Picking the Grievous Bones of Disaffection

Every poet is in search of something. This “thing” – sometimes called a poetics – describes the philosophical criteria and aesthetic codes that connect a poet’s discourse to meaning and life. Yeats, in his later years, pursued to track reality and its imperfections; Heaney sought a “clarification of life….a stay against confusion”; and Jay Wright, that impossibly brilliant “black African-American” poet, incessantly distills mythologies of being from metaphysics of identity. For Dami Ajayi, a poet who has invested as much passion and consistency on emotional experiences as on somatic exposures, “affection” – in its vari-bodied manifestation – forms the nucleus of his poetic quest. Whether he is writing about intrigues of love or the entanglements of the sublimely erotic, Ajayi’ style and sensibility reflect in active response to all sorts of romantic stimulus, making his contemplations, in many ways, a quest after what may be called an affective ideal.

In a recent conversation Ajayi describes his motivation as “a re-imagination of affection as a living thing, a moving thing, a verb”. The reader of his two previous collections of poems, Clinical Blues and A Woman’s Body is a Country, will no doubt be well familiar with this thematic position. She may also be aware that the poet’s preoccupation with, and persistent articulation of, the shifting terrains of human sensual connections is governed by a certain sense of involvement; that an implacable will to self-disclosure forms the con-text upon which the text of his experiences is exhibited. Ajayi’s style and sensibility provoke rehearsal and performance of self as an article of truth.

One may recall that he once wrote that “my Id is playwright”. For a poet, who is also a practicing psychiatrist, invoking an artistic profile both Freudian and Shakespearean, cannot be considered out of context by any means. And for a poet who stages affective interplays of human (dis)connections around dramatic emotions like desire, affection, love, loss and grief, associating his “Id” – the unconscious part of the psyche, the source of primitive and instinctive impulses and drives– to performance in a book of poems, may be considered a most self-referential act. Thus Ajayi further confesses to practicing his “…male vulnerability on the page as a prelude to living it in person” because, as he sees it, there is a fallacious belief in the society which encourages a dissociation of maleness and romance:

As you know, our ideal of masculinity is that brash macho thing that is as rigid as the muscle in front of your nightclub or worse, an unyielding wall without history or feeling. But I assure you men cry.

The sense of “prelude” to experience that Ajayi mentions appears to be, but cannot be taken, as a priori; for even before the dramatic, confessional strains of Affection and Other Accidents, the poet has been known through previous collections to have consistently centralized himself as the doppelganger in the multilateral spectacles of human emotional and physical entanglements that he presents before us.

Despite all of this, the raw, visceral rendering of his latest collection, Affection and Other Accidents, even to his most perceptive readers, may appear as an audacious testing of the very limits of self-revelation. If the tenacious propensity for immersive self-reflection that seems to form some kind of thematic umbilical cord in Clinical Blues and A Woman’s Body is a Country may be considered some sort of “prelude” to the actual experience for the poet, the unfiltered cogitation in Affection and Other Accidents reads very much like a reel of realism, a posteriori. In Affection and Other Accidents, it seems things have been taken beyond the poet’s familiar acts of self-insertion to the certitude of the confessional, where disclosure and catharsis seem to equate, even if what is brought to light are dark matters of trauma scoured from the rigor mortis of a love effectively immolated.

Affection and Other Accidents is where the poet’s act of “practicing vulnerability” finds a most heightened articulation of love’s complexities and contradictions. We see this in the intensity and intimacy of emotions inclemently laid down on the pages.

The “Introit” sees the poet-persona swearing in a most Nigerian of ways, to bare it all:

Bless up

to the variations of diarrhoea

to which I now say amen

The prose sequence, “Affection and Other Accidents”, whose title names the whole collection is alternatively a stark portrayal, a questioning critique and a mordant post-mortem, of a failed love affair. These passages throb with an autobiographical explosion, oozy with pungent episodes and emotional inquests. They are a woven mesh of anger, loss, sadness and disappointment, moving in episodes, taking the reader through five cities in which the gradual, but foretold, collapse of the love affair between the poet and his lover is enacted. The sense of “complainant” reminds us a little about the figure of what is known in Latin poetry as exclusus amator, the “excluded lover”, bemoaning the fate of devotion gone awry, of affection out of kilter.

The story begins in Lagos, as the soon-to-be estranged lover, on the eve of a departure for a journey, affirms her affection for the complainant:

Then you delivered an intimate speech about us, about getting engaged, about your missing engagement ring, about your unfaltering devotion to me & our aisle-bound affection & somehow, somehow, I found myself again kinking one knee, asking for your hand in marriage again.

But this is neither the first proposal nor the first ring. There had been an unexplained loss of engagement ring which had necessitated the repetitive events and locations of the anxious marriage proposal. The unusual occurrence of multiple proposals, it will turn out, presages an inauspicious love journey whose significance will become legible when the affectionate moments and momentum quickly turn foul and hostile on a train journey in Berlin:

But in that train car, your voice was rising & rising. The other passengers were becoming uncomfortable… One hour into that conversation, sleep-deprived & anxiety-stricken, I began to have a panic attack. My heart pounding against my chest, I wanted to do two things. One was to get off & never see you again. Two was to call my mother & apologise for being rude to her when she began to ask questions about Denmark.

Things hardly fall apart in a sudden heap. In the story, things did not fall apart in a single moment in Berlin or Cologne; the seeds of discord arrive through doubt and suspicion and, tellingly, on the bank of contemporary technology:

You read my private messages to friends & acquaintances, quizzed me about other people’s life choices, sometimes punished me for those choices. There were exes that lingered & loitered, this confirmed your brazing suspicions, even when I said to you that I have shut those doors, you continued to probe & poke old wounds, willing them to bleed.

A mollifying visit to India by the poet, where the lover now resides, proves inadequate band-aid to the already festering gash:

That was why I came to India, to see if there was any love left, anything we could work with to bring our affection back to speed. But it took only days for your hospitality to sour ….On the night before I left, we sat on opposite sides of the soft mattress thrown on the floor & argued about marital roles. We argued bitterly about marital roles. Yet my questions lingered, unanswered.

The resultant emotional unhinging and self-flagellation that follow unanswered questions seem to have been aggravated by the anxieties and discomfort of living in a new country:

I was coming apart. I couldn’t seem to do anything right. I couldn’t find my way around the tubes. I couldn’t understand what this new job entails. At night, I lay in an uncomfortable couch in southeast London, willing sleep to come, watching the ticking clock till dawn.

Passage IV is the most acutely emotional part of the narration. Laden with pathos, the passage describes a moment of personal humiliation arising from the poet’s encounter with the terror of urban living, leading to a dysphoric moment. That moment of vulnerability is further aggravated by the feeling of betrayal and disappointment in a lover whose disturbing distance makes it all lonelier:

I slid & fell on Sunderland Avenue. On the third day of work, I tripped on the underground station & fell. I sat on the floor with my overtly yellow luggage & wept. A grown man shedding tears in the Elephant & Castle underground station. I think you could have done better. Put your five-hour head start in New Delhi to good use. Ask how my day went like lovers do in those songs. I believe these things are real, that people check on their lovers even in long distance relationships.

Well, the lover will come checking on the forlorn poet spelunking in London. But this gesture, as it turns out, embeds autodestructing consideration:

You came to London to apologise without begging—& yet, I chose to accept your apology. I remember that evening in Motel One Berlin, sharing Prosecco & being merry, I knew that our affection sank that night. I remember the afternoon in the train to Cologne, I knew that our affection sank that afternoon.

In some respect, the (dis)entanglement of the lovers demonstrates the embedded contradictions and contingencies of love relation in a globalizing age. The privileges of mobility and technological connectedness proves poor buffer against love’s inherent and active maps of misdirection.

Pride and possibility cohabit uneasily, egos and memories collide in bad cheers; and at the end of the day, things remain firmly unsalvageable, as the “Interlogue 1” attests:

Three years &/four proposals later

we stand annulled/ a premarital divorce.

Passages like this, with their humorous sarcasm, demonstrate the therapeutic function of “Affection and Other Accidents”; wherein the poem is an act of grief-making as much as a cathartic moment. The reader, by the virtue of being within the earshot of the poet’s ruminations, becomes an unwitting therapy groupie.

The poems in the second segment are a familiar Ajayiesque feast, each with its own carnal distinction. There are poems concerning sensual and corporal entanglements of the sexes and there poems detailing the poet’s existential takes on urban living and contemporary human relations, and there are poems that expand on the experience of “Affection and Other Accidents”. Poems like “Queens”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Unreliable Narrator” describe in alluring details the many amorous encounters and trysts doting the experience of the poet’s bachelorhood across world capital cities. “Crucible”, “The Body Knows”, “A Poem for Raliat” and “Cancelling R Kelly” inspect affection in different trajectories. “Cancelling R Kelly”, for instance, uses an erotic setting to discourse the topical but delicate issues of consent, gender activism, justice, ideology and the impact of global movements like “Me Too” and “cancel culture” in interpersonal relations.

You disrupt pleasure to shut off the music. /You will not fuck me to a R. Kelly tune/ I slouch in awe, perplexed & wooden / with desire. I imagine politically correct /ways to put you back into my bed, in zone / to resume our Bump & Grind shenanigans.

Other poems provide more context and commentary on the turbulence of “Affection and other accidents”. “Aubade to my Greying” describes the desperate social circumstance of the bachelor-poet advancing in age: “My mother & her friends haven’t lost hope/prayers & match-making/ winks and wishing but my dreams rest on different pastures”. “Mary’s in India” is a poem contextually resonant but maliciously repurposed. Set after Dido’s song of the same title about a lonely lover, Danny, whose love interest, Mary having gone to live in India, feels abandoned. The song is from the perspective of a new lover who is nursing Danny back to love. Whereas Ajayi’s poem is from the perspective of the poet-complainant, promising the lover that she will get her comeuppance, in so many words, that losing his devotion will always be a permanent error for her, for “the sorrow /of Cupid’s broken arrow” will be eternal reminder that “love also leave scar tissues”.

`“Naked I am before you River Dun” is an interesting poem lifting linguistics and ideas from three poetic sources. There is a blending of the first line of Okigbo’s “Mother Idoto” and Gabriel Okara’s poem “The Call of River Nun” in the title. But the poem also appears to refer to the little “love accident” between the English poet, John Donne and his wife Anne Donne, in its punning game. In the poem he mocks himself as a failed lover: “Naked I am before you River Dun/ A dunce, damned, done”. Then in “A Poem for the Condemned Poet”, the poet-lover is imagined on trial, in the dock where the manacles are “adornments for affection”. But he, again, is scorned and betrayed by the lover:

Do you know this man? /I do not know this poet.

Have you ever seen him? /No, not in this lifetime.

Does he mean anything to you? /Does he mean anything at all?

That last answer may indicate how the poet perceives the lover’s attitude to him.

“Denouement”, modelled after Walcott’s “Love after Love” and dedicated to him, speaks of hope and promise: “A time will come/ when, with a sigh,/ you will exhale”. This dream of respite is anchored on recognition of little pleasures of life, wine, music and food. It is a little surprise, that for once, and for a long distance-running lover, the warmth of a lover’s body, even if for rebound, is expunged from the inventory of convalescence. Because Dami Ajayi is also a music aficionado – who has amassed as much fame in music criticism as he has in poetry – music, in differing instantiations, makes active presence in this book. Some poems like “Youth (after Sunny Ade)”, “Mary’s in India (after Dido)”, “Life Goes down Low (after Lijadu Sisters)”, “Say It(after John Coltrane)” and “In Praise of God’s Stalker (after Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey)” are either set to music of those musicians or presented as homage to ideas from them.

To this writer however, the most successful of Ajayi’s poems are often those that meditate on ordinary things and abstract ideas, those that grapple with existential questions, amplifying the significances of voice-less things. “Covid-19” and “An Ode to a Face Mask” exemplify this tendency. The latter considers the nature and politics of the pandemic, mapping the essential ironies in the geography of rampage:

To think that Rome would be crippled again /with viral load /

& an African sun will scorch viral particles/even in churches.

The tall world order of irony /is in the black body count.

“An Ode to a Face Mask” is especially a more lyrically accomplished poem. The poem meditates on the after-life of a face mask, once crucial to human survival, but now discarded. The dark colour of the mask brings to the mind of the poet, the trampled-upon image of George Floyd, the African-American victim of white police brutality. The poet contemplates the long and painstaking process that brings the mask through usefulness to this sorry state:

How lonely it must be/ velvet-brown,

to journey from a cotton farm/ spin through textile machines,

be woven into fabric/ manhandled by a tailor

for this fate of abandonment.

But life is not fairer to a mask than to a man, the fate of both is similarly uncertain.

In “Acne Vulgaris”, another poem on the life of things, the poet, ever resourceful, manages to find artistic grandeur in blemishes: “Time has made an Enwonwu / of your post-pubertal face”. “Fall” is a really beautiful poem, containing a multitude of influences. The poem uses Yoruba conventional wisdoms to ruminate on the nature of misfortune: “A child falls prone & looks forward, / an adult falls prone & looks backward”. This is a literal translation of the Yoruba axiom, b’omode subu, a wo waju; b’agba subu a weyin wo. But there is also a popular cultural intone in the opening stanza of the poem reminiscent of both Orlando Owoh and Yinka Ayefele, two Yoruba musicians, who have enlarged the Yoruba idea of misfortune-as-falling: “The other day, / a mishap felled me”. Yet you can almost hear a faint influence of Kofi Awoonor’s “For Sika”. Of course, the idea that a fallen man is a friendless man, prone to betrayal and abandonment of kith and kin, is also axiomatic to African imaginary. Thus the poet-victim sings: “I looked at the ones I have loved / & they looked away from me”. The strength of this poem is in the way it conveys cultural atmosphere of elegy, using attributes of oral poetics like repetition and anthropomorphism:

Tell the ground where I fell / that I don’t know why I fell tell the ground that fell me /

that the lesson still eludes me./ This earth, a parch of life form, /has an even temper;/

why has it chosen to mete out anger to me? /This earth is a patch of life form /

with an even temper/ why has it chosen me for an example?

While it can be reasonably argued that the amorous poems (or “Ashawo poetry” as the poet himself refers to them) have formed some kind of psycho-sensual unconscious in Ajayi’s poetry, remarking him as a poet of epicurean recognitions – a Neruda without the revolutionary stance, so to speak– the poems about existential concerns and urban living show a poet well attuned to the changing dimensions of contemporary life.

An early review of Affection and Other Accidents has duly taken note of Ajayi’s radical experiment with form in the first segment of the text in ways that subvert both the lyrical form and the structural conventions of prose-poem. Indeed, without the qualification of his stylistic choice, the poet seems to leave us with a text that seems nebulously formed– being neither a poem nor a prose-poem. But in fairness to the poet, one can see how technically difficult it would have been to freight such a boundless weight of emotions, as portrayed “Affection and Other Accidents” , through conventional verse structure or the lapidary exigencies of the prose poem. The consolation is that what the piece lacks in lyrical constitution it makes up in arresting dramatic and rhetorical performances. “Affection and Other Accidents” explores the possibility of subversion inherent in all genres, and by so doing stands a genre of, and in, itself. Interestingly also, as a discourse of a lover’s grievance, it inter-textually recalls the affect of Okot P’Bitek’s Song of Ocol, albeit without Lawino’s first salvo.

The Pain and Healing of a Broken-hearted Poet

(A Review of Dami Ajayis Affection & Other Accidentspublished by Radi8 Ltd., Lagos, Nigeria, 2022)

By Aj. Dagga Tolar

The therapeutic and healing properties of poetry are not necessarily definite for the genre, but they exist and can for poets provide all of the relief for the mind if taken up as a mirror of the self.

For the man or woman who is heartbrokenpoetry can become a journey into the self, a retrospective X-raying of fortunes and misfortunes, with the aim of understanding the course of one’s own existence as a being. To make meaning of life, of love and losses. Here, where life is a rope, a strangling rope. A noose. With all the properties to transmute into a broken rope all to the same consequence of death, leaving the living with nothing but a thin thread of a bridge to navigate this heavy knotted maze of a rope.

The Clinician Dami Ajayi with his collection, Affection & Other Accidents hands us poetry with a stethoscope on the human heart and emotions. He examines how love fates us on the rope called life, how steady love and his travails hit hard with pain than the expected pleasure. The accident of broken promises and betrayed expectations, the same love we fall into to hide and provide us with reasons to go on living inflicts pain and other accidents of death and dying on our frail frame and being.

The first take of the collection is the shattering of the myth that the man is always and has always been the player; the man is the one leaving the woman in the hang and walking away. Here we meet a poet personae of a man taking us through his odyssey in the hands of a woman.

The story like reading of the title poem AFFECTION & OTHER ACCIDENTS doesn’t betray the beginning of most love stories of always “A perfect beginning” (p.2). The sacredness of words imposes stinginess on their use. This does not now dismiss history and chronology from poetry. In INTERLOGUE I (p.8), the love runs its course and in “Three years &/four proposals later/we stand annulled, a premarital divorce.” From the time we go on to place/s in INTERLOGUE II (p.19), where the poem reads “… you did me dirty/ in five cities.”

The first of the city is Lagos, four others are to follow after… and this is where the collection, in reality, kicks off too. On “the Third Mainland Bridge at top speed.” With the poet personae set to deliver “a replacement”/’s “engagement ring”. We do not get to know how the original was lost. The heart in love is most incapable of reading meanings outside of consolidating and consummating love; this is all there is to a thesis. An antithesis in the opposite direction in the sense of an anti-love does not exist. Readers cannot help but wonder how a lady can be chatty to an audience about a “missing engagement ring”, and at the same time express an “unfaltering devotion” to the same man without a clue as to how an engagement ring went missing “barely three months I slid it into your finger.” (p.3)  

”Yes, love fails, many a times it is never enough. The economics of existence, our class, our morals, even simple things like how we eat, the sound of food in our mouth, when we eathow we defecate can break and set two hearts apart.”

Love is a blinding floodlight, without the need of eyes to behold the change of currents in the underbelly already undermining the love in pursuit. With love, the heart is all the mind that is needed, and the confession of words; the pronouncement of the four-letter-word; and the “aisle-bound affection” is all there is defining reality.

We motion from Lagos to Germany; inside of “A trained coach heading from Berlin to Cologne” (p.4) with the goal already for “A perfect Danish wedding with all your family & none of the mine”. The rude response to his mother over “questions about Denmark”. And to now suffer “our relationship” to ridicule to feed the other’s hunger and “appetite for public spectacle” and the terrible conclusion to end everything “to get off and never see you again”.

But love is notoriously known for its power of elasticity and so we hop to the fourth city of New Delhi in India. Is the poet coming to New Delhi to plead with Parvati; the dark skin goddess of love? This is a reversal of Hindu mythology; a reversal of role for Shiva is not now the one playing hard to get.

The poem reads itself out as a podcast from the Vedas: “Love endures. Love is relentless. Love trudges.” (p.5) to find out “if there was any love left, anything we could work with to bring our affection back to speed”. All of the bribe of favourite cuisine condiments of “locust beans, dried fish, dried ewedu leaves, fiery ground pepper” fully loaded on suitcases from Lagos was too poor for appeasement to make room for the purported lovebirds to engage each other in a question and answer session on the future.

The poet proved to be too Cain-like with his vegetable load of offerings. The Abrahamic God of Genesis was alive in India already eager to taste blood. Again another reversal of role. The poet personae are unable to play Cain to the end, and suffer love to a murder, as the thunder of don’t dos come raining down; “Do not leave the light bulbs on. Do not leave skid marks on the porcelain. Do not leave used plates in the kitchen sink. Do not play music too loud. Do not sit. Do not write at night. Do not ask questions.

From India with no answers we head to the fifth city; London. Distance should no longer be a hindrance to love, not when it can be obliterated with the touch of a button and two hearts can to and fro be connected, enabling the flow of soothing words to help temper the crisis of navigating the capital of the former British empire and the demands of a new job. Day one: “a deluge drenched me”. Day two: “slid & fell on Sunderland Avenue”. Day three: “tripped on the underground station & fell. I sat on the floor with my overtly yellow luggage & wept.” And nothing but the damning verdict of “incapable of living in Europe”.

London becomes the city of finishing off. The “London days, / days edged like a bet … /days trembling from denouement, /… /days notched by uncertainties, (p.11)But not without flickers of the flame of hope for a love already “threadbare” (p.7) and thinning out to sparkle light back to life has the He receives the news of the She coming to London. Alas, however the bomb drops, delivered by a precise phrase from of her coming to London “to apologize, not to beg”. More like two Generals of opposite camps at the peace talk to end the hostility with “a handshake & keeps dignity intact.” There is no understanding of the reason for the bitterness even in “a small war over toilet rolls” (p.25).Everything is in reversal form. How love came to feel like war and peace-making leaves the other with a broken heart.

…sparkle light back to life has the He receives the news of the She coming to London.

The pain is on exhibition in AUBADE TO MY GREYING (p.9) the unrealisation of the dream of fatherhood (at least for now). They look forward to in a congenial coupling of man and woman in coitus copulation, for a “daughter” calling on “Daddy ….” Now we know everything is gone burst. How consoling is poetry to a broken heart even when it gives birth to poems to “progenies” that “don’t breathe air;/they sit on shelves/& I wear/proudly the badge “author.

Ebu is the Yoruba word for curse, as the poet plays Jesus in full blast damning the fig tree for fruitlessness in the poem MARY’S IN INDIA (p.20)The woman in our story finally gets named; Mary. And the poet discards civility to pass a harsh sentence of condemning her to loneliness. “Mary, /the sun will rise &/set on you alone today” and “… tomorrow” and “… always”. This is the final walk away; there is no return anymore to this love.

UNRELAIBLE NARRATOR (p.23) is the title for this fallback to the memory of the good and beautiful times. Of “shades of the nights, /the sour edges of the forbidden. /She would rest her head on/my bony knee & wait for daybreak, soft music cooing.”. “The night hasn’t changed its /shade & texture much, but people change/ & their circumstances” This much is what has rocked the DECLARATION (p.24) of “unflinching affection”. The poet poaches on the entire meeting of the classic song: LIFE GOES DOWN LOW (p.25) by the Lijadu Sisters to next fete us with his transition from the hilltop of desires and feeling of forever bliss to the valley of “despair”.  

And love is “the dyspnoeic flame of an oil lamp” that gets no spark to life as “strangers do not offer smiles” of light “from behind dark face masks”. And the flame is assailed by the constant “cold calls” without any protective shield of a warming heart. What more is left as the poet announces his disentanglement with the line “I acknowledge my exile” from love.  

And the night becomes the refuge for the broken heart. The sense of loss is now acknowledged, the man can wander into the dark unknown and alone to behold “Lupita dancing alone” (TONIGHT p.27). This is where therapy can begin, yes in a “nightclub”, burning the pains out of the heart watching other men “licking” the dancing Lupita “with their eyes, and as well as listening to “the DJ” playing song after song. Lupita is medicine, prescribed in music and dance. Lupita is medicine in is self-indulgence without temper for anything or anyone else outside her body/she will mind her business & whine her waist/as though there is no haste,/as though she made time.” The Broken heart is one and at the same time a split personality sharing the same space as the eyes watching Lupita dancing on stage and other men watching her but also as Lupita in her disregard for life’s “complexion & its complexities” and “sublime her worries”.

BIG HANDS (p.28), transports us back to tricks the mind can play on a broken heart seeking healing, the temptation to dwell in the past and not put it aside. How interruptions and eruptions of erotic desires even as ghosts can further damage the heart to continue to ail. So in sharing a table once again, “the urinal” is a sanctuary to aid the mind to not forget the handy lesson of Lupita. The poet’s personae are healing, and temptations must be avoided. Please keep your handshake to yourself, “I had folded your memory into/shelves where cobwebs belong.” WE MOVE. The reader is all with the poet, no doubt in full empathy. This is nothing but WOKE. To walk out into the night and “navigate [existence] with a Samsung & song.

Dami Ajayi succeeds so beautifully well in crafting for the broken heart the necessity to find from deep inside the courage with which to move on, only then can the exorcism commences and Time, the ultimate Chief Priest of fates, performs the finality of rituals and “ellipsis becomes elision/becomes a dot becomes/a blinking cursor/beginning to blur.” INTERLOGUE III (p.30).

Only on the path of healing can the Brokenhearted take the past to task and reconfigure the history of the affair for causations of the fall of this Empire of Love & Desire. The flaws of the emperor permit me in this case the Empress, which before now the mind blinded by love could never have seen, and so doing strengthens the will to sane oneself out of despair and sail away free. This is the function performed by the next series of poems, an exposé on the character’s defects.

In SHOE STRINGS (p.31), the subtle word “filch” helps to disguise this act of stealing “shoestrings”. But hear the poet why not “a column of good books” and he explains it away “where is the head?” He points to the lack of “Opolo” and “patience to dwell/on sentences poised to shapen your life”. The failure to bring to fruition the dreams of “proposed writing” projects. With CANCELLING R. KELLY (p.32), all of the labour of love to build up the needed crescendo to set the ship for two to sail is suddenly halted as “You disrupt pleasure to shut off the music, /You will not fuck me to a R. Kelly tune. And the menial mount climbing to bring fire to desire begins all over again. And painfully “at dawn, you don’t thank me/ & say bye-bye”. In THE BODY KNOWS (p.33), yes the body of the other knows when the player or the slay queen prowls.

With THE CRUCIBLE (p.35), we are back to “the logistics of saying goodbye” and “Nothing was promised/… at the departure bay”. In A POEM FOR RALIAT (p.43), we cannot help but to be happy with Raliat and “her groom”. With both of them “Love finds itself & that is enough”. And there is a wedding, there is a marriage. But why not the same for the poet personae? “It hurts to be alone”, Bob Marley’s 1965 song “Love & Affections” is here appropriate and fitted to play: “I was the one who always feels the pain”.

In INTERLOGUE IV (p.50), the therapy sessions make a turn and the poem engages the Brokenhearted being with a question that lights the possibility of an end of therapy. The two to tango’s prerequisite comes up in full motion as the Clinician takes the patient to task with the questions to confront the other of “what is love without reciprocity” and “that what you have given/is given back?”. And “what is the use of anger/if not to dissolve resolve” (FIRST STRIKE (p.51)). Everything begins to Fall in place. The poet’s personae are not the reason, did not fire the first strike. This power of revelation clears existing “doubt” to see the supposed if you don’t mind my expression here “fake love” of the other and the poet exclaims “if this is all of your love,/then my food allergies must be kind”.  

INTERLOGUE V (p.56) is the last of the in-between engagements of the whole affair. This recaps of one of the beautiful moments of bliss… “Two lovers are caught” trapped in a blast of “Summer rain“, and the next scene is not a dream. It is live stream…without the need for blanket cover…two bodies rock…the way a woman can make a man rain jigging a seed to grow a sun inside of her to life… To the power of her attraction “…makes it rain” to drown the rain outside. Only that after she “fails/to bring the sun back“. Is the imagery not overstretched? In Cologne, the two hearts in unison worked body together to shut out the sun. “In the middle of the night, alone” the verdict of “accident” as a memory to banish from the mind of the Poet personae is a battle to be won for healing to fully become for the Brokenhearted.

Affection is not the only one rocked by accident, death and dying feature a great deal in the collection as the “… OTHER ACCIDENTS” rocking life out of existence. Death breaks the heart no less in pain in the same way love unconsummated can do. In THE WAITING ROOM (p.22), we behold the “waiting gestures/pressed on faces/ while the mind runs amok” of people with their loved one caught “between coma & eternal sleep”, painfully she passed on as the poem is tagged “(In memoriam Mrs Ojuri).

In A PANTOUM FOR GABRIEL (p.38) poetry is feted with another task to “ferry” the dead “to the hereafter/ where beauty is song”. Idealism and all of the poisons ever invented in relation to death comes up to air in the poem. The religious hogwash of “pearly gates and things promised/where the body becomes eternal.” Except that the journey to this abode for the dead is not a sky bound as concocted by Abrahamic creeds but on earth “across the River Nun”. And like Babalola in A REQUIEM (p.42), the “dead … are better than us … have crossed the threshold to join the gods to become gods”.

Can poetry intercede on behalf of the dead? In BIRTHDAY ELEGY (p.45), we are told that when the “ephemeral farewells acquire permanence,/poets must shut up/& commit to silence.” The verdict however is that it “is a treacherous thing” to embrace silence when a great mind like Pius Adesanmi suffers an accident in an Ethiopian  plane crash and died on March 10, the birthday of the poet. The intersections between poetry and death and failed love comes to the fore. Both grieves the heart no less to be broken. The arresting silence of the mind at such accidents on one’s affection and on loved ones, is why “Silence is too fatal an act/ for a poet to commit.

So Brokenhearted or mourning, yes “Grief is a slippery thing” UNTITLED (p.52).  “Grief is what we the living must do” (ON GRIEF)(p.46).  But still we must learn HOW TO GRIEVE IN TIME (p.47) for “time is balm,/its reassuring calm/comes to those/who put theirmemories/out at night for the dew”.

The comic relief moment in the whole of the pain and accidents in the text is the next poem FUNERAL DRESSINGS (p.38), the poet journeys us through a Fashionista pageant of the dead. The first on the parade roll call is “great grandmother”. The audience has a “four-year-old mind-” marveled by the performance despite the fact that the clothes on display were merely “sun-dried by camphor”. Followed by “nan”, who is dressed “like an English bride with white platform shoes”. Grandfather “Dressed in beige aso-oke” comes on stage next.  

With Ife “someone failed to roll-up his sleeves/in case of a tyre blowout en route heaven.” Heaven turns up here our creation. Nothing feeds the human imagination better than our existential realities. The road to heaven can therefore not fail to replicate our reality of potholes in Nigeria. Not there to behold Tolu on stage. The poet “wonder if they let him wear dark shades”. Then there is the grand failure of costume at the pageant with Seyi, and his fuming with words against the beautician, sorry the “mortician” who “wore him white nylon gloves like an antiquated groom”.

”The poet proved to be too Cain-like with his vegetable load of offerings. The Abrahamic God of Genesis was alive in India already eager to taste blood. Again another reversal of role. The poet personae is unable to play Cain to the end, and suffer love to a murder”

But let’s make a return back to affection, back to therapy and NAKED I AM BEFORE YOU RIVER DUN (p.57) does that perfectly for us. The search for guilt, stripped to the bare, the quest continues as to why this has happened… this Broken-heartedness. The poet qualifies himself with three damning epithets “A dunce, damned, done.” But not so quick…There are no supplications on hand to offer like other poets before him Gabriel Okara at River Nun… Or even Christopher Okigbo at River Idoto. River Dun offers wise counsel to the brokenheart … “The most adored affection, too/become undone./& you are not done“. Suicide is not “an option”. The broken heart can find “love enough” inside of the self to heal and restore one’s “flailing heart“. Even from the depth of “silence of flailing love” (THE ANATOMY OF SILENCE) (p.58).

Healing demands learning “the lofty lesson of silence &its kinship with patience”. The internalized battle demands strength and courage from the inside to weather through and behold the light of the shinning sun smiling life back on one’s face to go on with light. Poetry must here not play pretense that it is an easy task to recover when suddenly one is cut off from the other. What the poet refers to as “this silence between two lovers &/two phones.” Ever so busy before, and operators at the connecting end already contemplating keeping the lines permanently connected. How then can anyone understand the sudden coldness? This new fever of “silence“, what is it? The poet tours through different versions of it, but the focus is not lost …it is “The response to unrequited love …”, but this love of the poet was requited, only that now the other one chooses to move up along into the territory of fresh possibilities outside of a country whose name in everything else spells the reversal of fortunes.

A POEM FOR THE CONDEMNED POET (p.61), If anything the poet betrays his affection, how can anyone be guilty of love…can anyone go stand trial for love… Except for the crime of wanting more than the other can give… But this poet is not guilty. If anything he is a worthy ambassador of affection, who carried himself and aired his mind with all of the possibilities that can pregnant the future when two hearts intermingle.
What state is this that docks a man for love? But here… the poser in reality should be what country is this… Is this a criminal or civil suit? The state suing on behalf of who? Who is the Plaintiff? And the ‘witness’ is definitely a she and please mind the answers. And then you begin to penetrate the crimes of the poet. “Do you know this man?” And she answers “I do not know this poet“. A mindful response…this is. Not when both the woman and man have been seen together in public and private spaces. So is it the poet that she didn’t bargain for in the man?And the poet in the man acknowledges the self to have grown “frivolous desires” and expectations is why the lover of a man has brought this on himself.

The accident occasioning the loss of the future and separation of the hearts… and then this trial… When both partners shared the driving seat. Except that the poet and poet personae continued the reversal of roles into a state of confusion that succeeds to make one not to see that this trial is a double tragedy on account of the fact that the poet is the accuse and at the same time the trial judge and indeed the court itself that has “condemned” the poet to “drown”. It is even more heart wrenching when the partner in crime is the one playing “Pontius Pilate,/hands washing water” self away, saying she has never seen him before “No, not in a lifetime”.

Can we completely take side with half of this story.as told by the poet? Is there another side to this story? The right of a woman to be a player. Now that Ocol is the protagonist. Should Lawino not be granted her own right of reply? Or to play the payback. Or are we face to face to economics, the refusal to stoop the ladder down… yes we see this every day, the quest to make love into a ladder to escape from pain and penury. The journey for some others is the Sahara desert for working class youths. But the Big and mighty who already see Nigeria no more as a home, already with the nationality of advance Capitalist country, a citizen already of a European country… and for a young lady, possible coming home whether out of any curiosity or not or even from a parental push, then love cannot be anything but a fling. No more no less. There is a huge difference in sociology in relation to the Diasporan African descendant with Nationality on the African continent or distinct and different with nationality and birth in Europe or America with parents tracing their genealogy to slavery.

This would be my first full read of Dami Ajayi, not because he does commend himself to others in the craft as worthy of the name of a poet but more of a question of failing on my part both in relation to disposition and time. Lagos is damned heartless city. A city of no measure. Acity of many death of love, and many birth of lost love… aptly described by Jahman Anikulapo as “the city without a soul”. Yet for many it is the city for becoming and for failing at becoming. The hustler’s city of destination for those who cannot dream London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Cologne or Toronto as their home. Then imagine a girl from the ranks of those who can dream these cities of lush and posh crazy enough to fall in love with Lagos, she will never fever the mind to be resident here, For with such status of birth and class what should be “ephemeral” stays ephemeral and not permanent.

In the end there is the monstrous fingerprint of the grand failure of governance in all of our little tragedies, even in a failed love affair that had everything working for it. Pain for the Brokenhearted is not fiction. Nor are these poems mere exercises of the imagination. Dami Ajayi has scripted for us the making of our warmest of true feelings, the possibilities of love. How love can traverse cities. Imprinting places eternally into our consciousness, and still fail to hold itself up to the sun and strand erect to be counted affirming that love never fails. Yes love fails, many a times it is never enough. The economics of existence, our class, our morals, even simple things like how we eat, the sound of food in our mouth, when we eat, how we defecate can break and set two hearts apart. Chemistry is important but economics and sociology are subconscious factors in the background determining the staying power of a love affair.

Those who think class doesn’t define the poetry of our existence, don’t know life. Can anything else outline life more than love? Where everything is possible in the very heart of ‘affection’ and abundance of affiliation …distilling everything good to pleasure the heart…’accidents’ in the best of times minus the mind to think the other way, but then not all accidents are sudden. Some accidents come the way of affection on account of class and country… Where the accident we will suffer tomorrow to come is suspended for living here today and making good of the time… Then we move… No more together… I have also been there.

Affection & Other Accidents – A Poet’s Grief and Vulnerability watermarked in this collection of poems

Dami Ajayi’s latest release “Affection & Other Accidents” is his third volume of poems, after his first volume “Clinical Blues” and his second collection, “A Woman’s Body is a Country” which were released to great acclaim.

This new release reveals a poet at the peak of his literary powers. Like the title, “Affection & Other Accidents,” the first few pages which comprise the title poem chronicles a poet in grief. Mourning a love gone sour.

The first poem gives us a peak of what to expect in this fine collection of poems- a poet who is a master storyteller, showing the multiplicity of his talents:


The party wound down; the crowd thinned out. Then you delivered an intimate speech about us, about getting engaged, about your missing engagement ring, about your unfaltering devotion to me & our aisle-bound affection & somehow, somehow, I found myself again kinking one knee, asking for your hand in marriage again. We have been here before. Not once.

Our human experiences are universal, be it falling in love, heartbreaks, grief, and death in equal measure. The poet introduces us to the turmoil of love, as alluded in the above, giving love a chance, hoping the affection would be aisle bound.


You picked the best place to have an argument. A train coach heading from Berlin to Cologne. You picked the best time too. The quiet time before travelers eased into siesta. You picked the best topic. But a black man & a black woman with a white audience observing their heated conversation?

The paragraph shows how love lilies become agonies as we traumatise over partners who are not willing to die to self. Would this not become an effigy of a dying love? Of affection built on quick-sand, where dirty laundries are washed in the full glare of the world, as postulated by Tolu’ A. Akinyemi in his collection of poems—“Never Marry a Writer”.

“A writer is a laundry man-

He will wash your dirty laundry without a fuss”

Would the verses not be part of the beauty or perils of marrying a writer? Having a seat in a poet’s hall of fame or shame.

In the third poem, the poet does more prognosis of an affection hitting the rocks:

The Colony House Rules arrived in spurts. Do not leave the light bulbs on. Do not leave skid marks on the porcelain. Do not leave used plates in the kitchen sink. Do not play music too loud. Do not sit. Do not write at night.

While the above sounds comical, the nuance expressed by the poet are some encumbrances everyday people encounter in the name of love. The tragicomedy of a failing love, the bondage of being caught in the entrapment of love, maybe Dami is on a mission to rescue many who are caught in the web of a dying love.

The fourth poem lay bare how we can unravel quickly with frailties clear to the naked eye. How a wounded heart makes us susceptible to falling out of control and how disillusionment sets in when true love becomes a mirage, and we become a shadow.

And the last poem was an obsequy of a dying love. “You quickly walked back into your Colony House without waiting for the final trail of my disappearance.”

Is that not the end of dying affection, of flowery words flowing from lips that once dripped honey and hearts, where innuendos and sweet nothings were a vestige? Before the final trail of disappearance.

In the poem, “Aubade to my Greying”, the last stanza: If I were God,/I would do it differently./Grant those who pray for beards, breasts & buttocks/their dream bodies.

Maybe we have found a panacea for people going under the knife, to dream bodies and living happily ever after. A poetic god-

There are a lot of poems that form the accidents of our human existence, whether it’s in the poem “Funeral Dressings”, “A Requiem”, “Birthday Elegy” (For Pius Adesanmi), “How To Grieve in Time” and many others. Whether it’s the grief of an untimely passing, a tribute or an elegy, the grief pressed on these pages is truly heartfelt.

Affection & Other Accidents is an intricate collection of poems, and the Nigerian writer and psychiatrist, Dami Ajayi, cements his place in the top echelon of African Literature.

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Poet Scorned: A Review of Dami Ajayi’s “Affection and Other Accidents”

Affection and other Accidents is Dami Ajayi’s third poetry collection. The previous collections, Clinical Blues, and A Woman’s Body is a Country gathered critical acclaim and sealed Ajayi’s place as one of the most important poetic voices in contemporary African poetry.

This latest collection continues the poetic tradition that has now become Ajayi’s trademark, except that it includes a minor experimentation in form. The two most important features of A Woman’s Body is a Country are the references to songs as well as poems that treat the mundane, almost to the point of self-deprecation. Affection and Other Accidents departs slightly from this, introducing other issues and maintaining a storied arrangement.

Screenshot 20220528 093739 1
Dami Ajayi

Historically, much of African poetry has been concerned with such serious, social issues such as in Niyi Osundare’s The Eye of the Earth, and Ijeoma Umebinyuo’s Questions for Ada that deal with climate change and feminism respectively. Ajayi breaks from this norm with his definition of a personal poetic style which involves writing about everyday issues. Nonetheless, his latest collection shows a maturation and a more urgent concern with love and its ills. Ajayi is not a stranger to love poetry, and he shows love in a different light.

A preliminary reading of the collection and a consideration of the title suggests that it is a collection of heartbreak poems, but a deeper reading would show that the poems are not ordinary heartbreak poems but expressive ones that show vulnerability and attempts at writing pain vividly. Heartbreak poems are a subgenre on their own as heartbreak and unrequited love are phenomena that have been proven to, more often than none, inspire poetic expression. The poet calls affection an accident, and the second poem in the collection, “Aubade to My Greying” exposes the poet persona’s regrets, wishes and experiences, a good follow up to the eponymous opening poem,
“Affection & Other Accidents” which itself is a long-winding experimental poem that reads like a short story of the poet’s love and the many upheavals he faces, from his own individual perspective. The retelling of the love story makes it feel like a villain origin story. The merit of the narrative is that it shows vulnerability, that love is not all glamorous. The heartbreak narratives are so beautifully told that they suggest a convincing honesty.

The words are fine, even though they carry pain. Beyond lyricism, Ajayi shows that words are amoral things; they can carry pain and still look beautiful. The collection hosts 51 multi-topical poems, almost as if invoking David’s plea for repentance in Psalm 51, only this time around, perhaps a poet’s repentance from loving. Despite the pain, Ajayi’s typical popular culture-inspired narrative showed up right at the start of the collection with the opening poem, “Introit” which begins with the phrase, ‘Bless Up.’

If Ajayi’s previous, sophomore collection, A Woman’s body is a Country was like writing poetry in songs, this new collection feels like writing poetry in prose. It is a collection of poems that could also have been a series of essays on love, lust, loss, affection, and other accidents as stated by the poet. Poetry does the work of suppressing these feelings and stories into poetic expressions. The poems in this collection are those that do more good to the poet than readers, definitely not what a debutant poet would write. As an experienced poet, Ajayi is able to dance at the precipice of truth and poetry, painting vivid images of a failed love encounter without giving away enough details to get in trouble with the other party. This is shown in some of the lines that require some context for interpretation. The lead poem contains the following lines that might require some background for readers to understand:

My heart pounding against my chest, I wanted to do two things. One was to get off & never see you again. Two was to call my mother & apologise for being rude to her when she began to ask questions about Denmark. & you kept going at it (4).

The poems also show a peripatetic poet whose commitment to the love affair is not limited by geography. However, the stories behind some of these travelling remain elusive to readers as the poems do not contain enough context. The journey motif seems to recur with the mention of many cities across the world: “I was waiting with questions, waiting for your answers, but we would not speak of Lagos, of Berlin, of Cologne” (4).

However, sufficient context is not provided for these journeys. The journey motif is a thread that has potential, but the poet refused to push it further.
Another important feature that runs through the love affair narrated in the collection is the poet persona’s dismissal of their own flaws, making a casual mention of it as “What happened in that train? I am not a perfect. My past loops into the present, a trail of dalliances returning like the proverbial abiku” (5).

These lines only suggest that the poet persona has flaws that they would like ignored or glossed over. The extent of the dalliances referenced remains unknown.
There are other topical poems that reference recent historical events like the COVID-19 pandemic. These kinds of poems not only express the poet’s feeling, but also speak to recent events in history. References to music also recur in the collection. The poet mentions musicians like Ebenezer Obey, Dido, John Coltrane, and the Lijadu Sisters. There is also a reference to an exclusive night club, a pointer to the centrality of music in Ajayi’s oeuvre. There is an authorial intrusion that is reminiscent of Ajayi’s Clinical Blues, which relies heavily on his experience as a psychiatrist: “Somewhere in the psyche ward
a registrar discovers Freud” (18).

Screenshot 20220528 093313 1Just as the collection progresses and other themes threaten to overwhelm the pain which is central to the collection, “Interlogue II” refer the readers back to the poet persona’s heartbreak with the following lines:

“It is still surreal
that you did me dirty in five cities” (19).

These lines restate the scorn that the poet persona feels, and makes it difficult for readers to objectively assess the situation.

These are poems written in low moments, conveying truth and honesty. They show a poet persona who is now conscious of their body and how they look. Asides from the reference to popular culture, the poems in the collection also draw a lot from poets like Derek Walcott, Christopher Okigbo, and Gabriel Okara, perhaps a little too much.

The intertextual influences from music and popular culture overdiluted, almost, the poet’s unique voice. Sometimes, poets use their poems as a glimpse into their personal lives, but this collection offers more than a glimpse. There is a high degree of honesty which, when combined with the obvious authorial intrusion, might show that the poet wrote the poems

Of Love & Allergies: A review of Dami Ajayi’s Affection & Other Accidents

Dámì Àjàyí: I remain a lyrical poet

Dámì Àjàyí’s recent book is Affection & Other Accidents (2022). Dàmì Àjàyí is a poet as well as a psychiatrist, currently living in London.

I caught up with him over Google document and Twitter DM — this is while he is touring with Affection & Other Accidents. We discuss language, naming and healing after a heartbreak.

Silence moves through your poems as if it isn’t the passage of time we are mourning.

Àkpà: Hello Dami. Thank you for agreeing to do this. I am excited. Congratulations on the publication of Affection & Other Accidents. How’s the book tour going, and how are you making sense of the world as it is right now?

Dami: Thanks Akpa. The book tour is going really well, thank you. The reception of these poems have been warm in Abuja, Ibadan, Lagos and even London. We have just survived a pandemic but its dent on humanity is something that still sits with us. There is a dimension to this grief, to the inexplicable and intangible passage of time during the COVID-19 lockdowns. That impact is one that we are yet to unpack, but there is time hopefully.

Àkpà: I am suspicious of time as a catalyst for healing and getting by or moving on. Esiaba Irobi writes in Inflorescence, “time wounds all heels” — something that resonates with Clinical Blues IV from your debut collection, Clinical Blues:

Wishful Drinking

My milk has spilled everywhere:

Lecture theatres, Cadaver rooms

Hospital wards, Operating rooms


Like unbreakable plates… 

Doctors wield wide bore cannulae

Plastic pistols don’t repair tissues

The clinical truth is Post-Mortem

At least we can lie that we tried. 

I mean here is a poem from 2012 detailing our 2021 till date experience of being everywhere but nowhere, especially for medical practitioners. But what hits me about this poem when I think about the pandemic, Nigeria and time, is that last line. Hope is a lie in disguise. I am afraid of what might be unpacked with time. Do you think above all that, joy is possible? That beyond here is a country called hope, or is this a clinical truth? In On Time, from A Woman’s Body Is a Country, this line has me: ask fathers the time it takes / for dreams to become undone.

Dami, what are you dreaming now? What does hope mean for you? Where does grief go when hope is made manifest?

Dami: A friend used to say death is the cure to life and that makes sense. I suppose as humans we find ourselves agonising over the meaning of death and a death of meaning. By a death of meaning, I mean legacy which could be anything from memories to memorabilia to progenies and so forth. When one reflects on time and death, it thickens the plot. I suppose this is probably what the great bard Esiaba Irobi meant. I like to think time is complacent but he opined that time is a noxious agent.

Thanks for bringing this poem to mind. I haven’t read it in a long long time so it is lovely just to see how it has aged well enough to give a perspective to the pandemic. Covid-19 did put a lot of things in perspective about health, wellbeing and our health systems.  But then, in the face of grim realities, how do we forge ahead?

There is a place for hope, optimism and redemption, if you like. And I suppose that hope is that elixir we need sometimes to help us to look beyond the bleakness of our lives and that of our kind.

Funny you ask me about my dreams. I wanted to say I am not dreaming at present but then I imagine that you are asking about things that I wish to come to fruition.

Àkpà: Yes, if you don’t mind. Because now that I think of it, I am also thinking about moving; living now in a distant land. Surely, I wonder what an émigré would make of loneliness at night, just like you captured in 328 to World’s End:


& the waiting starless sky,

the shrivelling cold too

that reminds an émigré of

home & unanswered prayers

outsourced waterproof warmth from a pullover

does not compare to that of the genial Jamaican lady

explaining her small actions like they matter to

an unlikely stranger.


& Fela’s horns deign to

pierce the night vicariously

through my ears.


& the night soil man

makes peace with his


Perhaps, loneliness is an expat’s comfort, birthing the longing for home or for a different warmth? There’s so much unease going on in 328 to World’s End, there’s so much silence happening. Is there something you think could be made manifest for you at this moment? What is it we need to know of a dying cigarette or friendship, as regards the diaspora? Silence moves through your poems as if it isn’t the passage of time we are mourning.

Dami: I wrote 328 as a tribute to the bus that took me to and from work in Northwest London in 2019. It is the 328 to Chelsea and World’s End but I shortened the title for impact. I believe World’s End is a pub but I have mobilised that pub’s name to represent a certain kind of disquiet and unease I was experiencing at the time.

My engagement had fallen apart. I was working in a new country, navigating a new culture and learning things as basic as travelling on a train and bus afresh. It felt like my world was really coming to an end. In retrospect, my world as I knew it then came to an end. But growth does not come without its own crisis. Same applies to dislocation, relocation, emigration. It comes with its own demands. But better not to have many things changing in your life at the same time. It is stressful and I think that would be my counsel for anyone considering relocation.

Also there is a caveat. Relocation is final in the psyche. Call it an exile’s curse. The man who leaves is never the man who returns. The place you left is not the one you return to. That’s some kind of existential limbo, being trapped in the interstices of an existence in which you never quite fit in on either side.

Hardly do you get warned about this subtle but permanent change. Hardly do you get warned about the lure of over-integrating, or the hard bristle consequences of holding back. And in all of this you just reflect on the morality of your privilege to just hop and leave lest you acquire the diasporic condescension.

It is hard work. And you have the weather to “weather” too. Which circles back to my poem. There will be a lot of silence. A lot of time to sit with your thoughts. I wrote that poem one cold Sunday evening at Wembley Park station and I wanted to speak about the camaraderie I experienced with a kind Jamaican lady. It was less than a minute, she told me things about her life which felt like a gift, a blessing and ultimately, it brought me warmth. I must warn you also about these kinds of unexpected warmth. Because that is the very nature of humanity.

Àkpà: I was going to tell you I had imagined this poem written on a trip somewhere, and here you have said it already. I think the beauty of art is to engage the audience in such a way it seems they are a part of it. Affection & Other Accidents is a shift from your two other collections — from the Dami labelled “a hopeless romantic” by Ayodele Arigbabu, to a very emotionally vulnerable poet existing in metaphors and experimentation. “We were to be married that summer. A perfect Danish wedding with all your family & friends & / none of mine…” is a closure once encountered cannot be undone. I am wondering how much of existing outside of or within the self took place for these poems to be written. Did form lend itself to you when these poems decided to be written, or were you the one who lent your voice to it? Anne Carson tells us “language is what eases the pain of living with other people, language is what makes the wounds come open again.” These poems are a trapdoor. We are in. There’s no escaping [chuckles]. Do you understand what I mean?

I was just writing, as a way of recreating, of making sense of what had happened, of bearing witness to my experiences at the time.

Dami: I am grateful to have an audience in my lifetime. Some greats were not that lucky! You are right, people have said there is a shift in my work. I suppose that should be expected. If I am still writing poems like Clinical Blues which I completed in 2011. Or writing poems like A Woman’s Body is a Country (which I completed in 2016) then I am not channelling any kind of growth. But I also remain a lyrical poet, my poetry remains loyal to song. It is just that the hopeless romantic gains his cynicism. I believe we call it breakfast these days (chuckles). But how then do we display our vulnerability with the same verve that we displayed our hopeless romance? That is the pertinent question that demands our truth and open-ness. You have spoken enthusiastically about form and experimentation and I agree with you, this book is an exercise in form. Before I wrote free verse for 10 straight years (2007-2017), I flirted with the sonnets. I was quite traditional in my approach to poetry pre-2007. I cared very much for metre, rhyme and so forth. But the allure of free verse has always been that it rids you of formal constraints. Poets serious about craft can tell the difference between constraint and restraint. I think formal constraints can be sublimated. So I wrote pantoums, ghazals, several kinds of ghazals actually, because these two forms are repetitive and that draws a kind of lyricism. I also wrote a lot of haiku-like things and the prose-poems, the longest of them is the titular poem which you quoted.

Truth be told, I did not know I was writing a poem when I wrote the title poem. I was just writing, as a way of recreating, of making sense of what had happened, of bearing witness to my experiences at the time. The entire book is obsessed with movement; perhaps this is why accidents become the metaphor to match with affection. There is all that kinesis, all that free energy thrashing about. How do you transmit that into an experience? Language. So if you say the poems drag you in and shut the door, then that is a measure of success. Anne Carson already said it better. There is a therapeutic impact from telling your story perhaps because it dissipates energy for the storyteller. But when that story is set in form, poetry, prose or worse still, prose-poetry, then it is best to say it in pidgin, you don enter am! The title is the door that sucks you in.

Àkpà: If we have language, we are capable of wonder, bewilderment. It seems to me the poet has both wonder and exasperation as captured in this Interlogue II: It is still surreal / that you did me dirty / in five cities. When desire morphs into hopelessness, we are suspended in wonder. Sometime ago I travelled interstate to go see a lover who served me the metaphorical breakfast. All I had left in me was the words of Ejowvokoghene Divine Odururu: I never expected it! You know, in your words, “love also leaves scar tissues.” You mentioned writing one’s story being therapeutic. Is that what this book is, considering it is a tribute to departures? How much healing can one get from art? I mean, being present in the work, bearing witness/testifying, does not mean healing is possible. Do you agree?

Accidents are mundane even if they have that element of surprise. No one leaves home expecting not to return.

Dami: You must know that quote from Toni Morrison’s Nobel Lecture. “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” Breakfast is an important meal of the day. It is so important we also have brunch. Breakfast will be served because every person who loves must also grieve. That is the very nature of life, our essence. But these things are mundane too. Accidents are mundane even if they have that element of surprise. No one leaves home expecting not to return. And I suppose this is why you travelled interstate without any expectations. Accidents scar and I know this both as a human and as a doctor.

I have also been cynical about the healing power of writing. But something interesting happened in 2019 when everything was suddening. I read my second collection, A Woman’s Body is a Country, and I began to find some prophetic affirmations therein. I came to my own work as a humble reader who could now use these words to reflect on my current feelings.

Put simply, I think I wrote the book forward for myself because it set things in perspective for me. The book soothed me through that crisis and writing Affection & Other Accidents is partly documenting that in the best language possible.

I have heard that it is an uncomfortable book to read. But discomfort is a deeply human experience. And vulnerability can be quite repulsive. But then again vulnerability is about bearing witness, about being naked. This is why I mobilised Okigbo’s Idoto. But here I was in another country, by another river, physically and in my psyche. Healing is a long process but bearing witness and submission may be the first step. How do you heal if you do not acknowledge that something happened?

Àkpà: This is a revelation. I agree with you that for healing to take place, acknowledgment must be done. How does one heal from something that never happened? It is ironic. In the poem written after John Coltrane, you write: Call them lovers & you may be right. / Call them lovers & you may be wrong. / There lies the dilemma—in naming.” Naming is an important element in this collection. Cancelling R. Kelly has this line: “You will not fuck me to an R. Kelly tune.” What you have named is what got power. But I am also concerned about what isn’t named — the unspoken, which haunts this collection as well. Thinking of it, about nineteen of these poems are set to or are written after songs. What was your process? What went into making this, and for how long?

Dami: Naming is empowering. Perhaps one of the true gifts of language at its basest. Think Adam in Eden, his first task with language was naming things. We are wired to name things. It is almost impulsive and there is a particular kind of distress that comes from being unable to name things. A disequilibrium of sorts, if you like. That goes to the heart of that sultry poem, set to the smoky jazz of John Coltrane. Say it. In another iteration, it is Delroy Lindo’s popular primetime TV joke. There is politics to naming things, a kind of inclusive politics, think password. Come to a clandestine meeting with the wrong password and see if there will not be consequences. This ultimately leads up to cancel culture, the anonymous mob, braying for blood and twiddling thumbs. Cancelling sometimes seems like the easier option for dismissing the proximity between good and evil. That cognitive dissonance that comes with agreeing that R. Kelly can be both a serial abuser/paedophile and still retain his ability to sing like an angel. It is difficult to contend with and this is not spoken about often. It is this dilemma that I bring into this account of a bedroom ballad gone wrong. It is fictional I should add but people have challenged the veracity of that claim. Because it did not happen to me in particular does not mean it is not someone’s truth. Actually, all the poems in this book were set to songs. My process is another kettle of fish. Keeps changing. With Affection, I did not know I was writing a book of poems. I had sheepishly told Kwame Dawes in 2017 that I did not think I had another book of poems in me. He was understandably upset. I wrote about this in my monthly newsletter on Substack. Little did I know the plan of the universe. You could say the book happened to me too, like an accident.

Perhaps we are all one accident away from a masterpiece.

Àkpà: [chuckles] I believe every poet is one masterpiece away from another. They don’t even know when it is coming, and of course, accidents. You teased us on Twitter about a playlist based off of these silences and odes to departures. Are we getting it now?

Dami: There is a playlist already on Spotify. I am writing some sort of liner note for this edition of my newsletter. Perhaps we are all one accident away from a masterpiece.

Àkpà: I have gone through the playlist. Reread this collection while listening to it, and it makes so much sense. If these poems are accidents, I wonder how many of them you took to the Accidents/Emergency Unit to take this form. I am talking about editing. You are a doctor as well as a poet. Do you silence one for another or do you bring everything to a surgical room? If I walked into your room this summer, writing a poem, what would be on your desk?

Dami: I meant Accidents as a metaphor but I must not betray the allure of my practice as a doctor. I am a psychiatrist in the community so banish thoughts of antiseptic ORs from your mind. If you were to come into my consulting room, you would find a formulary for appropriate dispensation of medications, a text on prescription guidelines and Roy Porter’s seminal book, Madness.

There’s an Igbo version of this conversation. Click here to read.

A Nigerian Poet’s Dangerous Amorous Episodes

In the traditions that established earlier voices in modern Africa poetry, sociopolitical maladies have remained an arch theme. In the words of Omafune Onoge, what rocks African poetry most is the crisis of consciousness. And it is expected. Given the social political terrain of postcolonial Africa and the disillusionment that followed. Most African poets, ranging from Frank Chipasula, Dennis Brutus, to J. P. Clark steeped their poems in the post-independence conditions and subjectivities. Most poets, of African modern poetry, charge their lines with functionalist and social realist tempers. Okot b’Pitek’s Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol are landmark collections of poems that tap into the subject of love, but with a solemn caution of incursive Western modernity as it determines the emotional geography and desire in late colonial East Africa, specifically Uganda. Dami Ajayi emerges from the tradition of griots who have chosen love and amorous episodes of life as an impelling topic to carve their words around. But in retaining his own uniqueness, Ajayi does not eschew banality as subject too, seemingly giving in to what the Cameroonian philosopher, Achille Mbembe, inspires in On the Postcolony, that power is banal and the vulgar is aesthetical. In everyday life then, we can locate trauma, love, power, injustice, betrayal, and trust. The street, beer parlors, corridors of the nail fixers, the palm wine lounge, the barber shop, bus stop as the rhythm of everydayness informs Ajayi’s earlier collections, Clinical Blues and A Woman’s Body is a Country. In his latest return, Ajayi  takes a departure even though he retains his most unique element of the mundane. The Nigerian poet enters a dangerous amorous episode.

Perhaps what best captures the impulse of Ajayi’s latest collection lurks in the words of the Latin American love philosopher and poet, Pablo Neruda, who argues concisely and evocatively that, “Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” In “Tonight I Can Write,” translated by W. S Merwin, that contains the phrase, Neruda remarks about the imbalance of emotion, unrequited love, the transit of affections which is replete with several bumps. Without steadfastness, commitment, sacrifice, and emotional alignment, accidents may happen. Enter Ajayi who offers us in his latest volume what this mishap looks, tastes, and smells like. Across the forceful images and passionate stanzas that give life to his verses in Affection and Other Accidents, there is also a first-person witnessing going on.  Ajayi’s new bundle is a shuttle into tribulations, grief and the harrowing landscape of love. It is a rebuttal that love is never a utopian planet where two lovers are fired with meteoric energy that herds them the same way. Ajayi warns that if care is less taken there could be a detour. Affection can be accidental, he says, from his titular anchor. What does it mean then to fall in love accidentally? Is healing possible with wounds and the cost of sorrows that follow such a tragic slip? Does it mean such metaphoric accidents always come with their bruises?

In what one can describe as a personal narrative of pain, we see the restless mobility of lovers who are unable to triumph over the hurdles of affection. What informs Ajayi’s choice of non-fiction form in the first segment is immediately visible as we see him moving on “Third Mainland Bridge” to win his lover’s heart: “I was compelled to ask you to marry me again.” Soon after, we move from Lagos to Cologne, Germany, where the love fuse seems to be gradually melting. The voltage of emotion has dwindled. The psychical impact has brought a personal brunt to the persona, who Ajayi does little to hide, that he is the one speaking. Nonetheless, the painter’s brush stroke has left us brooding when Ajayi declares, “We were to be married that summer. A perfect Danish wedding with all your family & friends & none of mine.” I will reject the hypothesis that the first section of Ajayi’s latest work is prose poetry. It lacks the internal constituents of poetic evocation. It pays less attention to the beauty of lyrics, metaphor and bolts of imagery. It is untidily painful. I will agree it is an autobiography that throbs with soreness. Nevertheless, it is a choice that I would argue has plainly conveyed the poet’s anger in the most generative sense. It is not infused with embellishments, rather it takes you into the personal world of two previous lovers, one present, the other also present passively in her lover’s account. To go back to Neruda’s words, Ajayi is not forgetting all these memories that fold into a loss for him. What counts as a short time for us here as well is the three years of Ajayi’s love timeline as seen in the first “Interlogue I”.

Love is a windy social field with many pressures. There is the pressure of parents nudging incessantly that you are getting old as Ajayi would reveal in his “Aubade to Greying Hair.” In that episode, the parents purvey a thought that part of life achievements is seeing their son getting married. Hence, they enlist themselves in the service of matchmaking as cupid advocates. Ajayi does not evoke in the collection that he is all innocent as observed in the poem, “Youth,”  which unveils adventure and exuberance as deciders of inordinate desires. Ajayi moves into different themes such as global politics of the pandemic in “Interlogue II” and the results of the consequence of his emotional mishap where,

fantasies or traumatic pasts,
reach inwards
for the dove’s gentleness
& sit out the gale outside Waterstones 
(Waterstones 14)

In the poems under “Interlogue II” again, we encounter the unreliable narrator. Why the persona might have chosen “she” as a pronoun of choice is clear. It harks back to the subject Ajayi engages from the start of the collection. Even so, we cannot conclude from the vague imprint the poem leaves that the speaker is referring to the same lover. The lines are nonetheless filled with anxieties and mistrusts. For another accident, we can call in the instance of “Cancelling R. Kelly,” the American popstar who is currently serving a term for dipping into salacious adventure with  underage girls, sex trafficking anf racketeering. In essence, Ajayi’s poems spread across five different sections divided by interlogues. His poems dovetail into other incidents of grief, in loss of friends and families. Nevertheless, is Ajayi writing an anti-love manifesto if we are to agree by the temper that forms the artery of the collection?

Ajayi’s poems barely escape pessimism as a result of personal loss and cost of affection. Could it be a fatigue of forgiveness in the continuous error of affectionate transactions? It seems what we have as a chorus in Akeem Lasisi’s Nights of My Flight is completely absent in Ajayi’s work. This is understandable assuming Lasisi’s local address is the constituency of traditional Yorùbá lovers/audiences who are still ruled by the indigenous values. And the central persona is a female speaker anticipating her exit from her parents’ home. Even if Lasisi’s protagonist is a Western-educated figure, she does not exude the Western-inflected emotional paraphernalia in Ajayi’s work. In the cache of poems Ajayi presents, protagonists are modern lovers who are following new social protocols for love, yet do not find a match in each other. In it too, Ajayi has retained the  signature of his poetics by his deployment of accessible language and lapidary details of poems that cross into the poet’s personal life and everyday realities. Whether Ajayi is interested in the political moorings that steer the course of Nigerian poetry is a thing to be left for the future. For now, in his new theology of love and anti-love, he is still prejudiced with his old subject, still in a new way.