The recent shortlist of Clinical Blues in the ANA Poetry category confirms Dami Ajayi as a leading poet. The collection is divided into three parts around which is assembled images of the barroom, the hospital, and everything in between. Clinical blues is an ingenious attempt to convert medical tools and barroom tales into poetic statements that hit the nerve of the reader.
If imagery is food, poetry can’t survive without it. But the images in Clinical Blues are not the ones where Mama Afrika is praised, and her bushes are exalted, or her ancestors invoked and repudiated. Clinical Blues hits you with images like a card of dominoes, toppling over and over. Every single experience and moment is channelled through a deft use of imagery, and it is this that propels the reader into the dark, twisted, and amusing mind of the poet.
Medical doctors have become poets, but not many have turned the hospital and its happenings into a subject of literary expression.
In the title poem “Clinical Blues,” the persona of the poem takes us through the hospital experience.
Your knees and knuckles shall clench
As pain takes its first bite
Your back shall know a bed
But no peace . . .
Ajayi’s language pricks you, makes you sympathetic and sad all at once. It is exactly this naked honesty—the poet offering his pain, happiness, disappointments as an offering to poetry unashamed—that draws us into his startling world. It hits us. We connect with the raw emotions that the poet purges out.
In “Love Songs,” Ajayi writes, “Your Eliotness,/ My sun last shone when you left;/ It has since been replaced by this/ Placid moon, hanging rather badly/ Like a wind-mangle, tree-snagged kite. He further writes: But last night, when the oil/ Of your voice threaded the intimate/ Crevice of my ear, I yearned/ Reminiscence, spoilt salad.”
In “Konji Blues,” the intimate is public. The speaker of the poem is ready to expose his loins and feels nothing about it. Haven’t we all experienced the first time when we thought the height of pleasure was in the moaning of our voices? We never expected the first time to be “raw/ Like pickled onions/ In a salad of insatiable libido.”
From the first page to the last, Ajayi captures ideas and concepts perfectly. In Clinical Blues, the stethoscope becomes an earpiece, and medicine becomes music and as for music music, ‘if it be the food of love, play me more. . .”