Descent & Other Poems by Timothy Ogene

Timothy Ogene,Descent & Other Poems

Timothy Ogene was born in Nigeria, but has since lived in Liberia, Germany, the US, and the UK. His poems and stories have appeared in Numero Cinq, One Throne Magazine, Poetry Quarterly, Tahoma Literary Review, T he Missing Slate, Stirring, Kin Poetry Journal, Mad Swirl, Blue Rock Review, aaduna, and other places. He holds a first degree in English and History from St. Edward’s University, and a Master of Studies in World Literatures in English from the University of Oxford.


Timothy Ogene’s poems are writings of witness, displacement, and beauty. Instead of a home address there are poems as address, at once exquisitely gentle and acute. The sharpness of the poems’ blades—whether literal, like the blades that peel cassavas and leave the speaker’s arms scarred, or deeper injuries of trauma and loss—sits alongside their subtlety and tenderness. These are poems of deep attentiveness to the smallest encounters, and to the largest questions of love, doubt, solitude and migration. Their crafting reveals Ogene’s deep reading, both of poetry and of the and landscapes the poems explore. How do poems that bear witness to violence, loss and displacement open so gently to the reader? This paradox is one of many in these wise, important poems. I am reminded of Hélène Cixous’s description of Paul Celan’s poetry as ‘writing that speaks of and through disaster such that disaster and desert become author or spring’. Where trees hold ‘time in absent leaves’, these poems mourn roots but refrain from ‘easy paths’, offering, instead, the force and grace of a numinous poetics.

—Felicity Plunkett

Where does he come from, Timothy Ogene? From Nigeria, from even poorer Liberia, from Texas, from Oxford, now Boston. But look for him in the future, where he will be writing great books. Look for him in the present, too, in this satisfying, wonderful book—already he can do everything—he makes music, his figurative language is rare in that it goes deep, is never arbitrary, there is a care for especially the poor people and objects of this world, he remains hidden behind his language yet clear, which is to say his ego does not control the writing, something else does—a desire to lead us gently to noticing what we have never seen before. Not just noticing, experiencing. Suddenly an empty bench comes to the forefront of our sight, from the “remains” of fog. He can personify without anthropomorphizing, maybe because he loves the world without needing to hold on to any aspect of it. He is unusually free yet aware of the limitations imposed on us politically and yes by language itself.

—Ruth Lepson

Marbrook poem sequence prophesied Sandy

The eerie prescience of Djelloul Marbrook’s poem sequence Manhattan Reef (Brushstrokes and glances) haunts the mind as New York City painfully wrings itself out. Breathtakingly prophetic, one of the poems gives voice to a drowning art world. Marbrook couldn’t have known that paintings actually would be drowned in the city’s Chelsea art district less than two years after the poem was published by Deerbrook Editions, and yet he clearly envisioned it.

The Curator Speaks

Enjoy the sunlight now,
some of you will be eyeless
down by garnets and beryls
in tunnels and watery cathedrals.

More always rises than meets the eye.

Waters rise to spare you beetles and flies,
to harbor your predecessors and womb
a new idea of creatureliness.

You were a jeweled motherboard
whose green brushstrokes of circuitries
hypnotized the peregrine that nictates now
in the antennae of drowned towers.

Now you are the moorings of dirigibles,
buoys and sea gongs for ospreys and ships.

Squid will massage your orifices,
stars will sequin you and check
your many-chambered heart.

No more hours or holidays,
no special exhibitions. Storms
will be heaven’s business, whales
will sing of the coming race;
even blades of light
will learn to rust.









Elsewhere in Manhattan Reef he imagines swimming through The Metropolitan Museum.

The Paintings Speak

We’re going to higher ground;
we’ve urged you do the same,
you’ve chosen to misunderstand.

Environment’s each other’s eyes
and other senses you despise.

These works witness you are holy alchemists.
There’s no place antiseptic enough
to save you from this viral truth.

If you were as open-eyed as fish
you’d elude this exquisite peril.

We leave you The Metropolitan to explore
unhindered by reminders of your divinity.

Swim among its empty galleries,
redact, censor, forget, devolve—
we await another race.

We told you to speak the wordless mother tongue
in senses you said you didn’t have
as you piled conceits on oyster beds
insisting we were mad.

We welcome the waters to every floor
that every molecule has seen before,
thousands of Atlantises unafraid to sleep,
their secrets becoming minerals.

Nothing lost, all is murmurous in this rite
of green alchemy, this ennoblement
of base noise and lewd light.

The sequence ends as prophetically as it begins:

We guess at our weathers, surmise
the nature of our orbits, wobble or tilt
of axis, but without artists’ daring
and cursed by our own unwillingness to see
the main thing we haven’t noticed
is that the lights are out,
the museum is dark.





Brushstrokes and glances is available from amazon, our distributor, and direct from Deerbrook Editions




The book cover features  the painting The Approaching Season, by Irene Rice Pereira.

Read more Marbrook.

Art and poetry event at SUNY Orange

Next week, September 22, there will be an opening and poetry reading at the SUNY Newburgh campus featuring paintings by Juanita Guccione and a poetry reading by Djelloul Marbrook from his book Brushstrokes and glances. To anyone able to attend this will be a very interesting event because the art and author are related  in at least a couple of ways. For one, the painter Juanita Guccione is Djelloul Marbrook’s mother and so the relationship of the author to art and his life as a museum goer are basic to the poetry in his book. I know I am doing my best to attend, and I live in Maine.

Review of Joan Siegel’s book Hyacinth for the Soul by Djelloul Marbrook

The angelic confidences of Joan Siegel

Hyacinth for the Soul, Joan I. Siegel, Deerbrook Editions, 2009, 87pp, $16.95

Many of Joan Siegel’s poems [prairie_schooner] sound like the whispered confidences of angels, sound being the operative word. Most poems “read” one way or another, but only the rare poem engages eye and ear simultaneously.

There is from poem to poem a sense of angels coming and going, ghosting through memories, like zephyrs in curtains. Reflections dehisce from the memories.

In Buchenwald/his sister turned into a bird/and flew out the chimney stack./In America/he found a wife,/then lost her./An old man with sooty eyes/and sooty pants, he steers/a baby carriage brimming/with rags.
—”Rag Man of Middletown”

For silence some poets rely on caesurae—a device Siegel uses frugally—or placement on the page—but such is Siegel’s authorial hush that silences become moving parts of the poems’ creatureliness.

In your family
everyone left
without saying
a word.

Your father
took a bus
to the VA hospital
& died quietly
on the front steps.

— “To My Husband”

Thoughts of being the first to walk on new-fallen snow arrested me as I read a number of these poems—there is that pristine sense of beginnings being imparted. The work doesn’t clamor for attention, but when you look back you see how you have come here and you reflect that a footfall doesn’t have to be cast in cement to be memorable. Surely the music of Satie and Debussy, if not the poets, has taught us that.

Later, in the street, you lifted
your face to the snow and
loved the lamp post, the sky,
your life.

—”Piano Lesson”

Where is the music
when the dark piano lid is shut?

— “Burial”

That an informed reader might on occasion argue with a poet’s choice of word or meter doesn’t necessarily call into question the poet’s achievement, but nonetheless it’s remarkable that Siegel almost never invites such an issue. I was watching the Winter Olympics when I read Hyacinth for the Soul the first time, and I thought that if these poems were figure skaters and I a judge I would forget to score them for the sheer pleasure of their presence.

Toward the end
I carried him like a baby
through my dreams. I worried
I’d lose him in the crowds.
Now he visits my sleep.
Dying was the easy thing,
he says, then drives off
in his 1940 Studebaker.

—”How we look after each other”

I admire the sure-footedness of this poem and Siegel’s many poems like it, as if there were no other possible way to say this, as if this is the perfect line length, the perfect break: an inarguability of poetics, rare and deft.

Siegel’s poems are often like herons that know just where to stand by a pond so that the fish won’t see their shadow. Every step, every movement is choreographed in perfect attunement to the sensibility of the sentiment, to the recognition at hand.

These are youthful poems that could not have been made by a youth, because they have that becoming, tempered interiority that eludes all but the rarest youth (Keats comes to mind). There is a youthfulness that comes to some in old age because the luggage of pretense has been shed or lost in the terminals of experience. Sometimes a lightness, redolent of Voltaire’s smile, characterizes the work of older artists. In Siegel’s case it’s manifested by the exquisite footfalls of each poem upon the page, a reassuring inevitability about the path taken. We’re never tempted to ask, Are you sure this is the way? It is the only way. That is not characteristic of youth, however exciting the path.

Joan Siegel is professor emeritus at SUNY Orange and lives in Blooming Grove, New York.

The cover of her book, whose production values are superb, is a story by itself. It’s a photograph of a quilt made by her sister as record of their father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease. This story suggests how much we lose in a marketer’s society obsessed with youth and its potential buying power. We lose not only our respect for the elderly but the hard-won wisdom they have eked out of their experiences. This advertising mentality leads us to think new experiences are more unique than they are and we have little to learn from the past. Hyacinth for the Soul is powerful contrary testament.

Hyacinth for the Soul is collected into four unnamed sections and dedicated to the poet’s family. The title poem, which appears in the middle of the second section, is explained in the first quatrain:

Bake two loaves of bread, my mother used to say.
Give one away and plant a hyacinth for the soul.
I never understood and she did not explain.
It was one of those sayings from the old country.

The hyacinth is ubiquitous in Victorian homes and Persian poetry as a symbol of love whose fragrance is redolent of the soul’s eternal nature. It provides the very scent of eternity. Here the 13th Century Persian poet Musharish Ud Din Sadi writes:

If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store
Two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole,
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

Hyacinth for the Soul’s internal organization is worth noting because of publishers’ pervasive bias against books lacking overt themes. Deerbrook Editions, to its considerable credit, correctly discerned that thematic threads may be so subtle and unobtrusive that they elude all but the most sensitive editor. This book is a record of a recollective, integrative life: Not a box of verbal snapshots, but a navigational rutter, denoting landmarks, landfalls, troubled straits, hard passages, warnings, premonitions and precognitions.

The marketer’s bias for strong thematic books of poetry precludes much good poetry and often compels poets to impose themes. Much good poetry is squeezed out of the market by this predeterminant.

Siegel’s work addresses a situation in poetics that I notice from time to time the way you might notice a soup stain on someone’s tie or blouse. There is a vogue for plain speech which, while welcome in its own right, often lapses into a kind of soap opera plastered like icing into line breaks characteristic of prosody but in effect having none. Her work is intrinsically lyrical and cadenced, so much so that one is tempted to think her ordinary thought process—the way she thinks things through—must resemble her finished poems.

The deeply moving collection reminds us that without the gracious wisdom of the elderly, without respect for their experiences, we are half a society. —Djelloul Marbrook