By Chukwuma Ajakah
In his collection of poems titled A Booktiful Love, UK-based Nigerian poet, Tolu’ Akinyemi, explores the vicissitudes of life from diverse perspectives.
The 63-page book published by Roaring Lions Newcastle (2020) features 48 poems that focus on topical issues such as the phenomenal Coronavirus pandemic scare and its aftermath, sex for marks scandals in the ivory tower, domestic violence, election rigging, ethnic profiling, and politics of exclusion, revolution, and xenophobia.
The anthology is divided into three broad parts. Part 1 features 16 poems which include Isolation, Bury Me in a Library, It’s Okay Not to feel Okay, Write for Rights, Your Dreams Are Valid, Trial and Error, A Date with Hope, and Life Lessons.
Part 2 contains Pertinent Questions, Say No to Xenophobia, I Belong to Nobody, Aso the Death Post, Erect a Statue for Me in Imo, Saints, Cold Room, Strange Dance of Chickens, Body Language, Ignoramus, and Revolution Now.
The poems featured in Part 3 include A Booktiful Love, Beauty & Brains, Beauty and Priceless, Beauty and Queening, Beauty & Fierce, Beauty& Virtuous, Portrait of a fake Fie Love, Fairy, Loud Voices, Grief in Solitude, Starved, Foundational Mess and a Booktiful Love Story.
The thematic treatment of A Booktiful Love encompasses love, marriage, beauty, relationships, hope, mental health, human rights, academics, politics, culture, economy, dreams, disillusionment, hatred and death.
The poet explores the central theme of love for education in many of the poems, including the title poem, “A Booktiful Love”, “Beauty and Brains”, “A Date with Hope”, “Neophyte”, “Your Dreams Are Valid” “Writers”, “Write for Rights” and “Ignoramus”.
This thematic focus is clearly depicted in each of the six stanzas of “A Booktiful Love” as in the following lines where the poet plays on literary terms: Our love was layered in similes and metaphors/ Your love language was erotica/ And meeting you was non-fiction/ I tell you stories coloured in fantasy/ And send you to dreamland with poetry/ Rhymes, and free-flowing verses/ This isn’t science fiction or historical fiction/ This was us/ There are days I am buried in the pit of self-help books.
The thematic preoccupation is ingeniously expanded in subsequent lines to include other forms of love such as love in marriage: I read seven ways to be a good husband, and five steps to show a woman untainted love/ Never say how to be a good wife/ …It might lead to horror stories-/ A little humour, spiced up with romance/ And our love will be a picture book/ …I will write out your name in bold in my memoir/ And autobiography. Don’t say fiction/ This is pure and unadulterated love/ A booktiful love.
In another poem, Portrait of a Fake Friend, the poet persona poses a rhetorical question that arouses the reader’s curiosity: How do you draw the portrait of a fake friend? Rather than answer the question raised in the opening line, the lines that follow heighten the suspense: There is no one-size-fits-all approach to label a fake friend/ Would they be those who hum your closely guarded/ secrets to all and sundry? A portrait of a backstabber hung precariously in the home of a once upon a time jolly buddy/ I cannot write one thousand and one metaphors to label a fake friend/ They could be likened to a grasshopper: Eat the grass and hop away.
Exploring the themes of death and misfortune in the poem, aptly titled “Grief”, the poet presents an elegy elaborately laced with rhetorical questions. “Grief” consists of three stanzas with each of its 12 lines presented as an interrogative statement, emphasizing the sense of loss: How do you grieve the demise of a loved one/ with only fading memories to clutch? How do you fill the gaping hole? How do you wipe the slate clean? How do you accept sympathy? / Through Facebook comments and likes. Blurry text/ messages with words like may their soul/ rest in perfect peace or a register of condolences? /… How do you manage grief?
Closely related to “Grief” is another emotive piece, “Grief in Solitude” which mirrors the pains of loneliness in euphemistic, but striking lines: I know grief/ It tastes like sour omelette for breakfast/ it feels like the cuddled ghost of a stillborn…Don’t dance with me in my grief. / I burn on sunny days/ my mask cracks, and/ I tether between intense love and deep hatred/ I rot away in silence/ As autumn leaves lie fallow on the ground, so my skin gathers dust/ There are days when I’m yellow. On other days, I’m pale with a hint of brown. Grief in Solitude ends on a sad tone with two lines that highlight the theme of resignation to fate: Leave me to chew my grief in solitude/ before my life becomes a dusty manuscript.
Tolu’ Akinyemi’s collection of poems also features contemporary issues relating to marriage family life and society. Such subjects resonate in the following subtitles: Divorce, Loud Voices, Starved, Nostalgia, Body Language, Defective, Foundational Mess, Fairytale, Charmazing, Beauty and Virtuous, Beauty and Fierce and Let Him Go.
Except for the poet’s experimentation with words like “bookktiful” and “charmazing”, most of the works are presented as narrative poems in a relatively simple language. Diverse categories of readers will have no difficulty grasping the messages embedded in the anthology.