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 poem.

“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 memory:

“Once, I ran out

of a room

because the song

on the radio

was a fist

in the nook of my neck.

I stood

on the street

quietly weeping.”

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:

“It was there I heard him.

A man that was also a sound.

He was singing. Tree

branches broke

inside his voice”

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

were the

visible borders

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,

“Dear Music, dear childhood.

Take me.

Take me.”

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