Some years ago, I fell in love with poetry. Not long after, I sadly realized many people do not share this love for poetry. It was even more startling, discovering that a lot of such people were already avid readers. Poetry to them is often like a restaurant menu item — the one you wrinkle your nose at and skip with your finger as you run it across the page.
As a writer, it is essential to know why, how, and for who you write. I believe what has distinguished Tolu Akinyemi’s work can be summed up in his statement - “These people (who ‘hate’ poetry) desire to appreciate and enjoy poetry but on their terms. They want it to be readily relatable, to speak to them directly, simply, yet profoundly, not through an interpreter or critic, nor through navigating a tedious byzantine literary maze. These are the ones I write for.”
Her Head Was A Spider's Nest is the fourth installment of the 'poetry for people who hate poetry' series by Tolu Akinyemi (Poetolu). Through this collection, Akinyemi interweaves and exemplifies everyday events in a readable and intriguing way. As each poem in this collection is written to make poetry enjoyable for everyone, every reader will undoubtedly relate to one or more of the poems. However, what is outstanding is the author’s mastery of words and literary devices to convey his message in a simple, understandable, and relatable way while still maintaining the perfect dose of humour.
For instance, in “A Bar Soap,” on page 21, the author adopted his descriptive writing prowess to weave a narrative of the relational story between us and the numerous bars of soap we purchase. By using simple ingredients everybody can relate to, the author creates beautiful poetry and describes this relatable scenario from a unique perspective. His imaginative and storytelling powers are exceptional and come to the fore in these poems.
“If a bar of Soap could feel
of what would it speak?
to wake up each day
feeling lesser than yesterday.”
Also, in “The Cookie Jar,” on page 59, we see this unique perspective in creating poetry and telling a relatable story of the author taking shape.
“It’s a jar of your favourite cookies
you reach in, pull one out
and make it delight your mouth
then reach in, pull another out
and make it delight your mouth
so you dip in to pull one out
and it’s empty, the jar is empty!
you ate the last piece
and it’s a terrible feeling
a knot in the chest
like a kick in the groin.”
This unique perspective of the author brought to mind an article I read. In the article, Oyindamola Shoola stated that “if Tolu was asked to write a poem about ‘suya,’ instead of predictably writing about the wonderful taste of suya, writing from the perspective of the Cow that sacrificed its life to delight the palates of suya lovers would be a more interesting take on the theme.”
This runs true as you dive into the poems in Her Head Was A Spider's Nest. Over time, I have realized that simplicity doesn’t mean the poem has to lose its relevance. Poetolu is a preacher of this truth. The author successfully merges humour with seriousness but also takes a didactic viewpoint. With an exciting blend of wordplay and artistry, Tolu demonstrates great skills in crafting unique, hilarious, and deeply meaningful poems. Hence, you are likely to laugh but also catch some truths- life lessons.
For instance, in the poem “The Cookie Jar,” the author's good sense of humour reminds us that it’s essential to live in the moment, love, and be present because tomorrow is not promised.
“If you had a warning
you would have nibbled
the last piece tenderly
with solemn knowing
of a final goodbye
but you had no warning.
Here’s a warning
call him, call your father
or whoever you should, now!”
Also, there is advice from the author in “3 Things to Avoid From Monday to Sunday” on page 36. The author mentioned Snakes and Cars driven by undiagnosed lunatics as objects to avoid. Nevertheless, nothing rings more accurate than avoiding friends who are voracious in their desire for every detail of your life but become mute when it is time to tell theirs.
The ones who always yearn
to know all details of your life
but will be a spattered fool
or choose to die by a thousand bites
before they tell you of their lives.”
In this collection, one obvious thing is the author’s rebellion against traditional formality and rules of writing poetry. As a result, some of the poems in this collection didn’t necessarily sound and feel poetic. Still, as a reader, you realise that the ability of the author to communicate his message effectively, such that it aids understanding, stems from simplicity and relatability. As you flip through the pages of this collection, the author reveals a fundamental truth with his poems- poetry has the power to evoke an emotion or stir memories with only a few words. For example, in “In Untitled (1),” the author wrote:
“Were you born
with those sad eyes
Or are they sad signs
of all the men who come
but not to stay?” (Page 46)
While this poem, on the surface, yells the emotions infused by heartbreak, Poetolu reminds us that our experiences influence and reshape the person we are and the person we become. Hence, none of us are the same as we were yesterday. This message brings to mind a statement by Bassey Ikpi in her book, I'm telling the truth, but I'm lying - “I need to prove to you that I didn’t enter the world broken. I need to prove that I existed before. That I was created by people who loved me and had experiences that turned me into fragmented sentences, but that I was, at one point, whole. That I didn’t just show up as a life already destroyed.”
"The Young Woman From The City" contains several messages, but the one that resonates with me is that those who persevere get the most out of life. The author reminds us in “Let Us Give Up On Love” that love is the essence of life. Without love, the world is formless.
“Let us give up on love
and say our farewells
and call it (in other words)
the end of the world.”
The author’s ability to use relatable scenarios to convey his message is rare and unique. For example, in the poem “Dirty Water,” on page 68, an analogy of dirty water conveys a meaningful message to those who stay in futile relationships.
“You must remember what it’s like
washing clothes in a huge basia;
you don’t drink it, you don’t reuse it
you don’t keep it, hoping one day it
turns into ale or lemonade
you find the nearest gutter
and pour out the dirty water.
Forget him woman, pour him out
out of your mind like dirty water
he’s not thinking of you
he won’t love you back.”
Recently, I spoke to a friend about the universe's unfairness, especially concerning death. I still don’t understand why good people leave the universe sooner than expected. A satisfying conclusion to the question “why do bad things happen to good people?” is presented in “Good People” on page 57.
“I sighed and replied
“it’s because good people
are people too.”
In the poem titled after the title of the book, “Her Head Was A Spider Nest,” the author pens his thoughts on depression and mental health problems. He captures the pain of living with mental illness and our response to it with sincerity and verve. He reminds us of the importance of speaking up and caring about people around us. You never know what someone is going through in their closet, but we must learn to speak up when overwhelmed with life.
I find so many poems intriguing in this collection, but “The Fool” and “3 things I know with Certainty” had a lingering effect on my thought. The poem reminds me of how often I have let other people determine my mood and reaction. At some point in our lives, we have all experienced that foolish moment.
It’s a story of the one
no one argues was a fool
she had ten bags of gold
and lost one of to thieves
but riled about her loss
she threw the nine away.
Which calls to mind at once
it happened that someone ruined
some minutes of their day and
for that, they got riled and
threw the whole damned day away.”
Tolu Akinyemi is known for his wit and the humor that he uses to make poetry enjoyable, even for those who hate poetry, and he waves this magic wand of his in his newest masterpiece, Her Head Was A Spider’s Nest. There is much to enjoy in this collection, such as the poems that are unusual, unpretentious, simple, hilarious, lyrically alert, didactic, and serene, all of which shine. Trying not to laugh while reading this collection is like building a castle in the air.
Tolu Akinyemi succeeds in making this collection a page-turner with his unique writing style, and I believe this is a book everyone should have on their shelf. And as you read, remember to live in the moment.
“The sun will set
the sun will rise
and like clocks
life will go on.” (Page 2).
Olatunde Ilerioluwa is a creative writer and public speaker interested in fiction, creative nonfiction, and performance poetry. Her love for books has also influenced her book reviewing. She writes to take her readers on a journey of insight, knowledge, and excitement. Her work focuses on book reviews, lifestyle, and the human condition. She draws inspiration from the books she reads, societal issues, personal life, interaction with others, and her relationship with God.
When she is not writing and journaling, she reads, listens to music, has fun in her head, or does research. A Karen Kingsbury book is all she needs after a stressful day. She hopes to write more and publish books