Review of Gbenga Adesina’s Award Winning Poem, “Surrender” – Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu
There are irrefutable historical accounts which suggest that
the Greeks were enamored of the idea and concept of beauty. Beauty has been
consequently theorized and explored by Greek philosophers, especially as it
relates to aesthetic appeal, culture, social psychology, and generally, the
entirety of human existence.
Plato considered beauty to be the grand Idea that lords over
all other existing Ideas. Aristotle tried to strike a relationship between
beauty and virtue.
Catholic Philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, in an attempt to
transcribe the sanctity of beauty, noted that it is one of the transcendental
attributes of being. He came very close.
However, it has since become apparent that modern beauty in
fact, has only now for the first time in human history, been successfully and
fully illustrated by Nigerian-born poet, Gbenga Adesina, the moment he wrote
the poem, “Surrender”.
Surrender is a graceful unfurling of several memories that tell a single story in
the end, with a distinct, unusual sense of description noticeable in previous
works of the poet, including the poems that won him the Brunel University
African Poetry Prize in 2016, and those that make up his chapbook, Painter of
Water, published by Akashic Books later the same year.
With language that humbles with its novelty, the poem handles memories of family, loss, immigration and loneliness. The memories draw from childhood, a walk in a different continent, the notion of home, a father, a son.
The poem, which can be = accurately = described as a song too, opens
with a dive into a memory that begins as a present moment, then introduces us
briefly to a father who will appear intermittently throughout the course of the
“A mercy puts a thing
on my palm and
it is my childhood
Its tiny endless moth city
Its rind like grace
or tenderness or sorrow
In the red brick room, my father cries.
His cries are small, lonely animals.
I carry them with me
like an inheritance.”
This sort of description of “inheritance” is not an
uncharted path in Adesina’s poetry. These lines bring to mind other lines from
another poem titled “Multitude Child”, published in 2017 on Poets
House, in which he asks,
“what do parents pass on to their kids, if not their
wounds?”, proposing again, the idea
of a kind of inheritance that is a departure from the conventional idea.
After, the persona is somewhat assaulted by yet another
“Once, I ran out
of a room
because the song
on the radio
was a fist
in the nook of my neck.
on the street
In this stanza of nine lines, nostalgia and Deja Vu are succinctly
illustrated side by side the visceral effects it can have on the human heart.
Though what we see is the persona’s response to it, we are also subconsciously
taken deep into ourselves, grasping at the many similar moments in which we
have all been twisted by the present, into a past that though once beautiful,
has now been saddened by time. And perhaps, this is the work of poetry; to take
us in, to show us in.
With a vulnerability made elegant by language and craft,
Adesina continues the narration, thus,
“All I wanted
was to be home,
so I dipped myself
under the earth.
By which I mean
I entered the subway station”
It is at this point that the unsuspecting reader is led into
another room where a new story unfurls:
Here, we see a man, and though his position isn’t described,
the proceeding lines give us (me, at least) the image of a man crouched;
another distinct attribute of the poet’s writing — the ability to say it without
saying it all.
The poet then recalls the image of the father we had been
introduced to earlier on, juxtaposing it with similarities from the man in the
previous stanza. Only now, it is the image of a dying father, which in a way,
is the image of the crying man.
With metaphors that reinvent the meaning of poetry while
simultaneously reaching for the heart, Adesina then circles back to the crying
man, alluding to a childhood now lost, and both emotionally and geographically far.
The camera zooms out of the insides of the man, and into his
physicality: we see from his hair that he belongs to a certain country, we not
only hear, but see the sound of his voice:
“This man I saw,
his locks of hair
which ran down
to his neck
of a country
that was inside him.
And the sound he made
was the secret language
of a nation unto which
immigrants were called.”
The poem closes succinctly with a prayer to memory,