Bridging the narrative and poetic genres, Uzuegbu John Munonye’s Survival of the Young Poet explores the expansive worlds that a new writer must try to make sense of in order to achieve his goals. From religion, to romance, to family, to the writing impetus itself, Munonye takes up the challenge of interpreting his life through the written word.
The book carries on the tradition of classic writers who have intoned the longing for personal expression, while simultaneously demonstrating the futility of such a gesture. Just as editors and peers did not understand Joyce’s attempts to find a place for himself, so do Munonye’s friends and colleagues misunderstand his desire for recognition. For example, when he receives professional praise for his writing, a colleague is blinded by jealousy: “Sitting in Paul’s palace drinking in bliss to the success of my handiwork, his voice faded away, but then he began to stress honour and the mistakes of fear and grief that sour fellowship. In checking my conscience, I believed that my joyous happiness dropped to woe and my comfort ended in naught.”
Each chapter begins with prose, develops into poems, and then ends with the explication of these poems. While the back-and-forth gives the story energy, readers may often find themselves asking, “Now where were we?” In addition, some of Munonye’s language choices often feel obtuse and opaque. For example, “I sat in a sanctum — all around me seemed like the cloud of her love for me. I knew I could not reach a false conclusion to them in the morning. I was only an unfilled cane, but sometimes I became complacent with their pleading.” (16). More precise, less ponderous words could provide more clarity throughout.
Despite its limitations, Survival of the Young Poet is a deeply-felt, honest journey into the soul of a complicated artist. If the work isn’t always successful, readers will nevertheless appreciate the heart that is behind it.
Also available in hardcover.