August 21, 2022

This City Knows My Name

This City Knows My Name

Title: This City Knows My Name

Genre: Poetry (a collection)

Author: Abayomi Abiru

Publisher: Inkdrops Press Ltd

Reviewer: ENANG, God’swill Effiong

Year of Publication: 2022

Word Count: 1,014


‘Take care of all your memories, for you cannot relive them.’ – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s point is ladened for there are no complete good memories. When one’s memories are tainted with horrific ones, does he forget them or try to live with them? We will see how Abiru weaves emigration and hope into a beautiful collection of memories.

A lion cub may feel safe with its pride. It will roar at certain times to re-affirm his status but when it’s time to sire his own empire, its land will roar back, telling the now young lion that its star cannot twinkle in that land. The young lion will then be forced to seek refuge in a foreign land, hoping to twinkle its star. Unfortunately, the same applies to some Nigerian youth, who emigrate to the UK or USA for greener pastures. Therefore, being in diaspora, the poet captures the motif of emigration and why.

For instance, in Seedling In A New City, the poet persona recapitulates that ‘no one takes to a boat, /except home grows wild and/hungry enough/to devour stars/and the dreams of tomorrow.’ Using enjambment as a predominant style in the poem, Abiru hastily pours out his emotions, implying that his previous home (most likely, Nigeria), preys on people’s glory. Also, like T.S. Eliot’s The Journey of the Magi, the poet persona admits that there might be destruction in emigrating to Europe but he ‘is blind to them.’ The last stanza then weaves in hope which many emigrants have: ‘[I] sow my hope in the loam. /[S]oon, [I] shall have/a garden radiant with dreams.’

Another poem which carries the theme of emigration and its reason is Gratitude. In this poem, the persona gives thanks for being a survivor in a warring nation, warring with bombs and bullets. And he is safe only because he emigrated to another country. Here, Abayomi Abiru could be talking about the Russian-Ukraine War. So, it is evident that war could make a citizen emigrate as the persona submits: ‘[I] am grateful that/[I] am here in this city, / on the other end of sharks/ and their tearing abilities’. Again, Not Unfamiliar To Hope recounts by the persona, how a country saves ‘the familiar ones/first, prior their antonyms…’ during a time of war or disaster. ‘The familiar ones’ could represent the rich while the other, the poor as great movies like Titanic (1997) and Pompeii (2014), both directed by James Cameron and Paul Anderson respectively show. However, all the poet knows in the city ‘is the revival/of brown leaves/and dying trees…one familiar to hope.’

Have you ever left home for another space and in that space, wished for home? Irrespective of how grateful Abayomi Abiru is for emigrating, that is, surviving; he still craves an unquenchable longing for home, resulting to the subject matter of nostalgia, geared backwards with memories.

To start off, the very first poem (The Language Of Rising) in this collection rings of nostalgia. He begins by stating that ‘here looks nothing/like home:’. It is clear that the persona is in some place other than home. Also, the colon at the end of the abstract leads us into various listed reasons why it isn’t like home. In the wee hours, the train ‘hoots’ its arrival. Mind you, the diction (‘hoot’) describes how an owl sounds and the high pitch to exaggerate. Succeeding stanzas compare the coop at the persona’s backyard to a ‘worship center’; and so on. And the last stanza becomes a paradox: but here, unlike home, only silence makes noise.

This implies that the quietness of his new land perturbs him as he longs for his home.

Furthermore, Portrait Of Grandma As Home is another good example which preaches nostalgia as well. Here, the persona remembers his grandma’s beating of ‘the clock bells’ every morning, the aroma from her pot of soup and how he finds joy whenever she sings. And the last stanza sums up his nostalgic feeling that ‘someday soon, I’ll/boat through this distance/between here and home.’

Finally, looking at Let Me Go Back Home, the poet persona uses the tone of anger to show his disgust and pain to how silence and boredom have become his company in his new land, using the word ‘crazy’ to describe them. And to show how further the poet persona is nostalgic, he thinks that his mother from one of the portraits in his room looks at him with pity. He also thinks she hears him complaining in the kitchen of how he chokes to smoke and how his cooker always burns his food. This is funny because I can relate to how you (as a man) complain of your kitchen utensils and smoking the entire house because you are cooking. Okay, maybe not you but some men.

At the end, he uses irony in his usage of the word, ‘freedom’: ‘maybe this is what/freedom means—a longing/to return home. [T]o return to/the chores of my mama/the yelling of my papa/my brother jumping over me/the deep love of a family’. In the above lines, one could tell that, he, returning to papa’s yells and mama’s chores isn’t freedom but in all, he wishes to return for bliss’ sake or to be at peace with his soul.

In conclusion, Abayomi Abiru brings to us in This City Knows My Name, the themes of emigration due to a dystopic country, hope as a tool of survival in a foreign land and the theme of nostalgia of his original home; blending all three to sweeten the entire work. Therefore, it could suffice to say with this African proverb: ‘We desire to bequeath two things to our children; the first one is roots, the other one is wings.’ Ladies and gentlemen, Abayomi Abiru tells us to migrate if necessary. However, we should not forget our roots.