“Nothing is impossible after a few drinks
nothing insurmountable, not even celibacy
if it is awkward like two left feet
if it is bulging from tumescence
if it is throbbing like whitlow
or worrisome like a feisty wife…
Lagos is locked out, shuttered away,
The grind of tires on asphalt
are eons away from this room,
this room where your bosom
It is always a first time.”
It would be extremely difficult and downright mischievous to discuss modern Nigerian literature, and poetry in particular, without mentioning Dami Ajayi. The poet, essayist, music critic and medical doctor (that last part is easy to forget) has clearly made his mark, successfully curating the renowned Saraba magazine, and having his poems appear on notable platforms, including Prosopisia, World Poetry Book and Enkare Magazine. His debut book, “Clinical Blues” (published in 2014) was well received from a critical point of view, and a second full-length offering was always a question of when rather than if.
Photo credit: damiajayi.com
“A Woman’s Body Is A Country”, published by Ouida Books, is a collection of forty-seven poems which stretch across barely seventy pages. The verses take us on a journey through various cities across the nation’s regions, from Lagos to Ekwulobia, from Chibok to Ibadan, and each poem tells a story, from the personal to the relayed.
“The Alphabet Laboratory” (which ends with a cheesy QWERTY joke) has Ajayi ponder on the use and application of words, “Ode To A Work Day Beer” is about drinking after office hours, “Dreams” is a poem exploring a bard’s fantasies, ‘Sunday afternoons” bears lunchtime nostalgia from many childhoods, “Finding Addiction” chronicles a plunge into alcoholism, “On Time” is an introspective piece on aging, “On Airports I & II” portray the blend of goodbyes into hellos, “I Know What Lagos Does To Dreams” is an acknowledgment of the choking nature of Nigeria’s commercial capital, while “Ode To An Untimely Obituary” extends condolences to Sylva Nze Ifedigbo on the loss of his wife.
“Blue Room I and II” give us a peek into hotel rooms and sticky sheets, Ayo’s Dance” addresses a young cousin snatched by Death, “Twenty Years” is a tribute to longtime friends, “Poet Harcourt” tells the story of debauchery and club bouncers in the Garden City, “Taste Of Evening Stew” subjects existence to a number of similes, “Our Man In Ibadan” details a friend’s night-time preferences, “Four Phases Of Passion” is a brief summary of Lust, “P.S: Memorabilia” celebrates the art of seduction, “Kissing Thorns” is a commentary on blue balls, and “Songs Of Bachelorhood” is a sober piece about departed friends and lovers past.
The book starts out with verses that seem like memoirs, then floats into the realm of human interactions, before settling for the more sensual lines in the latter pages. The poems here dwell on a number of themes, including loss, regret, lust, friendship, seduction, loneliness, and the passage of time.
Ajayi’s effort here may not be as “socially conscious” as Bash Amuneni’s There Is A Lunatic In Every Town (even if “Chibok” and “Die A Little” point in that direction), nor is it likely that it would “appeal to intellectuals” like Ogaga Ifowodo’s A Good Mourning”…but the 2015 ANA Poetry Prize nominee never set out to inspire placards or stir up lecture halls with this one; what he wants you to do is sit and think, remember that friendship you’ve allowed to go cold, mull over that romantic relationship you screwed up, touch yourself where the lines demand thus. It is the kind of poetry you lie down to read on a windy Monday evening, with a James Arthur or Dave Matthews Band track playing in the background. It is subtle, it is reflective, and even where it will not cause you to snap your fingers, it will get you nodding at least.
“A Woman’s Body Is A Country” shows how far Dami Ajayi has come, as a writer and as a man. If it were an album, it would be John Mayer’s “Born And Raised” with all its introspective and self-deprecating honesty, stopping short of a mea culpa. There isn’t too much to gasp to, but there is more than enough to feel, to raise one hand, and to put the other on your chest.
Jerry Chiemeke is a screenwriter, editor, movie critic and lawyer. He has been published in Brittle Paper, The Kalahari Review, Pulse Nigeria and Kenya’s Daily Nation. Jerry critiques African literature for Okadabooks on the Bellanaija platform. He is the winner of the 2017 Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for Book Reviews and Literary Criticism.