Poetry can be likened to spades, whose ability to dig deep and unearth largely depends on who is handling it. It’s fairly obvious, but the fate of a line or a paragraph, in terms of its resonating effect, has a lot to do with the thumb and index (and all other accompanying) fingers wielding the pen.
Art exists in many forms and dimensions, and those who say that poetry is the most fluid and malleable of them all cannot be slated for being out of line. The genre is adaptable, with a nature that borders on multiple utilities, and like a weapon, its effect has everything to do with the one wielding it. Poetry would aid in winning a woman’s (or man’s) love, disturb a leader comfortable with corruption, smoothen the passage at a funeral, add colour to an exchange of vows, or aid the free flow of tears when it’s time to scream for help.
Tolu Akinyemi ‘s “Dead Lions Don’t Roar” is a collection of 112 short poems that offer perspective on the thoughts and interactions of everyday people. Partly inspired by his experiences in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, the investment consultant, life coach and fan of Chelsea Football attempts to paint descriptions of what happens in the small spaces that our lives play out, from marketplaces to church pews, from burning buildings to hospital wards.
“Where Are The Men?” calls out young adult males who equate the act of fertilizing eggs to fatherhood, “Peak” is a tribute to a popular brand of milk that rests comfortably in the country’s retail stores, “Before The Vows” is the wailing of a dissatisfied spouse who misses the pre-wedding romance, “Our Neighbour’s Wife” is a verse on kindness, “Wedding Party” is a warning to those who prioritise glossy ceremonies over the substance of unions, and “Brother Smart” is a jab at perennial bachelorhood (coughs, Sweet Boys, coughs, Association).
There are questions asked of homely qualities and domesticity in “Twelve Yards”, and “Bolaji” is a pun on names with double entendres. The title poem, “Dead Lions Don’t Roar”, is an appeal to maximise talent, and there is room for sobriety too, as the author mourns a friend in “The Prince Has Gone To Rest”, and weeps for the victims of the 2017 Grenfell disaster in “Fire In the Tower”.
Akinyemi’s verses are concise, straight-edge and explanatory, reminiscent of the kind of poetry often churned out by Mamman J. Vatsa, the late soldier and poet. There is little room for the superfluous, and while art aficionados may not consider the lines as exactly high-brow, the poems are relatable, and there’s no likelihood of an accusation pertaining to lack of communication. Certain pockets of a more socially and culturally aware demographic may frown at a few references (the issues of decent dressing, spinsterhood and being a “wife material” are touchy in today’s Nigeria, and capable of triggering a social media ruckus), but the relatability will suffice, and in any case, there is a clearcut target audience for Akinyemi ‘s art.
“Dead Lions Don’t Roar” doesn’t promise sophistication, but Poetry has never been compelled to take complex shapes anyway. It’s not always about cooing and finger-snapping, sometimes it’s OK to just read and nod because the alphabets hit home.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.