Oyin’s book review #9: memoir of Crushed Petals by Pamilerin Jacob

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Pamilerin Jacob strikes me as one of the very few young poets in contemporary Africa (who I have read) whose poems attempt to work as exorcism, as violent purgation of some sort, of morose sensibilities, which foregrounds its own artifice with bizarre syntax and blasphemous nerve. The poetic idiosyncrasy which results from this is, thus, based on an accelerated externalisation of an internal emotional struggle. And it works. Like spores, his confessions which are painfully wrenched from the customary settings of human vulnerability, and then contained, air-tight, within an autogenetic language, are evocative, and sometimes, revelatory.

In his Memoir of Crushed Petals (which is also a memoir of crushing penchants), there is an ominous melancholy, cryptic in its tempo, resolute in its expression: “my soul is heavy with anguish / my mind nests tornadoes” (p. 44). The impulse that weaves the texture of the poems in the collection is the fated continuum of experience and feeling: “I am in a shrine of sour memories” (p. 68). The prevalent mood is hurting and depressive: “there are thorns leaping in my lungs” (p. 74). As witness and partaker of gross abuse and crude death, a baggage of abominations and alienation bequeaths critical attitudes:

“…I am malnourished because

God loves to mask sorrow

as a test:

kill your son, slice your wrists

swallow office pins, swallow the masquerade’s penis…” (trance, p. 22)

If we shed the mundane meaning attached to the word “sadness”, prepare to understand the laws which govern the negative scepticism it creates as belonging to the same laws which enable human beings to ascribe faith in a cosmic or divine benevolence to every positive event, Pamilerin’s misgivings become plain enough.

Still, the poet’s lacerating accusation of the forces of Providence, “mountains” as liars who know nothing about human sorrow is itself the wail of a sensitive man, lost in the universe, seeking understanding and succour. What is vicariously felt is the despair in a Jon Bellion lyric: “tears at a funeral, tears at a funeral, I might break. Angry at all the things, angry at all the things I can’t change.”

In any case, Pamilerin is doubtful of the possibility of change. He sharply criticises a very large clump of humanity, “accusers” who perceive and adjudge his deep-seated condition of misery to be myth which should not be taken seriously. He denounces those who preach the denial of emotion as antidote to sadness. With forthright lyricism, Pamilerin declares: “I want to be transparent / like revolving doors” (p. 65). In another poem, his dismissal of artificial “manliness”, especially as it internalised by the African man, whose “lips are laced with the hymen of secrets”, is humanistic education:

“…we were lectured by mountains

On the secret of hardness, yet untold

Of the truth that the skeleton of a rock is water…

the body is a raging river:

it should be allowed to break into deltas…

emotions have gills, you cannot

drown them in water” (water has a voice, p. 82)

Pamilerin’s eloquent vulnerability is an entreaty for empathy, for care, for humane consideration of the issues of mental health, which are present in evident but repressed details across all strata of society. And although, the poet is sometimes self-deprecating in his vision of himself, his self-insulation, and at times, self-immolation, is a derivative of the alienation imposed upon him by an inattentive and privileged world outside: “how do you tell the story of fire / to a garden, decked in dew?” (p. 42).

These issues today are pressing. Depression today is pressing. And Pamilerin, even as his name is itself a supplication for the gift of laughter, is the crusader for a social reawakening and a reform of attitudes to the “smiles” that are “an adage told by broken souls.” In song I, the poet’s imagery is essentially tender, but its poignancy retains its weight as a mouthpiece for thousands of souls who are languishing in immense obscure depths:

“…I am melting, my bones domes of butter in my body, I am melting the way eyes melt in obeisance to pepper soup” (song I, p. 61)

In this book, language is weaponised for and against sadness. A bitter-sweet evocation of the forces of nature as emblems of sorrow is rung in poems like rain, 4 a.m. and a smile is a stain. A representation of rape as a universe robbed of control, truth, and sense is also vivid. Even so, when we seek Truth, the poet imagines that Truth, in turn, seeks our acceptance and accommodation.

Palpably, Pamilerin is disconcerted, but I am not sure that he is completely disconcerted. His meticulous encapsulation of grief in rhythms and puns so artfully structured and laid out is still a signal of remnant control and comportment.

“tell me, reader why do you venture into my mind?

what do you hope to gain from my song?

are you a critic, or a potential mimic Or could it be that you are salvation draped in flesh?” (song III, p. 65)

Oyin’s booker is a 2018 series of book reviews by oyin oludipe, recipient, 2016 christopher okigbo prize for poetry. On it, he shall write about all the books that he shall read through the year. He resides on twitter @oyinoludipe

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