Most poems annoy me. You know why? Instead of delicious nuggets about human nature or excellent descriptions of just about anything, I get a truckload of pretentious, lets-make-this-up-as-we-go BS. As smart as I like to think I am, I don’t understand these poems. Miss Literary Genius next to you doesn’t understand them, either (even though she pretends she does), and you, the poet, don’t have a clue what “our love has drowned in crimson binary concaves” means.
In fact, at some of these spoken word performances, Miss Literary genius and I clap just so we’re not tagged Haters.
There, I said it.
That aside, I was expecting the worst when I set out to read Oyindamola’s Shoola’s book “To Bee a Honey”. I thought 124 pages of (pretentious?) poetry would break me, but many of Shoola’s poems have depth and are surprisingly as clear as spring water.
“To Bee a Honey” is a heavy meal. Lots of poems on love, some on religion and race, and a sizable number of pieces on perception, self-discovery as a human and as a woman. We also get three stories.
I’d like to think that her love-themed poems are crafted from personal experience because of how blatant they are. One untitled poem reads:
“I have tamed myself from
showing that I love you too much,
and in that way as well…
I hold honey in my mouth,
ransack it with my tongue
rub it against the walls of my teeth
but never dare to taste
let alone, to swallow.”
From her poems, we get a mix of school-girl infatuation, unrequited love on both sides, and self-realization after being saved from Cupid’s poisoned tips. The poet is unashamed in her analysis of relationships, in the unboxing that happens when you give your heart to the wrong (or right) one. The fearlessness that creeps up afterward is something that only happens when a person finally learns to understand emotions and begins a journey of self-discovery.
This journey spills over into her poems about women. Society dictates that a woman is nothing without a man. But what if man or no man, a woman is still strong and reserves the right to see herself as royalty? Here’s one untitled piece:
“So many times,
I want to tell these womYn
that accepting and celebrating
the birth of a female child
is accepting and celebrating themselves.”
In another poem, “For the Black Queens”, she writes: “I want a womYn so black her face kings the night. She chariots the moon and the stars and without her they would not shine.” In case you’re wondering, Oyindamola’s poems often refer to the word woman as WomYn, for artistic reasons, I guess.
Shoola’s poems about religion are a bit unconventional. One, titled “Alfa”, questions the readiness of pastors to sell hope instead of truth. Another untitled poem addressed the “pictorial perception” of God as a man. Oyin writes: “…what if God is Black? What if God is WomYn? What if God is a Black WomYn?”
Another poem blatantly labels God as female, and I do not think Shoola is wrong in asserting this. Think of it this way. If the Bible says we’re all made in God’s image, and there are males and females in the world, this means God must be male (and female) in part since females are formed in“His” image.
If you’re thinking of disagreeing to this, truthfully ask yourself whether you’ve never considered it weird that God is commonly depicted as a white-bearded/golden-haired White man. Have you wondered why He can’t be Black or Latina? Aren’t we all slices of Him? If you’ve asked why God can’t be “multiracial”, I have to ask why He can’t be male and female.
A fictional account titled “Undiagnosed Hours” is based on the true story of Kalief Browder, a young Black man arrested (and jailed) in the US for allegedly stealing a backpack. Shoola, through excellent prose, catalogs a mother’s thoughts as she watches her son unravel. A tear-inducing letter, found after Browder’s suicide, is the highlight of this story.
I did the only thing they would let me do; walk in squares, barefoot, to prepare the soil for my body. The soil is well tilled now and it hurts to live more than to die.
I love you, ma.”
I laud Oyindamola’s effort for these stories and her ability to enter unconventional territory. However, I think she should work harder on her micropoetry. To start with (and this has nothing to do with her), very few short poems ever draw me in. Many of them cannot capture the essence of whatever’s being addressed before they end.
In not liking a lot of Oyindamola’s micro poems, I do not think it was my bias coming to play. Some of them sounded like quotes picked off the internet. Many of the words bore no weight. If these weren’t supposed to be poems, maybe just scraps flying off her heart, I’d say she has interesting thoughts, but they seem to have been written as poems. So…
Free verse suits her, and even without really incorporating rhyme, her writing is fluid. She hardly garnishes her words (let’s write an ode to flowery descriptions), but there’s still good imagery. She bravely experiments with spaces and punctuations, and this is icing on her cake, because they give visual context to her words and emotions.
With over fifty poems, I’d have to say that “To Bee a Honey” would be a better book if about twelve micro poems were chopped off. Sometimes not every idea is important, and this applies even when writing poetry. Also, if Oyindamola hasn’t written a novel, I really hope she considers trying that, as there’s enormous talent floating in her stories.
Chiamaka Onu-Okpara is a freelance book editor who has experience editing fiction, creative non-fiction, and academic documents (Social Sciences and Humanities). She also writes fiction and poetry and has been published in Ake Review, Apex Magazine, and The Kalahari Review amongst other places. Her first poem is forthcoming in Strange Horizons