Alison Graham reviews ‘While I Yet Live’ by Gboyega Odubanjo

 

 

 

 

While I Yet Live begins sudden and bold; the speaker of ‘Obit.’ Announcing

i will die in London in the neighbourhood
i grew up in…

When the poet writes:

…sweat
-ed tongues and pidgin song to cease

Stumbling is put upon the reader’s tongue by the cut of the line. There is an exactness in the handling of the clipped, high ‘i’s of pidgin and spreading low of ‘tongues’ and ‘song’. I think this balancing act, of speakers always just on the brink of becoming, is in part why the pamphlet is exhilarating. In ‘John 19:28’, restraint and expanse work in tandem to create an ecstatic feeling. The reader anticipates entire sentences and space on the page denies these, in

of me       please       everything    on me

Only by letting go of expectation and leaning in on loosening syntax can you proceed through the poem. There is a movement forward by relinquishing. I the reader pass through lighter, more motile. With regards to the how the speakers of these poems move, I like how attuned Odubango is to his speakers invoking themselves, often with Biblical urgency. The poet outlines his subjects by writing of these subjects outlining themselves. In

you tar
me so

“you” comes before “me”; the ‘I’ is dependent on you to begin. These lines are dense with vowels, but none of the same; it is a moment of  differences held together. The gathering of varying things is shown again in ‘We’; the self-negating of

talking nothing
but nothing but

brought together under “my own name”. There is no shying from contradictions, or falter. It is said because the speaker wants to say. Odubanjo is closely attuned to spoken speech outside poetry; to everyday conversation, and how to bring it through into poetry, inflecting it newly. In ‘Ineffable Name’, the poet makes “cos” the line’s point of orbit, patterning sound around it, just as it turns the line casually.

you don’t know no more cos he had your name

The sequence itself is one of differences held together. I am struck by the range of forms. There is the found poetry of ‘I’. Here, Enoch Powell’s speech is appropriated. It is broken open, into a river that breaks “intractable” from its course. There is the blank verse of ‘Watershed’, the poem writing its own rules just as the “we” within explores and finds

…cds our parents kept
in cabinets

The poem is studded with detail; the nostalgic texture of “soft carpet on toes”, the precise cultural marker of “when michael sang ma makoosa”. Blank verse is rendered more sparsely in ‘Songs in the Key of Terror’. Repetition beats dynamically amongst this pared-back language, as in

so petite mort
so rumpunchblooded
so in the flesh

In these poems, the speakers seem to exist, suspended, just before they come into singing, and when Odubanjo begins singing through them, these ‘I’s start to gather themselves into bodies ardent to be alive.

 

 

 

 

Order your copy of  Gboyega Odubanjo’s While I Yet Live (Bad Betty Press)  here: https://badbettypress.com/product/while-i-yet-live-gboyega-odubanjo/

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