Reading List: Ayomide Bayowa

Nigerian Canadian poet Ayomide Bayowa discusses the influences behind his latest poetry collection.

Cover of Gills.

My debut poetry collection, titled Gills, consists of various folios I wrote during my travels overseas. Some of the works have been with me throughout my life as a constant reminder of the different struggles and stages I have gone through. These poems enable my reflection on many traumas that have impacted my reading preferences and writing styles. Despite the vague and critical nature of my youthful decisions, poetry has remained a faithful companion, providing me with a way to articulate even the inaccessible. My poems show that my heart goes out to those who grieve, unable to afford the right dictions. Utilizing a feminine persona in my writing has been particularly effective due to my upbringing around women.

However, most literature I come across is written in a masculine voice. The few feminine voices I encounter, including those of my poet friends, possess a mastery of language: the ability to pick English apart as if sorting beans, which allows them to convey the intersection of oppressive ruling and sexist ideas through repetition and emotional depth. Thus, when perusing literary works from emerging African writers, overlooking some details with subtle hints protruding from their shroud syllables and punctuations fosters the imperial gaze extremities of embarking on a madcap journey through an artistic safari.

To discuss my Damascus-call on poetry, while Gills was in its phase as an unborrowed tomorrow, I deviated from my role as a mere critic discovering Heather Sellers’ textbook, The Practice of Creative Writing, as a pertinent guide for poetry composition. During my enrollment in a creative writing course taught by Professor Bouvier Geoffrey, the exploration of a writer’s imaginative capacity was approached by Sellers through an analysis of their reading and writing literacy with an emphasis on the breadth of their abilities. In quotes of many esteemed writers, particularly those of a later era, are my affirmation of Mary Slessorship in the twin creative deals of reading and writing, a recurring theme Ralph Waldo Emerson asserts to be indivisible. The construction of a creative block by a writer often corresponds to a reader’s block, which Sellers regards as being incompatible with maintaining the pure oil of curiosity that drives a writer’s thought process. This approach to integration assists readers in overcoming their own obstacles and recognizing the limitations of their perspectives. Such a commitment to ongoing growth and exploration can benefit both writers and readers alike. To approach literature in a productive manner, it is essential for readers to possess a pragmatic curiosity and engage in transgressive reading practices. This involves attuning oneself to the author’s perspective and analyzing the text in real-time.

It is worth noting that unconventional styles are increasingly being embraced within the literary world. Yet, those of us who inhabit this sphere remain steadfast in our commitment to combat any tendencies towards confusion, monotony, or intellectual lethargy, among other forms of passivity. Through the process of comparing questions, juxtaposing conclusions, and sharing deduced meanings, creative readers can take valuable insights provided to assist in navigating unfamiliar and/or undiscovered literary worlds. By doing so, one can make easy and uncomplicated interpretations of pictorial events. This process enables a reader with cracks of some language which channel the eyes and the mind (imageries), the wave of the narrative (energy), and the strained events which follow the characters’ dreams and the means they use to achieve their goals (tension). Moreover, the reader can discern the language’s musicality, sequence, or rhythm (pattern), and feel the impact of its metaphors and the other resonant core theme(s) of the writing.

Upon revisiting Claudia Rankine’s collection of prosaic poems, Citizen, An American Lyric, I was struck by her adept use of free indirect narrative. Through this literary technique, the poet persona meanders through their biased experiences to portray a variety of emotionally charged and harrowing states of mind. As a result, not only are the characters involved in the dramatic sequence, but the reader(s) are also made aware of their consciousness. This allows for a greater trust in the sincerity and complexity of the writer’s experience and voice, thereby enhancing the reader’s overall engagement with the text. In response to an ironic situation, a poem was composed from the perspective of a narrator seeking guidance from a trauma counselor. However, the counselor unintentionally retraumatized the narrator due to a lack of awareness regarding the potential negative impact of their actions. This dramatic irony serves as a defining characteristic of the poem “Wait A Sec” in my collection Gills, latently engaging the unfamous race-linked medical view of “John Henryism” demonstrated in Citizen. Claudia Rankine employs a unique approach to dialogues, eschewing conventional quotation marks in favor of incorporating them within the lines of her poems. This technique allows for a more fluid expression of the poet’s thoughts and emotions.

Rankine frequently employs the second-person plural pronoun “you” to immerse the reader, regardless of race, in the perspective of the poet’s persona. By doing so, she encourages readers to reflect on their own reactions to the text and consider whether they may have suppressed their feelings or allowed them to burst forth. This technique also makes it difficult for readers to simply gloss over the dialogue without personalizing it and engaging with its content. In a particular piece, the narrator stands up for a group of individuals who support a woman whose son was humiliated by a white passerby who refused to treat him as a human. The narrator addresses racial privilege, enabling one to draw parallels between each piece’s scenarios, like one that illustrates a woman having flashbacks or momentary distractions on account of micro-aggressive incidents she experienced in her professional field: the literary market, during an odd hour of the day meant for rest (nighttime).

Remembrance as a theme returns when a friend of this character speaks with indifference about the Caucasian’s wrongs. These spirited countenances of the characters are examples of Rankine’s effective use of the human mental organ. They show how the mind can move backward and forward in time and yet remain within the same spatial coordinates. That is the effect that Claudia Rankine wants to have on the reader(s): a retro-activeness. Rankine creates the presence of yesterday in today and enacts the steady repetition of history in a black person’s daily life. Fatigue is an inescapable consequence of this, no doubt, as any man would become tired of playing an endless, stressful loop. The looping effect can be achieved with the use of present, present participle and past tenses.

Furthermore, the poet Morgan Parker’s “All They Want is my Money my Pussy my Blood,” gives us concrete examples of the intricate spiral of psychic strain and moral dilemma unfolding in the historical dynamics of racialization. It expresses confinement and overrepresentation, and cultural appropriation, including the paranoia of the poet persona that intersectional systems of oppression engender. It begins as if the poet persona has just been asked to recount the road that led to her present condition, which the title of the poem conclusively summarizes. The poem enumerates the persona’s current way of life, which conforms to the standards of the men that are most beneficial to her life. “Okay so,” is the third line in the poem, which reminds us of the obvious: being black. It exposes the idea of race, when most open-minded individuals of another race would claim not to see color. In the poem, Morgan subtly suggests that the crucial issues raised within it may be viewed as arbitrary by someone who reads it with a closed mindset.

Regardless of the reader’s stance, it is vital to acknowledge the poet persona’s words as literal baits that reflect the idiosyncrasies of real life, with Morgan highlighting the figure of a black man and the socioeconomic conditions alike that make him the first choice for a woman of color. Morgan effortlessly transitions into representing the perception of people of color as having wild but socially tamed natures, often generated by the image of black individuals frequently visiting liquor stores. Morgan’s narrative style is indirect but effective, as demonstrated by using the famous expression “Starvin’ like Marvin” to reference the sensual, touchy-feely aura Marvin Gaye’s songs generate. For the poet persona, making a living off engaging in sexual activities are acts of survival, while sexual deprivation is an act of dying. The persona carefully explores the self in pursuit of these two states, all while being mindful of the latent stereotype that people of the same race look alike. The characterizations of racial similarity can lead to a stereotype that may cause the individual to experience feelings of shame regarding the high double standard body count of sexual intercourse and fatalities among black people.

There may be no sense of remorse, as the goal may be to derive pleasure from socioeconomic strain moments that feel like death but are crowned by survival. Within the poem, the persona’s thoughts on black art within the post-modern world undergo a seamless transition. For the individual, black art remains static and animalistic. The poem alludes to the persona’s nose ring, a type of piercing often utilized as a device to control animals, mainly those with mammary glands and of the female gender. In contemporary times, nose rings have become a popular non-conforming fashion statement. However, the current generation of learners may not fully understand the historical context that informs issues related to modern-day black culture. This lack of understanding may be due to biased information passed down by privileged educators.

The poem’s perspective can be flipped to view the men as the actual prostitutes and the poet persona as the sex buyer seeking satisfaction. Nevertheless, the poet persona expresses the idea of freedom from gender and race through the words, “I am free with the following conditions.” These words express her modest desire for liberation from the act of commodifying herself as a source of pleasure to subsist and from living with the stigma of a lifestyle that countless women of color are compelled to live in America. The loose disposition of the poet persona is defined by her entanglement with the flattery and fear that men had spelled into her life, leading her to associate with prostitution. Morgan adeptly blends sensuality with veracity to facilitate our spontaneous reasoning. He elicits a surge of powerful emotions that are often suppressed in discussions surrounding gendered labor and the associated burden of unpaid care. The persona in the poem evokes our empathy as she navigates the complexities of caring for her brother while simultaneously grappling with sex addiction.

About the Author

Ayomide Bayowa is an award-winning Nigerian Canadian poet, actor and filmmaker. He holds a BA in theater and creative writing from the University of Toronto and is the 2021–24 poet laureate of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

Further Reading