By Chukwuma Ajakah

From its ominous title to the last piece, John Akerele’s collection of poems, “Blood on the Dancefloor” is replete with images of gender-based violence that leaves the girl-child in a state of utter desolation long after the incident occurred.

“Blood on the Dancefloor”, a 2021 Publication of Greenlife Publishers, London, United Kingdom is a 77 paged anthology of forty narrative poems that explores the plight of the girl-child in a male dominated African society.  Each poem revolves around the girl-child who is portrayed as a victim of societal insensitivity to her peculiarity and needs.

The poems are characterized with the usual images prevalent in a typical patriarchal society where “the crooked hands of the law” are skewed in favour of men. The anthology consists of protests poems, decrying societal ills such as rape, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, incest, rejection and social stigmatization.

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The subject matter of each poem in the collection hinges on a topical issue which the poet explores to reveal aspects of the nuances of culture and tradition that need correction. For instance, in the poem, “The Matter with Martha”, Martha is depicted as a victim of a cultural practice that labels mature spinsters as nonconformists and subjects them into a life of misery. Martha dies as a victim of domestic violence in a loveless marriage which she has to endure while pretending that she is loved in return.

As revealed in the following lines of The Matter with Martha, she lies to herself  in order to avoid the stigma that will ensue if she dares leave: Martha lied/ She promised he loved her, adored her, she swore and cried/ Her sisters and mothers called him forceful, but Martha denied…This is the story of how Martha became blind/ How she wrapped herself in the only illusion of love, she could find/ The men she knew had made a profession of clenching their fists…/And it so happened the way she dreamed/ One day in her lover’s arms, her body pressed against his/ Strangled till she froze; she gave up with a wry smile…

In addition to the title poem, “Blood on the Dancefloor”, other poems featured in Akerele’s collection of poems include: The Origin of Love, A Man Made Design, A Broken World, Love Can Make You Leave, A Broken Woman, These Facts Are Fat Lies, Skeleton on the Street, Teach Your Boys, We Are gods Too, Karma Always Comes Around, Divorced and Delighted, Wolf-Daddy, A Letter to My Unborn Daughter, Ode to Mother’s Knees, The Matter with Martha, I Am Not Your Trophy and Love or Abuse?

The dominant poetic techniques deployed in the poems are musical devices such as alliteration, repetition, assonance and onomatopoeia; figures of speech like metaphor, irony, simile and paradox. As exemplified in the poem, Skeleton on the Street which is ornamented with alliteration, the poet infuses diverse devices into his chosen narrative style, using topical issues that resonate with the reader. This approach adds to the aesthetic value of the collection and makes the poems appealing. The simplicity of the language of the poem is primarily revealed through the poet’s diction which constitutes easy to understand words.

The prologue, narrated in succinct poetic lines, captures the essence and central message of the poems: It was just a normal night/ I was in my room feeling a little bored/ And super restless/ My friends called me up and asked if I will like to go out/ It was an exciting yes/ It has been a while/It will be nice to link up with the girls once more/ We were up in the club that  evening/ The last thing I remembered, I was chatting with a young man/I was drinking away and laughing with him/ And now, I am in my house/ How did I get back home? How did I have this tear in my privates? Where did this blood on my dress come from?  Why would he think of doing this to me? The event is over/ The pain is not over/ The cloth has been washed/ But the blood is still here/ I am on the dance floor of life/ I cannot dance any more…

Although it is presented as a prologue, the above is clearly a didactic poem with date-rape as its subject matter. Through the prologue, the poet provides illuminative insight into the thematic preoccupation of the entire collection. The thematic treatment of some of the poems is subtly indicated in the subtitles while others are embedded in the lines.

The themes portrayed in Blood on the Dancefloor include: Love, Betrayal, Sexual Molestation, Unrequited Love, Family Life, Domestic Violence, Gender Inequality, Injustice, Divorce and Rejection. As reflected in this his maiden anthology, the Ireland based Nigerian poet and member of the Irish Literary Society, John Akerele is a protest poet with interest in girl-child related issues.

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