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Shout Out to Abayomi Animashaun
The growing body of critically-acclaimed Nigerian authors on the American bookshelves (think Chris Abani, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Uwem Akpan) have given incredible insights into the history and politics of the most populated country in Africa. A new voice has joined that distinguished company with the publication of Abayomi Animashaun’s The Giving of Pears by Black Lawrence Press, a gorgeous collection that celebrates the collisions and cooperations between the Nigerian and Western cultures:
Listening to Stones with Michelangelo
It is the rock itself that calls.
Its non-voice beckoning first,
Then echoing so loudly
Your soul, silenced from solitude
And restless for communion,
Reaches for its forehead
And traces its quiet fingers
Across the pimpled eyebrows,
The misshapen, slightly raised, nose,
The strong, dented, jaw-line.
But your restless soul won’t stop there.
It’ll invite the stone into the high
Arching bones of your chest,
Where it resides alone, and excited
It will talk a long time about the Bible
And Greek Mythology:
How Apollo should still be hugging
His beloved tree, Daphne.
How Homer got it wrong,
Polyphemus should be buds with sirens.
How David should also be crucified
And Moses stoned to death:
Only after the stone begins to yawn
Does your soul offer tea laced with gin.
But the stone falls asleep after the first sip,
Starts snoring, and dreaming itself
As a one-eye woman, humming
And bathing nude beside a river.
Animashaun’s poetry is comfortable invoking Cézanne, Rilke and Cavafy (the muses of an education beyond the home), yet the speaker usually accesses a deep nostalgia for the superstitions and myths of a Nigerian upbringing, which inspires such startling and magical imagery: “Give an infant a pear,/ And all the iguanas in the village/ Gather on the bank of the old river/ And lick the stones until they become green.”
The racial and class tensions that readers might have encountered in the works by different Nigerian writers is only subtly addressed here; Animashaun keeps the emotional volume low when he explores more weighty issues like Nigeria’s poverty, government corruption, the disapproval over interracial relationships, and transgressions by religious leaders. He takes a rather spiritual-like approach to suffering, as in the poem by that name: “Time to accept it as part of the package. Instead of an unwanted stray: A temporary nuisance come to cause a slight disturbance.”
The Giving of Pears prefers to mine the beauty of a country that has become synonymous with overpopulation and conflict. No small effort given that the impressions that usually travel from the African continent are shaped by the non-stop devastating accounts of war, violence and famine. This book is in praise of the other face of Nigeria, and a love letter to Lagos, the beloved city that gave this poet permission to leave and the blessing to dream: “Always keep Lagos in your mind./ But, do not hurry the journey./ Better if it lasts many years.// If now you find her poor, Lagos/ Did not betray you. Without her/ You would not have set out at all.”