Decaying Romance: A Review of Jumoke Verissimo’s The Birth of Illusion

Title: The Birth of Illusion
Author: Jumoke Verissimo
Publisher: Fullpoint Publications And Communications
Number of pages: 83
Year of publication: 2015
Category: Poetry
ISBN: 978-978-946-697-9

“Let there be spaces in our togetherness”. Khalil Gibran

Love, attraction, cohabitation and marriage are few of the dozen topics that have intrigued individuals, cultures and civilizations. Psychologists, sociologists, philosophers and poets have already written and sang volumes on those subjects yet every new generation takes it upon itself to explore them and try to understand them. The third part of The Birth of Illusion, which starts from the 52nd page, revisits those age-old subjects.
Our first real experience of love as youths is in its romantic dimension- that widely emotional state in which tender and sexual feelings, pleasure and pain, anxiety and relief, altruism and jealousy coexist in a confusion of feelings. At this point, we hardly know, or do so but choose to not care, that this facet of love is most often short-lived. Eventually, we will exhaust the thrills that come with the peaks and troughs except those posed by the inevitable problems of ordinary life. In some cases, this romantic love will metamorphose into indifference or active dislike. In some other cases, it will transform into a related but gentler state of affairs which we should term companionate love.
In The Birth of Illusion, one is spared much of the initial details and is rather led straight to the stage when things have started getting sour. One encounters this unique couple who reminds one of Vladimir and Estragon (from Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot), a curious pair that is always bickering and threatening to break apart yet lacks the courage to do so. The third stanza of ‘Porcupine II’ says it all:

And when you say, ‘Get out’
I know you’re certain
The door lock is jammed
With the key in your pocket
And so you tell me every shit…
(Porcupine II, Pp. 52)

But in the beginning it was not so. There was a time when it was blissful. Says the persona:

Do not forget, do not regret…
When we entangled
Our clothed organs in dialogue…
We made a concert of the flesh
We locked ourselves in a grid…
(Porcupine II, Pp. 53)

As to why love metamorphosis from one stage to another in the first place, perhaps these lines below will shed some light:

… However we do praise ourselves
Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm,
More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn than women’s are…
For women are as roses, whose fair flower,
Being once displayed, doth fall that very hour…
(William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act 2 Scene 4)
And this:
It dropped so low in my regard
I heard it hit the ground
And go to pieces on the stones
At bottom of my mind;

Yet blamed the fate that fractured, less
Than I reviled myself
For entertaining plated wares
Upon my silver shelf
(Emily Dickenson, Selected Poems, Pp. 150)

The estrangement grows until the couple erects invisible walls to demarcate their personal spaces within the home. Activity has turned to passivity. In ‘Prickly’, love has given way to mere tolerance and the couple now sleeps in separate rooms.

At night we sit together in the sitting room…
You were cladding your phone to your chest
So I entered my bedroom and hugged the pillow
Mentioned that I loved its skin against mine
Then I returned to the sitting room
And side-eyed you ogling your laptop next…
(Prickly, Pp. 54)

And again:

You have just returned from your bar quest…
I can smell that you’ve hugged some beer bottles
I could wonder how many times the mug kissed you
How you savoured it with your tongue and lips…
You go to the sofa and I go into the bedroom
And when I hear your bedroom door jam
I stay awake on my bed hoping you’d knock.
(Prickly, Pp. 54)

The amount of loneliness and lovelessness packed in The Birth of Illusion is enormous. The persona’s sorrow is laced with that kind of deliciousness that an avid listener of Asa’s music should be familiar with. There is sufficient evidence to convince the reader that this agony, too pure to be fake, must have gushed from the deepest recess of the poet’s mind. This book echoes the cry of a living soul which craves love and life and intimacy; a living soul which shatters to realize that most of its longings will remain a mirage.
Most of the poems that make up Epiphanies (which was published as a chapbook by Saraba Magazine) are about a union that should never have been in the first place. Epiphanies III is thicker with regret than we encounter in Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’.

If I turn the long hand of the clock
Time would only remain the same
I should not have walked this road
I should not have walked this road
I should not have walked this road
I should not have walked this road
(Epiphanies III, Pp. 66)

The situation continues to degenerate as we see in ‘Epiphanies IV. The gulf has widened much more to the point that the man now turns to pornography for sexual gratification. Here the persona wail:

“… you can (and have) found fancy
In the embrace of screen strangers
Who give themselves to folks like you
In hide-to-see pictures and films

So you watch them to fiddle with me
Submit to partial pleasures with the penis
I will in silence wear loneliness for
Our home is now a cinema of status”
(Epiphanies IV, Pp. 67)

The romance in The Birth of Illusion is not a happy one. However, it is a good thing that the book has a way of engaging its reader till the last page. Somehow, the audience wraps itself in the illusion that it has the power to influence the outcome at some point along the line, the same way people watch TV and pray that the soap takes a dfferent turn while knowing at the same time that the storyline cannot possibly disobey its writer.
The Birth of Illusion is Jumoke Verissimo’s first poetry collection after her award-winning debut, I Am Memory published in 2008. Without any doubt, the latter is a huge leap from the former record she has set. The danger of setting high standards is that it keeps you under pressure to always live up to, or above, the set record. Perhaps, that is one of the reasons why it took Jumoke Verissimo this long to bring out the second collection. Her readers can only hope and pray that it should not take another seven years before a third one follows.


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