“We open to unearth the umbilical cord of black lives across geographies
We open to aerate the stinking catacombs of wrath wrung by
the festering sores of racial injustice,
we open to plait the cold cord of nostalgia into knotted nooses
of decimation for
chattels, neo-colonialism, drudgery and systemic racism,
we open to write the narratives of our lives, values, valour…”
The world is a lonely place, and Poetry is the perfect way to document what it feels like.
Oloyede Michael Taiwo, media practitioner and financial analyst, is no stranger to verses and storytelling. He has performed at several events – including the Cross Concert in Lagos – and has been longlisted for multiple prizes for fiction writing. But for the first time, he takes on page poetry with Lagos Is Killing Me, a collection of 64 poems published by The Roaring Lion Newcastle, in which he chronicles the nuances of living, working, loving, cursing and dying in a place like Nigeria.
I Have Learned How To Live dwells on self-care, Curly Smoke adulates traditional medicine and ancient African practices, We Open is a lyrical essay on race and mental resistance, Moribund Restaurant compares Nigeria to a poorly-managed canteen, and Love’s Translucent Web is a narrative on young romance delivered in verses.
Laughter draws allusions to some of the world’s larger water bodies in talking about Joy, Naked Soul is a short but urgent poem about vulnerability, and in Tell The White Man, Taiwo addresses the themes of colonial mentality and imperialism amidst lines like “mud-sling the African gods to enthrone Zeus/Hermes, Artemis and the white lot/tell the white man that the black men will make your dreams work…”
Noose and Die makes use of verse to tell a poignant story of suicide occasioned by domestic violence, Falling Child dwells on child abuse, She’s Not Yours rings like a rap song reminding a cuckold that “it was just his turn”, Dust Arise compares Love to weather elements, and in the title poem Lagos Is Killing Me, Taiwo paints a picture of the chaos that characterises one of Africa’s busiest cities.
Uneasy Calm illustrates the complexion of Despair, She Has A Next depicts how difficult it is to move on from old love, Colour-Riot Days uses hues to describe interracial dating, Waiting In Vain dwells on unrequited love, and Sepia plays with famous literary titles in telling the story of a call girl. Autumn Leaves is a well-woven poem on mental health, and Your Fight Is Over is a lamentation over Nigeria that runs like a dirge for a departed friend. In Sacrament of Bullets, he mourns the youths slaughtered by Nigerian soldiers at Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020.
In 84 pages, Taiwo traverses a wide range of themes, from racial discrimination to political corruption, gender-based violence, police brutality and economic slavery. The pages also leave room to ruminate on romance, death, violence, longing and hope.
For a debut collection, there is a lot of ambition in this body of work. Taiwo has a lot of things to say, and he fights really hard for his verses to make an impression on whoever stumbles on this book. He knows his metaphors, and he clearly has a good sense of imagery. He puts these devices to good use here, even though there are times where the lines just seem superfluous. There are a number of poems that would have been better off as spoken word performances – like SARS, The Road and Shadows Of The Evening – but he manages not to get too carried away in weaving words and leaving the message to drown.
Ultimately, Lagos Is Killing Me is a compelling body of work. It interrogates life like Dami Ajayi’s Clinical Blues, and explores emotions like Echezona Nduka’s debut collection Chrysanthemums for Wide-eyed Ghosts. At certain points it is too serious, but it is necessary poetry, and in a space where wordiness is regarded with disdain, it’s fun to see someone who still loves to play with letters and figures of speech.