter, which I find especially satisfactory.  She is of course preceded by her brothers Ositadimma ("Osi"), Jideobi ("Jide") and Udoka, who have all been extraordinarily good big brothers so far.

Third Time's a Charm

P1012748 So, we had a baby over the weekend =). 8 lbs 10 ounces, 3 1/2 hour labor @ Hillcrest hospital (where Chika was born as well).

Her name is Anyachiemeka Chibuzo Anastar Ogbuji.

I've created a flickr set for her pictures. This particular shot (to the left) is my favourite. I'm getting much better with my Olympus 300 e-volt. In particular I'm now able to anticipate the settings to use before taking any practice shots.


Roschelle's mom asked me how it felt to be a father of 3 and I told her it feels less different everytime. But nevertheless, that doesn't make it any less of a miracle.

[Chimezie Ogbuji]

via Copia

Chikaora Zion Credell Ogbuji

My favorite picture of Chika

Well, as of Wednesday November 23rd, Roschelle and I became the proud parents of a baby girl: Chikaora Zion Credell Ogbuji.

She was born at Hillcrest (they have a nice collection of trivia related to the birth date/time). I'm collecting her pictures under the chika tag in my Flickr stream. There will be more to come.

Chimezie Ogbuji

via Copia

Chikaora Zion Credell Ogbuji

My favorite picture of Chika

Well, as of Wednesday November 23rd, Roschelle and I became the proud parents of a baby girl: Chikaora Zion Credell Ogbuji.

She was born at Hillcrest (they have a nice collection of trivia related to the birth date/time). I'm collecting her pictures under the chika tag in my Flickr stream. There will be more to come.

Chimezie Ogbuji

via Copia

On Huck, Hip Hop, and Expression

"I was born where the weather's forever warm,
   ... except for the storms ...
   Dirty south! Baby, It's sketched on my arm,
   Till' death and beyond,
   Country like I'm living next to a farm
   and war, like we resurrected from 'Nam
   I get it from Mom.
   Short-tempered, weapon in palm,
   Like Malcom X, we study Techs instead of Koran
   Who said it was calm?!
   We're like the Palestinians and Jews, except for the bombs,
   That's why I must address it in song ... "

This is my ode to Hip-Hop and a chance to share a little bit about the lesser known of the three Ogbuji brothers. Above is my favorite quote of his from a song (“Life Begets Evil”) within an a body of work we spent quite some timeon, called "Ahead of My Time." His musical alias is Huck Finn (same as the character in Mark Twain's work). That garage band site, is where I plan to host a few songs from the album. We worked on it over the winter of 2002, during one of the low points in my life (don't let the smile in that photo fool ya) where I was destitute, boarding with my parents, without employment, and seriously considering (with the state of the economy and all) that I had picked the wrong profession and needed to seek other passions in life.

It was a scattered collection of his thoughts and (in his words basically), the culmination of a 7 year effort to master the art of MCing (moving the crowd - as KRS One puts it). I've often asked Ejike if he has done any significant work since 'Ahead of My Time' and he says he hasn't mostly because as far as he's concerned it was the most complete representation / expression of himself and any further creative attempt would do it a disservice. I can't argue with that because in its essence that's what Hip Hop is, ultimately: a powerful form of expression.

So, I've made a promise to him that some day I'll find the means to get the original work professionally mastered (originally, he recorded the tracks and produced the instrumentals with his microphone and Fruity Loops, while I mixed and mastered them with Acid Pro 4.0), design the cover with the original art we decided on, shrink-wrap it and do some grass roots marketing. I intend to keep my promise someday.

This is my favorite quote because it's a direct reference to a past time in 1997 when he, myself and my two best friends Nnedi Okorafor and Okechukwu Mbachu decided to embark on a road trip to New Orleans. It was there that he and I got tatoos - for different reasons. He got a tatoo that said 'Dirty South Swamp Land' (on his left arm) and I got a tatoo that said 'Umunne Kwenu' (on my upper-forearm). I won't go into the whole politics of tatoos and why some despise them and others abuse them (in my mind), but I mention it because his reference to it is one of the reasons why the above quote resonates with me. In addition, his reference to his birthplace, Gainsville Florida (“where the weather is forever warm – except for the storms”) makes it further hit home, but the icing on the cake is the reference to our mother and her short temper (one which only her sons have been privileged to experience) but few realize exists.

I'm digressing a bit, because as much as I wanted to write about Ejike, I mainly wanted to try to express my love for the art form he tried so hard (and so successfully, IMHO) to perfect: Hip Hop and MCing.

I was inspired to write this when I recently heard Ice Cube on NPR's 'Fresh Air' and the interview almost brought me to tears. Why? When asked why Hip Hop shouldn't be considered a bad influence for the younger generation and in general, he responded that Hip Hop is about expression and about Ego. He said, for him, it was a healthy way to find a voice to express himself in the very turbulent world he found himself in. I was moved, because in only a few concise sentences, the man (whom my experience with the artform began) completely articulated the essence of the artform. Unfortunately, transcripts are not freely available, but can be purchased

You see, when Uche, Ejike, and I were reunited back in 1989 (in East Brunswick, NJ), he had us listen to NWA's album (which marked the beginning of the second renaissance of Hip Hop – the first was triggered by Whodinis Rappers Delight). We stood there, not even teenagers, hit first by the language, but what stuck with us was the powerful expression.

It stayed with all three of us and effected us differently, but it definitely had a permanent effect on us. I tell people all the time that Hip Hop saved my life in High School, and they think I'm overstating the truth, but I'm not. Highschool was a period in my life where the effect of cultural transplantation had a devastating effect of my sense of self worth and identity. I stood out like a sore thumb, visually, culturally, and phonetically. However, in Hip Hop, I found a medium of expression that helped emphasized my individuality and a healthy ego.

There is something about a rhythmic percussion and base, steady vocal cadence, and gritty imagery – peppered with uncensored dialect that simply get's the hair on the back of my head to stand straight up. I swear, every time I hear Cannibus' (By far my favorite MC) Master Thesis, I get a chill and rewind at least 3-4 times. Why?

Well, I'm not a Christian, but when my rel:lifePartnerOf explained to me the denominational distinctions (within the Christian faith) in whta constitutes the act of speaking in tongues, I felt it was the perfect analogy. As I understand it, one thing that is common to all (or at least most) denominations is that the Holy Spirit resides inside all of us and can manifest itself in a variety of ways – the most prominent being the ability to channel through its host, verbally. I think of the act of MCing (onced honed) as similar. Whereas one is spontaneous, the other takes hard work.

Very hard work. Ejike would spend days on end in the summers, writing in piles of lined notebooks, working on his cadence, delivery, content, intensity. The most useful tool for this (and this is the same for most other MCs) is freestyling. The concept is well known from the movie 8 Mile, but when you are at the point where you can channel your thoughts and the images that resonate with you directly without much thought for perfecting the delivery or how you may seem to those observing, it's a similar phenomenon. The main difference is that whereas when speaking in tongues the origin is the Holy Spirit, in Hip Hop the origin is the unfiltered combination of ego and self expression. In fact, this analogy is very striking and perhaps not completely coincidental considering the cultural context in which both forms flourish is one and the same.

I've done my own share of honing, and I'm much better than I used to be – no where as good as Ejike, but there is some satisfaction in knowing that if I ever were to come across a Cipher – a group of amateur MC's practicing their delivery with each other – I could hold my own. I would leave feeling like I've connected with people I may not have known or will ever know again through a dialect that's somewhat based on a musical artform, but fused mostly with that part of me that is most unique.

Someday, I'll finish what Ejike and I started in the winter of 2002 and come through on my promise to him to put the finishing touches on the culmination on his effort to master an artform that effected him as much as it did his other two brothers. If not for him, then at least in honor of the artform itself and it's immeasurable value as a means to carve out my identity in a multi-cultural society - one which is but a microcosm of the infinite variety that is our existence on this lonely, rotating sphere.

[Chimezie Ogbuji]

via Copia

Quotīdiē ❧ Udoka Julian Ogbuji

Morning Song
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

Sylvia Plath—"Morning Song"

The child has a name now. Udoka Julian Melayo Ogbuji. Udoka means roughly "peace reigns". As with many Igbo names, it has a couple of levels of meaning for us, mostly as a hope for unlikely peace in a household with three boys, and partly as an imprecation for peace in troubled times, globally. It's shortened to "Udo", pronounced "oo-doh" with stress on the second syllable. Julian follows from the month (I suppose Jide could have been "August", but we preferred "Maxwell"). Melayo means roughly "relax", and is my father's contribution. We were all hoping for a girl, and even though it's a boy, we're all easy like Sunday morning.

And so speaking of mornings, what better poem for the mood than one of my favorite Plath pieces, another discovery from my favorite small poetry book, John Wain's Anthology of Modern Poetry (Hutchinson, 1963), ISBN 0090671317, which I've mentioned before. I love reciting "Morning Song" to my children at bedtime, and doubly so with the roseate memory of Udoka's birth still fresh. One thing about reciting it is that I cannot bring myself to say "New statue. In a drafty museum,...". I always end up saying: "New statue in a drafty museum,..." Another thing is the lovely, last metaphor, the vivid synaesthesia that is so typical of Plath's keen sensibility. It's a very romanticized fallacy of a newborn baby's very nasal cry, but also a very crafty expression of the fact that this sound is music to any parent's ears. And the images in this poem just keep coming at you like, well, like purple pila. I'm not one for image for the sake of image, but Plath is one of the few with the craft to pull it off, as I discussed earlier.

And in honor of Lori, who brought Udoka forth to the world, here's another poem in the genus.

I'm a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf's big with its yeasty rising.
Money's new-minted in this fat purse.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off.

—Sylvia Plath—"Metaphors"

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia