FF’s Star Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
In the introduction of his poetry collection Nocturnal Notes, Bola Olusanya tells us how, a little over two decades ago, his life almost came to a sudden stop while looking forward to his sophomore year in college. The poet is originally from Nigeria and has lived in America since 2001. “It was a realization that at the prime age of eighteen,” the poet writes, “my life could be cut sort from a serious medical condition that remains a mystery to this day.” Reading this as an unpracticed reviewer of poetry, my enthusiasm for reading this book quadrupled because hospitalized, thin, and confined to a bed for three months, the poet’s love of poetry was discovered.
And so it was that I set out to read this collection which consists out of 50 of the 100 poems that the poet had written from 1993 to 1996, all of them dated in the format of day, month, year, and time, that the poet had started writing all those years ago while not sure of how long he had to live. Also included in this collection is an additional fifty-first poem he wrote in 2017. This, the poet tells us, is only the first collection, organized in the following eight themes: Culture and Values; Hardship; Death and Heartbreak; Love; Politics and Human Rights; Religion; Campus Life; and Musings. Coupled with fitting illustrations meant to bring each poem, unconstrained by any of the known poetic structures, to life.
In the first chapter, entitled “Culture and Values”, the poem “Principle” will speak to readers of a time when they are young, tempted, and unable to resist something any longer. Perhaps the poet is actually speaking of his young self coming to such a point here, a wonderful new experience that made Principle, a word personified in this poem, shake its head at the poet’s choice to indulge in this temptation, whatever it may have been. He begins this chapter with a poem entitled “African Heritage,” speaking to his fellow people to remember how they were not always free and to remember that in turbulent times, they stood united, a poem that reads like a restorative song to make one proud of one’s own ancestry and surely, the poems that follow explores everything from family values to standing proud behind the colors of your country’s flag.
Chapter Two: Hardship, begins with “Molue”, a poem in which the poet assumes the narrative of an observer irritated with a mode of public transport. Being from an African country myself and still being in one, I could definitely relate to irritation of the speaker. Whether it’s buses or taxis, they can get cramped in African countries, so this was a poem that made me reflect upon my own memories and enjoy it a lot. “The Suffering Grass” explores the “elephants” that trample upon “the suffering grass” on a continues basis, the analogies clear.
The poet ends the reader’s experience with two poems at the end: “Reflections I” and “Reflections II”. To tell you about one of them, the first line of “Reflections I” grabs the reader’s attention immediately. “I hate the scent of a clinic,” the poet writes. In this poem, the poet makes use of consonance while speaking to the reader of dark and trying times having to come to an end in the first verse. In the ensuing verse, the poet starts off with a much more positive and energetic mood, shattering the miserable hopefulness of the first into pieces.
The illustrations that accompanied each poem add another whole artistic layer to this collection and some of those sketches are truly amazing while others are more simple yet completely meaningful. There are sketches that I felt didn’t convey anything more than the title of the poems they accompany suggests, but they are few. The overall format of this collection made me enjoy these poems even more and I always took an extra moment to read those Yoruba proverbs under each chapter heading. The feel of the poet’s heritage can be sensed throughout all the pages and the glossary at the end sheds further light on all the poems and non-English words and their meanings.
I enjoyed this poetry collection very much and I’ve found little that I didn’t like other than one or two lines that bordered on unconstrained boldness on the poet’s part and the poet’s tasteful vocabulary which sometimes made what he was trying to convey difficult to see. Big words in poems, if you don’t know the meaning thereof, can be a flaw in itself. I guess I could add that the chapter I found the least enjoyable was the one subtitled “Death and Heartbreak” because I’m not overly big on gloomy writings.
On a less serious note, there is one poem that I can’t get out of my head and it has me asking myself over and over again: why am I not surprised? “Saint Nicotine,” the poem is called and believe you me, this poem would make a nice advert and I’d just enjoy seeing the faces of teenage smokers if their English teachers were to read this poem to them. This poem causes me to reflect upon many of the other poems I’ve read that just emphasizes the youthfulness of the poet. Most of these poems tell stories and that is what I liked the most. They were more than just reflections as many poems often are.
Rhyming might not be a relevant part of today’s prevalent poems, but here it is. The poems of this collection are highly enjoyable and readers, like me, will walk away from it with more than a handful tucked away in those imaginary pockets of their hearts. Recommending this book to all those poetry lovers who enjoy philosophical and reflective poems, I’ll leave this review by advising the reader to take Bola Olusanya’s poems one poem per sitting, because doing so would make each poem more enjoyable and more likely to hit a note within the reader.
Date Published: November 20, 2017
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