Poetry has thrived, over time, on two contrasting themes: Love & Grief. They are mostly treated as two extremes but masters of the art see beyond the differences, the reality of their co-existence — what was not born cannot die!
My wife got me pondering, even before I started reading Dami’s collection, when she asked what sort of accidents the author refers to. That’s what a brilliant title does to potential readers — it does more than wink, it tugs, pulls you into its pages.
Affection & Other Accidents, Dami Ajayi’s third full poetry collection, is paradoxical — love, also, hits roadblocks & dead ends. It is also metaphorical, talking of sweet accidents, delightful vulnerabilities & unguarded moments — first kisses, spontaneous marriage proposals & gold waist chains.
Dami writes about love & allergies in one breath. He recalls fond childhood memories & circles back to grief with the seamlessness of breeze. This collection carries Jolly Paps’ stamp of identity, a poet who wields language delicately & yet with such force that smashes the target. I’m a fan of ambiguity & contrasts, a forte of this skilled poet.
In this book, love (& heartbreak) is crisp & crunchy, & grief is soft. The title poem set the mood for the book, a prose poem that travelled five cities around the world & came back home to one thing — breakfast! We fight to keep a love that is destined for an inevitable accident. But death is not an accident, after all.
This earth, though we call it home,
is not our home. (Epitaph, pg 48)
At the end of this reel called life,
we must fight difficult departures,
sudden, even if, premediated…
Grief is what we the living must do. (On Grief, pg 46)
Dami’s use of metaphors are peculiar & refreshing, a braid of abstract & literal images:
Before this, there had been the gold waist chain, a replacement for your metaphorical waist beads that I once destroyed in a poem. (Affection & Other Accidents, pg 2).
He compared a dying friendship to a dying cigarette in 328 to World’s End (in each case, something sweet & addictive is dying) & time is a lover & a God in This Academy Called Life.
A younger friend, who had read this book before I got my free copy courtesy of Kola Tubosun & Roving Heights Bookstore, sent me a text, marvelling at how the author was able to craft pain into lush pillows. The book dissects grief, yet what you see is the beauty of expression, the candidness of realism. In Requiem, he described the dead as those who don’t change clothes or bathe or fart or lose weight — he laid before us, the irony of the vanities we struggle to hold on to.
Dami’s diction remained loyal to the medical lexis:
I have tried to digest my doubt
with stowed-away enzymes.
But if this is all of your love,
my food allergies must be kind. (First Strike, pg 51)
The medium language, though English, speaks of the wealth of Yoruba culture.
A child falls prone & looks forward,
an adult falls prone & looks backward. (Fall, pg 54)
His themes swayed to a mix of music, from the mundane to the reflective, he kept a stunning balance.
A Ghazal for my Innocence is my favourite poem, followed closely by Cancelling R. Kelly & The Body Knows. The R. Kelly poem speaks to my bias — you can cancel the man but not his good art. Generations to come should not be deprived of making love to the lush erotic songs of the Pied Piper of R&B.
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… (pg 32)
The other two poems talk of innocence & a thirst to know:
…the flesh is weak
& the mind is sick
& fantasies are electric
& passion is for those who seek (The Body Knows, pg 33)
I once asked my father how children came about. He looked
Into my eyes & said, your mother & I prayed…
I knew coitus only by its native name, yet I prayed…
Till science taught me about sex & procreation
& contraception & the positions couples assume when they prayed.
(A Ghazal For My Innocence, pg 37)
This collection is a tale of a lover, that did me dirty in five cities, that makes it rain but fails, to bring the sun back.
& here, lover is a metaphor, or not…