I just hope I have not broken any copyright laws by borrowing Emmanuel Abdalmasih Samson’s copy of Clinical Blues instead of ordering mine from Ibadan as he did just few days ago. Living out here in Kaduna, one is mostly left to either order books from far away or to only hear of them on social media. I long for the day that publishing houses will partner with some of the bookstores in Kaduna so that one can be sure of laying hands on books as they come out.
This will be my first attempt at critiquing a poetry book. So, understand if it does not follow the conventional pattern.
The title of the book itself is cryptic; poetic. Some of the meanings of CLINICAL are: scientifically detached; unemotional. And apart from BLUES being a type of folksong that originated among Black Americans at the beginning of the 20th century with a melancholy sound from repeated use of blue notes, it is also a state of depression. So, where in the world do you find unemotional love songs?
“Character and fate are two words for the same thing,” says Novalis (German poet). If predestination is really to be believed, then our very character, whether shaped by nature or nurture, will lead us to the foreordained end no matter how much we strive to foil it. In Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not To Blame, Odewale tries to alter the storyline but fails. And that is what I am reminded of by the first two stanzas of PROMENADE:
The deviant puppet strives
To detach fate’s pull strings
In a Beckett play.
And good luck to the stage actor
Who sets up a new character
From his head, from his stuttering,
Beckett’s plays adheres to absurdism, a philosophical school of thought which has it that the efforts of humanity to find inherent meaning will ultimately fail. His characters try to develop thinking minds which should help them make meaning of their world, but they fail because the system does not brook free spirits; because the system is programed even before the characters are thrown into the stage. It is in vain that the puppet tries to question the status quo and tow its own path.
To clarify the confused, the third stanza of Promenade tells why it is futile to want to break from the norm and chart one’s own course: the whole show is being ‘governed by unknown forces’. Life is not a democracy. Any attempt at rebelling will be met with the world’s ‘baffled silence’ if not its sarcastic ‘Good luck!’
And by the time one seems to have learnt that rebellion does not pay, it is already too late:
Burnt once, twice
Skin and heart thickened, proof
Against future mishap,
Then I got discharged
From the theatre.
Now I am a failed actor,
The artist who lost it all
While giving it all up.
PROMENADE is also about love; about a rehabilitating swain struggling to learn what love truly means; about the non-committal who would rather not say ‘I love you too’ and is not bothered when not told ‘I love you too’.
I used to go all the way
Like a pricey prostitute.
I used to be the good husband of
Unhappy wives who would gladly
Err on the side of manhood,
The alter-boy of feminine sacrament.
But towards the end of the road, the persona is buggered by a couple of soul-searching questions most-striking of which for me is:
Aren’t humans incapable of not
It is true that free spirit-ness may be a cool thing when you are in your teens or even in your twenties, but not when you are fancying forty.
REQUIEM FOR A YOUNG HYPERTENSIVE is about the self-inflicted death of a ‘hitman’. It is for all the young people who have died, or will die, as a result of their reckless lifestyles. And the beauty of this poem is in the way the poet tells it unemotionally. In other words, clinically:
You fought a small war too, brother
How many lives did you strike?
At the New Buka where you gulped
Codeine and lager, wrong poisons
That lodged a clot in your brain.
Although he brings it upon himself, it is a tragedy all the same. Yes, his lady friend might mourn him for only days, his family and friends will hardly forget him nor will they forgive him for breaking their hearts. How does one forgive a child one has struggled to train in the university only for him to kill himself shortly after graduation?
REQUIEM FOR AN ASPHYXIATED NEONATE is also about death; about broken dreams and wasted resources. But this time, due to the parent’s negligence/recklessness either by commission or omission. And then it shocks you how the parents will shift the blame and move on without any feeling of guilt perhaps to repeat the same mistake again:
They will take your death as a wave of fate’s wand
Comfort themselves on a creaking bed
Fondling sour breasts.
Before you conclude that the poet’s profession which exposes him daily to death (and pain and suffering) has benumbed his emotional part, browse through LOVE SONGS (pp 20-25) and see that the poet is not immune to temptation, heartbreak, loneliness and nostalgia.
Clinical Blues is a balanced diet; a complete dose. There is at least a poem for every human situation. And unlike most success stories which hardly cover the cost of greatness, THE LIFE OF I (p 53) comes close to the mental torture Dami Ajayi must have subjected himself to while etching these poems on stone tablets.