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[Book Review] Oloyede’s ‘Lagos is Killing Me’: A Telescope of Defamiliarization

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The Buddhist will say that: ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’ This implies that one thing depends on another in order to be ‘effective’. The dualism of life is essential and Oloyede has combined more than one poetic aesthetic to make his collection a keeper.

Written by a ‘killer’ poet, ‘Lagos Is Killing Me’ is imbued with sixty-four (64) poems that cut into many many facets of life. But this review attempts to show how the poet has successfully used his words to pass his messages.

One of the most striking messages is on the dangers of corruption, which has crippled the country ‘Naija’. Taking ‘Moribund Restaurant’ firstly like a chef begins to taste his whole bowl of meal in order to access himself; Nigeria is presented as a ‘Restaurant’, an expiring one at that. The poet says that recent bad events in Nigeria still recur as ‘Yesterday’s sour meals of sordid stories are still on today’s menu’.

He further says that ‘political pests continually finger and break into the lump of our/ national pudding with their greed-infected fingers.’ On and on he continues. What is key is his choice of words such as: ‘restaurant’, ‘money-laundering cuisine’, ‘political pests’, ‘national pudding’, ‘chefs’, ‘concoctions’, ‘tribal delicacies’ and so on which uses the visual image of a restaurant in explaining corruption that may lead to our death as the ‘chefs’ (bad politicians) concoct ‘with the blood…of the downtrodden…extolling nepotism, marginalization…inciting tribal delicacies [which] may yet be our last supper.’

Yes, we have wished for independence! We fought! Some died, many survived. We got our independence, but at what cost? Death? No (for it was worth it)! What we got was the reincarnation of our colonial masters in the flesh of our Nigerian leaders. In simple terms, neocolonialism took place, which in some people’s case is worse than death itself.

This brings us to another striking theme, the effects of neocolonialism. Here, the poet persona shows the exploitation, discrimination, lootings and many more which we wrought on ourselves. For instance, in ‘Naija Wahala’, our political leaders help themselves with our sweat as ‘They fan their own yam on fire with the nation’s palm.’

The same could be said for ‘Ibirikembiri, Live and Let Us Live’, wherein stanza two, loot our economical funds to the detriment of the masses. More examples can be gotten but what is paramount again is how the poet persona defamiliarised ‘exploitation’ using cooking aids. Such is his vast depth of vocabulary.

Moving on, we cannot escape the ever-emotional theme of religious hypocrisy. In ‘Merchant of iniquity’, the religious leaders are seen here as traders who seek profit for themselves only. They are also compared to ‘coin-tossing gamblers beneath a castrated cross’. Another example can be seen in ‘Earth Days’.

Here, a persona narrates his ordeals while he was still on earth and the horrors he received from the church and people at large; how they all mocked his being until he died on a street. However, it is a clarion call for people, most especially the church to help the needy as the persona says (in the last three lines of the poem) that ‘there are more like me behind your doors, in misery in their earth/days/In your hands their hopes lie, will you bless their day?’

Lastly, to be discussed is the theme of the abuse of women by men. We can take the following poems: ‘Abuse’, ‘Festooned’ and ‘Ghoul’. But for the purpose of this work, ‘Ghoul’ will be used.

The name ‘Ghoul’ is a mythical spirit said to feed on corpses. Using this poem, the lady persona compares the male character to a ghoul who violates her body against her wish and how she has become the ghoul, wanting his death in ‘a running bathtub’.

Oloyede is quite good with words. As a matter of fact, metaphorically, he feeds on them, as he suggests in one of his poems (‘Poet Tree’) in this collection.

However, his use of ‘mighty’ words makes readers consult the dictionary every now and then, which hampers the pleasure one derives when reading a book.

Yes, this style has helped in defamiliarising some of his poems and showing the beauty. But I think one can also achieve the same aim using simple but condensed words for entertainment, which comes with understanding.

Notwithstanding, my favourite poems are: ‘Lagos Is Killing Me’, ‘Orita Meta’ (because of the sarcasm) and ‘Noose and Die’. Perhaps, when embarking on another review, my true love for these poems will be felt in my writing. But now is not the time.

In conclusion, Oloyede has etched his messages on the heart of men and these messages will not be forgotten so soon. Also, I have a message for you that shows my ‘yes’ to this collection of poetry. For what it’s worth, Lagos is also killing me as ‘All flesh is mortal/The soul of Lagos is immortal’.

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