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Five of my favourite poetry books

I have always enjoyed Poetry. That rhythmic play on words that is surreal and sometimes can be read to music or can even become music. Soothing, witty, romantic and sometimes historical, poetry is where I sometimes hide my pain and escalate my joy. The words mesmerising and elevating all at once.

The wit of the poet is unparalleled, the ability to go all out with poetic licence and juxtaposing unrelated words until they become blended and music to our collective ears. I write poetry but I admire a great number of poets whose works resonate far and near. I sit by a body of water and recite poetry slowly to take me to a place of peace and sometimes in a natural habitat, a huge garden of nature like Sarius Palmetum in Abuja or in a quiet library or a creative space and I am instantly transported.

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Please note that poetry in the languages are as profound if not more than English poems, and some collections translated from the languages, Hausa to English, Spanish to English, Yoruba to English, Ebira to English, Swahili to English or Igala to English have always held gems, new words, new feelings, powerful nuances and textures, some more than English poems. I love poetry, truth be told and today I share some of my favourite collections with you.

1. Life by Jackie Kay. Born in Scotland to a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father, Jackie was adopted by a Scottish couple whom she adores. In search for her identity, she travelled to Nigeria to meet her birth father with the hope of some sort of reconciliation. She was quite disappointed when her now ultra-Christian father described her as a sin of his past and refused to tell her about her other siblings forbidding her from even trying to find out. It was a heartbroken Jackie Kay that returned to Britain. But she wrote the collection in Life which includes a Poem on that meeting. Jackie’s poetry is nimble and sweet to rhythm and she always carries in her work whatever is going on in her life and that of others. She writes about love and loss and hidden and secret identities, she writes about pain and spring and the absurdities of man. Here are excerpts from the title poem Life Mask which she wrote for a dear friend, Julia, who has passed… “When the senses come back in the morning, the nose is a mouth full of spring…when the broken heart begins to mend, the heart is a bird with a tender wing…” Need I say more. A truly gifted Poet, Jackie is a multi-genre writer and writes short stories and plays and non-fiction. At a meeting at a British council event in London, I found her charming and warm with a great guttural laughter. Her collections are so heart-warming and her play on words impeccable. She is now Poet Laureate of Scotland. Well deserved.

2. All of Wole Soyinka’s Poems e.g. Idanre and other Poems and other books of Poetry by the Nobel laureate. I read them in school and fell in love with their profundity and in other chimes, their simplicity. Rich, silky to the touch and music to the ears. I love “Traveller you must set forth at dawn and touch the dog nose wetness of the earth, let sunrise be your light” And Abiku where he renders the first stanza thus “In vain you cast your charmed circle at my feet. I am Abiku, calling for the first and repeated time” Poems for the heart, from culture, for the world. I am still in love with SOYINKA’S POEMS. The imagery, the language. I have met the sage. He is incredibly humorous and deeply intense. Amazing.

3. Dennis Brutus, Letters to Martha. These are poems that lived with me, haunted me for years. And when I had the opportunity to meet the anti-apartheid activist in London, I ran for it but missed him by the whiskers. Letters to Martha is one of his poetry books about his incarceration during the apartheid years. Written with such power they drive you to tears but the beauty of the collection is that they are love poems to his country, to Martha but ultimately the story of apartheid. In incarceration he writes “… Particularly in a single cell, but then in sections, the religious sense asserts itself…but in the grey of the empty afternoons, it is not uncommon to find oneself talking to God, “It is a book every poetry lover must read.

4. Abubakar Gimba wrote some of the most phenomenal poetry. Aside from being an essayist and novelist. The late President of the Association of Nigerian Authors continued to mesmerise with his poetry and was one author whose work crossed generations and was always full of wit and character. Abubakar Gimba was a generous mentor who encouraged all writers but I was a great beneficiary of his wit, wisdom and encouragement. A truly great man and an excellent writer.Any of Gimba’s poetry collection is a must read. I particularly like Inner Rumblings.

5. Lola Shoneyin is one of Nigeria’s new voices in the poetry genre. In her collection, she takes no prisoners. Her words are in full swing, her subject matters a real punch. Grab a copy and read birth stories, politics, love and lust. For the love of flight, one of her collections she takes on relationships between mother and son and how close it is but she opens with “It has been four years now since I spat him from a lip in my womb…yet every night he wants to crawl in. God, if I could birth this boy again, I would.” Incredibly profound. Nothing here is for the well behaved female poet.

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