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BN Bookaholic Reviews: Toni Kan’s Songs of Absence & Dispair



As we work towards bringing you the best in Nigerian content, Bella Naija will now be updated with events updates from the arts world, book reviews and general tidbits on literature with special emphasis on African literature. Our Bookaholics are Isabella and Temitayo who already have a very strong following via their arts blog – and Isabella’s book show on Silverbird TV. You can expect to see more from Temitayo & Isabella on BN soon!

songs-of-despair-coverjpgToni Kan’s collection of poetry Songs of Absence and Despair, are not songs to dance to, but songs tinted with darkness even as they focus on the theme of absence and emptiness. These two themes are hard to write about because they are deep seated emotions that everyone hates but cannot avoid in life. Yet, the poet in Kan does justice to them.

They are short but provocative poems divided into two sections: Songs of absence (with nineteen poems) and songs of despair (with fifteen poems). They are very contemporary taking a look at the effects of changes caused by the ‘contemporariness’ of our world: loneliness, separation of spouses to search for a better living, migration, nostalgia, lost love, death, foster parents, ‘lost’ children, etc.

Toni Kan is a poet with a trick; he writes as if with a quill, uses the ink of language minimally with caution lest he defaces the focus of the work. Thus, each word that spills from his pen is pregnant with meaning. He spices his language with the use of literary devices that are spread in different parts of his work: personification, simile, metaphor among others. This does not mean that the language is not accessible. The shortest poem is one to look at (‘I Read Your Body like Braille’): In pitch darkness/ I read your body like Braille/ My fingers are my eyes. (p.54)

A literal explanation of this is a sexual rendezvous between two people…but that’s just limiting the power of the poem. It could mean many things to other readers. For me: it is the feelings of absence that one feels when a lover is away, ‘my fingers’, memories that I have of you are the ones that make me see, that give me temporary comfort.

These poems are not only songs because they are named as such; they really are as the poet makes effective use of musical devices that add oral and aural beauty to the work. The most dominant however is repetition, whether of sounds (alliteration, assonance, consonance) or words. How musical and sad does this sound: I would have done one more dance/ I would have sent on more email/ I would have made one last call/ Funmilola, I would have been a better friend. (p.34)

The collection is dedicated to his wife and maybe the reason the reader has a sense of attachment to the poems is that most of them read as very personal poems, and some indeed are as they have dates and dedications to different people, alive and dead. Most of them are very sensual and sexual; personal and general; simple yet packed with unique meanings for each reader.

They are indeed dirges to the times that we live in; our times that have redefined absence and loneliness; our times when being together has been redefined by the power of technology (emails, phone calls and facebook), and the question to ask is: do they suffice? Do they stop the ‘muscles of loneliness from ripping the sheets of our hearts and probing between our cold thighs’? Do they? Toni Kan’s collection of poems may not answer these questions but they will sure set you on a route to deep thoughts.
temi-bookaholic-bella-naijaTemitayo is a writer and editor based in Lagos. She has a passion for the African creative industry which is portrayed through the arts blog run with her friend, Isabella:

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