The Arts

May 10, 2023

Metaphors of life in Oceans in Your Lungs

Metaphors of life in Oceans in Your Lungs

By Chukwuma Ajakah

Beginning from its sublime title, “Oceans in Your Lungs” to the last poem, “Moving Train”, Zainab Omotayo Raji’s new collection of poems features emotive images through which the poet mirrors life from divergent perspectives.
“Oceans in Your Lungs” is a four-part anthology, encompassing 50 contemporary poems that portray the vicissitudes of life in a manner that readers will find exciting. With subtitles like “Love as Flowers”, “Chaos in the Soil”, “Pain in Our Roots” and “Hope as Sun Rays’, the poet portrays a fictive world that is sure to leave lasting impressions on the minds of
readers.
The 83-page anthology contains masterfully crafted poems that revolve around multifarious subject matters and thematic concerns, including love, marriage, family life, unity and separation, ill-health occasioned by ravenous diseases such as the coronavirus pandemic, neglect, rejection and loneliness, trials and triumphs of life, failures and self-inflicted suffering-as depicted in the poem, “Letters to My Bleached Skin”.
Each poem is decked in images that readily resonate with the reader’s socio-cultural realities as instantiated in these excerpted lines:
“When you feel like ice/Rapidly melting at the fury of raging heat/When your body begins/ To crumble like walls in an earthquake/ When your mind is a field/ Of landmines waiting to explode…”
At the surface level, the language of the poem is relatively simple, but most of the lines are laced with metaphorical expressions that amplify the intended meaning. However, the reader needs to navigate through such deep figurative texts to understand the embedded messages.
As the poem, “Moving Train” reveals, “Oceans in Your Lungs”, chronicles visual pointers to the vicissitudes of life: “Life is like a moving train/ A procession unwilling to stop/ It moves even if you jump off/ Into the ravenous mouth of death//” The excerpted lines portray life as a “train” that functions as programmed, irrespective of a commuter’s uncomfortable disposition. Notwithstanding the apparent uncaring attitude of the vehicle one rides in life, the persona admonishes on the need for courage as the subsequent lines depict: “Wear courage on your neck/ Like the pearls you so often adorn yourself with…/ You must slowly learn /To withstand the heat of the rails/ You must learn/ To reach your stop/”
In some the poems in the collection, the poet explores the sunny side of life, but treats serious subjects, including prejudices and misfortunes in others, reinforcing the adage that”Life is not a bed of roses”.
Conversely, the dominant mood of the poems vary either from one poem to the other or within the stanzas of a given poem as exemplified in “Transcendent” where it swings from pessimism to optimism with the poet persona imploring the listener to learn to live above discouraging experiences: “I know you feel like an old wound/Split and treated with chilli// I know sometimes/ You have breakdowns/ You don’t think you can mend// But, downtimes can be a foundation/To build a better life/Like grapefruit crushed / To become wine//”
Moreover, the 10 poems in the first part, “Love as Flowers” revolves around the vagaries of love while the 13 in the fourth part, “Hope as Sun Rays” harp on the pertinence of maintaining a possibility mentality in seemingly hopeless situations. As the titles of the second and third sections suggest, “Chaos in the Soil” and “Pain in Our Roots” herald experiences that predominantly evoke despondency. Poems in these segments include the title poem, “Oceans in Your Lungs”, “Anxiety”, “A Meal of Fear”, “Grief”, “Covid-19 Warriors”, “What Emptiness Feels Like”, “Letters to My Bleached Skin” and “Endless Circles”.
Endless Circles is a classical allusion to African mythology as presented in Wole Soyinka’s and J. P. Clark’s versions of “Abiku”, the child trapped in “repeated circles of birth, rebirth and death”.
Oceans in Your Lungs contains diverse poetic devices that enhance its aesthetics, style and meaning potential.
The dominant devices deployed in the anthology include imagery, rhyme, repetition and figures of speech such as metaphors, similes and personifications.
Most of the poems appeal to the reader’s sense of sight and reasoning due to the preponderance of image-evoking conceptual metaphors.
Oceans in Your Lungs features poems that cut across divergent genres of poetry, including odes, pastoral, didactic, narrative, and lyrical poems.
Raji’s Oceans in Your Lungs is a rich mine of beautiful poems that will make a delightful reading to lovers of poetry and those reading for leisure.