Women Liberation . . . what is that?
It’s just a figment of your imagination.
I was born free, not in chains
I sucked on the breasts that suckled you
Why then do I need to be freed by you?
Why must I sit on your important-sounding committees and smile gratefully,
Content to be decorated with the shackles of your brand of freedom?
Thanks, but no thanks,
I am a free being!
[Untitled, from my Anthology of Sheltered Poems]
For me, writing a literary response to a poetry collection is a fancy matter. The reason is simple. Every poem in an anthology has its own character and evokes its own distinct set of emotions. The complexity of those undulating panorama of human feelings would prove difficult to capture in one breath.
More so, when it comes to Lola Shoneyi’s For the Love of Flight, I have a good scoop to share with you. Why waste time measuring meter and probing rhymes? Listen, I was in the privileged audience that heard Lola read and talk about her (then) brand new collection of poems, For the Love of Flight.
Hearing Lola read from her collection at the AWF Guest Writers Session, I began to think, as always, how much of the poet is lost in the publisher’s grind, how good poetry is blotched by print, what disservice the pages do to the poems. As an art form, poetry finds a nexus in music and lore; in its earliest form it is believed to have been sung or recited. Written poetry often feels to me like light trapped in a sepia-stained prism.
For Kiitan was easily my favourite, if it had not been so heart-wrenching to hear. Her fierce devotion as a mother, her passion as a woman, her fervour as a feminist, her brazenness as a patriot, and her dripping cynicism as a seeker of Truth all rang out clearly. Ancient feminine sentiments rose up within me. This is the real deal, I thought. None of that defensive, reactive ‘women are the victims’ nonsense you hear around. This is a woman sharing what it feels like to be a woman; how she perceives her world; what she sees when she looks out through those thick, lush lashes . . . just sharing.
This is the good stuff, the type that leaves your mind richer for reading it.
I came away from that meeting with three things. First, an impression of Lola Shoneyin as a woman who is comfortable in her femininity and confident in her view of the world in the way her insightful poetry celebrates every day in its uniqueness and experiential richness. Second, I came away with a burden for the urgent need for Nigeria’s literati to explore the audio books option with particular regard to poetry. And third, I walked away with a copy of For the Love of Flight, which I shall cherish for a long time because it is impressed with the poet’s touch. And, although she was less so as she penned them down, it is inscribed with the words “For Fifi, with warm wishes.”
There is a curiosity I observed with this collection. Most of the poems are rendered in the first person, even the teeny bit uncomfortable ones. How, for instance, can Lola feel easy about anyone reading the poem Distance and thinking about her?
And do you think that love itself,
Living in such an ugly house,
Can prosper long? ¬- Edna St Vincent Millay
The ring of red on the coaster dries
I taste your robust Shiraz
so your blood can break my bread.
My lips leave a mark on your glass.
I flatter the guests,
fret about the salt in the stew,
Husband will not look at me.
He knows, he knows it’s you.
Across the table, you touch my lip-print.
circle the length of my smile
from the centre to the corners.
fingering every grove.
I want to reach for you
above the shaken salt,
press your palm into mine
but no, this is not the time.
The wine sours in my mouth
when reach for your coat.
Soon, you will leave me by the door,
stroking your kiss and wanting more.
This is a collection every woman should own and luxuriate in, in the way that it validates her womanhood.