For the Love of Flight, by Lola Shoneyin
Cassava Republic Press, pp 62
There is something intriguing about Shoneyin’s penchant for the bird, the vertebrate that symbolises, in many ways, her feminist poetics. And as with her earlier works, ‘So All The time I Was Sitting on an Egg’ and ‘Song of a Riverbird’, the eminence of this vertebrate is assured in her latest collection of poems, ‘For the love of flight’. Shoneyin‘s ‘For the love of flight’ not only highlights the direction of her feminist poetics but accentuates the themes, the narratives of everyday life evident in her other collections of poems. And as always, she locates her poetics within the feminist tradition that resists norms, rebels against patriarchal attitudes and “hones the flints of her existence”. And by so doing, she offers details of her perspective within those liberation traditions that hark back to the vibrant generation of feminine poets before her own. Shoneyin is bold when she confronts the diverse; when she seeks to reclaim the “sensibility of the modern woman” in a manner the renowned activist-poet, Ofeimun, describes as “soothing yet unyielding”.
Though Shoneyin chronicles the conditions of women of patriarchal Nigeria, her poetic forms and themes are not fixed. The forms and themes she explores in her latest offering range from the lyric, epigram, narrative, and elegy to prosody; from love and the failings of love, adultery, incest, the crass fanaticisms of churchgoers to birth, marriage, sickness and death. And it is these forms and themes that underline Shoneyin’s flight to and from and around those issues, fresh and intriguing as they are, that engage her critical attention.
Here, Shoneyin’s genius is the brilliant way she negotiates complex ‘thematic runways’ and yet simulates a steadier, safer take-off and softer poetic landings that mark her out as a poet truly at home with her art. And she truly is.
‘For the love of flight‘, a collection of forty-six poems, is divided into three sections: Nesting, The Beak Generation and No roost for the wicked. In ‘Nesting’, Shoneyin’ observation of her habitation is evident in those poems that are at best testimonies to her creative imagination, or lived experience. Through her personal observations, founded on a certain performance, she illustrates the connection between small and immediate dynamics of life.
And it is fitting that the opening poem, Bath Day, invites us to peer into:
Morning at the ward.
Women coo-calm infants
fresh from the womb.
Nurses, heavy of hip,
roll around beds
with padded hands.
And in other poems as ‘Out of tune’, ‘Island’, ‘Distance’, ‘The Diviner’s Hand’ and ‘Intruder’, Shoneyin explores themes that are at once personal and social: love and life, the fragility of personal relationships, the pains that inhabit love. In ‘Charm’, a poem akin to Denise Levertov‘s Wedding Ring, she says:
Days doze by
and I don’t remember you.
The only charm of wifehood lies
in an old plastic box.
I put it away months ago
when, one broken morning,
I woke to find I hadn’t dreamed
of you in years, nor cared.
In the second section, ‘The Beak Generation’, Shoneyin returns with fresh energy and insight to familiar themes she began in her earlier works with poems as ‘Romeo’, ‘Other Woman’, ‘Germ’ and ‘Adulteress’. In ‘Trysexual’, she poeticizes the unsayable:
The woman inside divines,
tells me of the hole in my half-life,
reaches for my hair
I stroke her back
so this is it
The poems in the final section of the collection, ‘No Roost for the Wicked’, encapsulate Shoneyin’s grasp of her art, of issues in contemporary Nigerian politics. Her distaste for the shenanigans that occupy our quarters of governance is clear in poems as ‘Big Love:
There was once a king
who ruled with a knife.
He lusted and lay
with his own son’s wife.
However brilliant Shoneyin’s new offering is, poems as ‘Creaking Bed’ and ‘Why Did He Speak to The BBC? (Dub)’ do not sit well with her central preoccupation, with the impressive way she writes about emotional truths of those seemingly insignificant matters that are the core concerns of [the] woman. ‘Creaking Bed’, in particular, conveys a certain meaninglessness that weakens her endeavour; and ‘Why Did He Speak to The BBC? (Dub)’ is too prosaic to be passed off as a poem.
Doubtless, Shoneyin’s ‘For the love of flight’ is the real deal; and obviously conscious of her talent and the place of her new opus in the durable canon of Nigerian poetry, Shoneyin unwittingly
enjoins us in ‘The Diviner’s Hands:
so remember this…
a wave in flight
‘For the Love of flight’, is due for release on 26th February 2010.