By Olayinka Oyegbile
A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness ~Robert Frost
(A review of Lola Fabowale’s Nostalgia and Tears F’orile, Kraftgriots, Ibadan, 2023)
Lola Fabowale’s Nostalgia and Tears F’orile, a debut collection of poems makes for easy reading because it treats common issues that readers are familiar with and puts a touch of her own, giving her that poetic authority to control the narrative. It is divided into three parts.
In Chickens Roost she ruminates over the issue of colonialism and how things that had been condemned in the past by colonialists are now what they are asking the world to return to. She wonders what the so-called civilization brought by them has done for Africa. Perhaps in a fit of frustration, she declares: “My father never drove a tractor/But fed many mouths with honour.” A denunciation of modern farming method that has left the world hungrier? It is in this vein she asks: “Now you return to organic farming and gardening?/ You see thatched homes as better than or holding/Their own against roofs of corrugated iron in reckoning?” as compared to when colonialism came that all things African or organic were discarded for ‘modernity’, which today has become a threat to humanity.
In Alade hu’wo, (Alade has a horn) she brings to the fore the importance of friendship and the ability to keep secrets. The story told in this poem is familiar to all Yoruba children of the sixties and seventies who are familiar with the Yoruba writers of that age (especially JF Odunjo’s Alawiye classic). It is the story of two friends who shared a secret and which one was unable to keep after a very long time. What did he do? He had to tell the ground to exorcise himself, the secret buried in the ground resurfaced in the flute made from the papaya trees and everything became public knowledge. Opomulero is a salute to a cheerleader and supporter of the poet who by answering questions posed by her son decides to use her brother’s love and devotion to answer every question posed by the boy. For instance, she writes, “When he asks: “What does love look like?” /I take out your picture and hold it aloft”. To her, the brother signifies love and devotion and she finds his picture as the best means of explaining that to her son. Real opomulero, the pillar that holds all together.
In Plea to Mama, she wonders what age does to people, especially her mother who has become soft with her grandchildren and is no longer the tough woman who brought her up; overlooking what the grandchildren were doing, most of the things she never overlooked for her as a daughter. It deals with the complex relationship between a grandparent and the grandchildren. Age has taken a toll on her mother. In Passive Aggression, she returns to her interrogation of how colonialism has dealt with the continent of Africa, most especially her country of birth Nigeria. In addressing the colonialists see says: “I am sick and tired that after your kindred,/ Backed with guns and uneven laws/Pioneered stealing my ancestral lands/Among those of indigenes of other realms/Or bought for pittance/What we toiled to produce/You still somehow deduce/I must play a second fiddle to you/And whenever I protest you call me/Loud, angry, aggressive Black woman.” She wonders why it is only when she protests the indignities that she is labeled aggressive.
The opening poem in Section B is a capsule of recent events in our country under the title Rule of Law (I), where some of the absurdities of our country become the subject of creative poetry from “Judges who call pilots ‘drivers’ “ to those who use their official positions as police officers to protect “drug cartels” and “Fashion for ring lords -hushing puppies”. The anger at the use of force instead of law is extended to the Rule of Law (II), where Nigeria is compared to Canada where the poet now resides and compares law enforcement practices in both countries, of course, it’s like comparing sleep with death; no basis for comparison at all, she concludes.
In this section, the poet takes a look at the ills pervading her home country from the #ENDSARS, kidnapping, Boko Haram attacks, failure of public power supply to Covid-19, and other troubles in other parts of the world. Beyond bothered at the border, is a tribute to 23 Africans mercilessly killed by Moroccan immigration officials at their border in 2022. The fate of helpless citizens running away from poverty at home and murdered at the border of a hostile country.
The final section continues what the poet touched on in previous sections, looking at issues of racism, roadside begging, the weather in Canada etc. Nostalgia and Tears F’orile is a slim volume of poetry with varied cadences and tones that communicates deeply and opens the heart of the poet to her reader. One thing that is clear from this is that Fabowale, who is a polyglot surely has her feet planted in her chosen area of creative intervention. This debut is fine and gives the hope that if she continues to work hard at her craft, she will go places despite some of the poems tending to be prosaic.