Author photograph by Naomi Howard.
Proverbial wisdom might seem to be about the obvious, but not when your guides are the Orisha of the Yoruba pantheon. It’s not just that the Orisha don’t always agree – and the answer is often another question – but that gods like Esu face both ways and value ambivalence as a truth beyond any simple certainty, know that the world is built on contraries. There are false mentors, too, only too ready to deceive you; “Science” becomes a byword for the naively empirical, where the truth is always more complex, where things never just are or were, but becoming. It’s a world as ancient as the gods and as contemporary as Google maps, where there are always darker forces at work that have to be surmounted. It’s a world of contemporary hazard from, for instance, Islamist terror that makes relevant the ancient wisdom of not sparing baby pythons.
Long based in Trinidad and Tobago, Funso Aiyejina might seem to be mostly writing about Nigeria – except that the sharp observations in these poems frequently acknowledge the visible and invisible links between Africa and the Caribbean. This dual resonance comments richly and ambiguously on the question of where home may be.
It’s a collection in dialogue with literary ancestors such as Fagunwa, Tutuola, Okigbo, Soyinka and Achebe that takes the form of a journey through the day and the passages of a life, with the consciousness of legs losing “some of their youthful bounce”. There’s a serious and cryptically reflective mind behind these poems, but one that concludes that a mixture of laughter and ceremonious respect is the way to respond to life, that its goal is to write stories as “luminous white canes/ with which our children may tap-tap their ways out of any future darkness.”