THE TEXTURE OF AIR, a slim volume of 45 poems, is Sodiq Alabi’s debut collection. Apart from that the poetry in this book starts from the cover where the eye is greeted by a whirlwind of brilliant colours, I also like how the quality of the binding re-assures me that our printing/publishing houses are not resting on their oars in the race to perfection.
THE TEXTURE OF AIR is a bundle of interests. It is about gain and loss, about love and hatred, about life and death, about the present and the past. The book is very much about the traditional as it is of the modern. In this book, the best part of life seems to have happened in the past, which is why we encounter a persona that is always looking backwards. Sometimes this retrospection seems to be indulged in willingly as may be seen in the last two lines of the very first poem: “We wail and reach for shadows/ How absurd our strive (sic)” and other times, the persona seems coerced into it as the last two lines of the fifth poem suggests: “If we do not smoke them before yesterday/ The dead will come for us today”. The past is also littered with guilt and regret which always find their ways to the persona no matter how much the latter tries to wall them off.
Warm liquid bursting the membranes of peace
The thinned(-)out layers barely containing the rumbling
Silence brokered with bitter kola…
Here, we lament the thrashing of trust, shredded
Not into pieces that fade and are forgotten…
But into lumps, stony smut
Festering, clogging our throats
Memories that puff and huff…”
(A Bribe Refused, Pp. 4)
This glorification of the past (and the horrification of the present and even the future) continues in Remember the Crested Genet (Pp. 6):
“… But the lemon we can no longer grow in this soil
Will haunt us, bloods and bones to come…”
“In the days of our grandmothers, the moon did not sag
She simply swag-ed to the scratching tunes of rodents…
No machines to swallow their skies
No evil gold to cement their soil.”
“In the days of our bloods and bones to come
Rhinoceros will be frozen in sterile pages
And our test-tube children’s memories…
Will prove useless to the queries of their own offspring.”
You don’t read Omo Iwo, Olodu Oba (Pp. 10) and not think of ritual incantations, oracular messages or valorous veterans. We are shown a persona that has a strong conviction of who/what he is; a persona drunk in the pride of his rich ancestry and civilization.
“I am the son of my fathers
scion of famed hunters
and crazy warriors…
I am the son of my mothers…
I gulped wisdom from weather beaten breasts…
I am the son of my ancestors and ancestresses…
Who prowled for trespassers, for thieves…”
(Omo Iwo, Olodu Oba, Pp. 10)
But the attentive reader should catch the nostalgic note enshrouded in the louder boasts. All of the recounted exploits are in past tenses. We hardly know the persona by his current deeds, apart from his link to the great men and women of old. Like Edgar Allan Poe, we just stare at this imposing edifice which is all that is left of the House of Usher.
The Texture of Air, the poem which gives the collection its title, reads partly as a tool for hypnotism and seduction and partly as a lover’s confession.
“Listen to the zephyr of the leaves of lilies
feel the texture of air
the silkiness of which does not numb…
The bed of sand below your feet is wet
your face is wet, so is the top
liaising with the bubbliness of your breasts…”
(The Texture of Air, Pp. 21)
Like every other poet before him, Sodiq Alabi takes up the task of trying to rationalize love (fixation, infatuation):
“But they say this chemistry, which is like magic
Ridicules calculation, alchemy repels algebra.
The question has always been unanswered…”
However, having failed to demystify love and attraction, the poet takes solace in the knowledge that its “flushing flower” will remain “evergreen, ever-blooming” such that “more can always be requested/ more I always get, no questions…”
This House of Ours, apparently a response to Prof. Remi Raji’s This House Full of Noise, is a song of despair; a statement of hopelessness. You don’t read this poem and not pray that such a day predicted therein never comes. The house will break because a new generation shall arise which will refuse to “stretch their hands just like their fathers/ to receive over dose of suffering”. This house will break because this up-coming generation will not “put up with this noise and fury/ that blocks the flow of creativity and stunt growth”. I cannot help but ask myself once more: what is the function of poetry? Is it not to entertain and to also admonish? Is it not to proclaim blessings and to also announce impending doom? Is it not to pat on the back and to also whip the bottoms? And most importantly, is it not to point out problems and also proffer solutions? One hardly sees the suggested remedies to the disasters foretold in This House of Ours.
“… this house may not fall
But it will break…
It will break into twenty pieces…
Each piece a symbol of Lugardian failure
Further shredded by predictable strife…”
(This House of Ours, Pp. 36)
We also encounter this deficiency of solutions in May 29 where to the reader’s puzzlement, the poet looks to the same elders that have been in charge of affairs since Adam for help:
“But our salt is in danger of rotting
What herbs do we make, elders?”
(May 29, Pp. 38)
“… the honey is now spoilt
Give us a new invocation, elders.”
(May 29, Pp. 39)
Spare Me Your Rant (Pp. 57) is a blow at e-activists who lounge in the safety of their bunkers to criticize government actions and inactions.
“… your anger is feeble
-It may not exist-
It bears no metals
no impressions that lasts
beyond the spheres of likes…
Your activism revolves around
Post. Enter. Send…”
(Spare Me Your Rant, Pp. 57)
But this attack on e-warriors is unfair for at least two reasons: a) it doesn’t distinguish between genuine e-activists and counterfeit e-activists; b) the poet is not being honest when he claims that the online activist’s anger “bears no metal” and creates “no impression that lasts/ beyond the sphere of likes and retweet”. What does the poet say about the smart mob brought together by electronic media back in 2001 which succeeded in bringing down the government of Joseph Estrada of the Philippines? How does he explain the impact of social media during the Arab Spring? What about such movements as #BBOG and #ChildNotBride which would have never come to global awareness but for social media? We cannot ignore the fact that certain persons are so influential and are sometimes more effective when they remain alive and safe in order to spur a million others into action. All through history, people like Julian Asange, Edwin Snowden and political opposition figures have taken refuge in exile from where they were able to mobilize and coordinate protests at the home front.
Something good is happening to Nigerian literature. It would seem that, having lain fallow for decades, the land has now grown so rich that new poets blossom everyday. With such a good start as THE TEXTURE OF AIR, Sodiq Alabi has added his voice to the choir and we can only hope that time and practice makes him better.