By Seun Lari-Williams
Recently, I was telling my friend about my love-hate relationship with poetry. As an avid reader growing up, it felt like the only genre I struggled to read, understand, and enjoy was poetry. I associated the word “boring and complicated” with poetry, and such books were red flags for me because, more often than not, I struggled to decode the message in each sentence and the meaning of each word.
I appreciate poetry because of authors such as Seun Lari-Williams, who make it simple enough and relatable to be enjoyed and meaningful. Hence, I have discovered the beauty of poetry in its simplicity and relatability.
I find many things intriguing about Seun’s second anthology, A Little Violence, and one of them is the book cover. One thing that always comes up on my store tours is how a book's cover image influenced my decision to purchase the book. I remember reading an article where Oyindamola Shoola shared her conversation with Tolu Akinyemi. She recounted how she rebelled against people’s suggestion to have bees and honey as the cover art for her book, “To Bee a Honey.” She went further to say, “I remember telling myself that I want a cover that represents, not repeats, the title, and the book content.”
Seun Lari-Williams knows this onion, as the cover art represents the idea the author conveys in the pages of the book- Nigeria. Therefore, if I am to take a walk in the bookstore, Seun’s A Little Violence is a book I would include in my purchase.
Another thing that stands out for me is the author’s subtle mannerism and choice of words and poetic devices to paint a vivid description of Nigeria, her people, challenges, societal beliefs, and the people’s daily experiences. In addition, the way the author wrote the poems, in a concise yet compelling manner, provides a personal connection to each poem. This unique style is evident in the first poem in this collection, “When it Rains in Lagos,” where the author employs poetic devices such as irony and personification to guide us on an adventurous journey in the city that never sleeps even when it rains.
“When it rains in Lagos,
the streets are dry
with only twenty million people
Seun opens the poem with Sarcasm by claiming that the streets are dry when it rains, but twenty million people are within sight. Then, he paints a vivid description of what Lagosians experience in such a situation, from the traffic to the job it creates.
“When it rains in Lagos,
every hour becomes
In other words, vehicles
When it rains, Lagos
gives jobs to the jobless:
Is your car in the gutter?
You need only mutter. (Page 2)
I find the above hilarious, as it is something everyone whose car has been ditched in an open hole understands. Also, I believe the author is communicating the essence of Lagos to people in Nigeria. It is believed that Lagos is the hub of opportunities, and to fulfil her calling, the city has to keep moving and keep providing opportunities even in the rain.
“Lagos, the city that owes
mere rainfall isn’t
When it rains,
Eko must go with the flow, for
it must pay every kobo
it owes” (Page 10).
Furthermore, the author stated that Lagos does not pause; it keeps moving forward despite the situation. Therefore, Lagos will continue to thrive.
“Lagos doesn’t pause,
no matter how hard it pours.
It doesn’t duck reality
Readers will observe Seun's mastery of using words to convey meaning from this collection of poems. He blends daily experiences with relatable scenarios. For example, in the poem on page 4, “Tawai! Tawai!” the author employs imagery to paint our struggle with the buzzing, relentless, blood-sucking insect. He describes slapping oneself to prevent further feasting.
On the other side, I can see the author describing the epileptic nature of the power supply in Nigeria. If only there was light to empower the fans against these insects.
Almost every night
If only there was light…
Also, we see this writing prowess at work in the poem titled “Father’s Day.” In this poem, the author uses an everyday shopping experience with a father and his children to describe the societal acceptance of corruption, over integrity, and compassion. I have realized that everyone hates corruption in words in Nigeria, but in action, the number reduces. We speak of how we have fallen on the slab of corruption as a nation, but we are quick to shake the hands of these corrupt people. Are we not quick to give away our freedom for the little change accompanying the handshake?
He described the danger of corruption and greed; it goes beyond the present; it lurks around, waiting for the future.
“Silently but anxiously, I watched
as Corruption and Oppression
searched the shop thoroughly for a present.
Of course, nothing in fashion was
good enough for their father,
because, as you know, Greed’s present
is our future.
He would accept nothing less” (Page 7).
I promised myself not to make this review long, but I am not doing justice to that. Seun’s anthology is so vast that it encompasses various themes, including love, domestic violence, gender injustices, societal beliefs, mental health, loss, and politics. For example, in the poem titled “A Little Violence,” Seun shared his meditation on loss.
“One is killed, but two lost a son.
One is killed, but four lost a brother.
One is killed, but a hundred lost a friend.
One is killed, but two hundred lost a teacher.
Seven lost a breadwinner…..” (Page 10).
Seun reminds us in this poem that one death can have countless effects and impact those who are left to bear the loss. I will also commend the author’s ability to include poems personal to him and explore the local Nigerian language, which brings the lyrics of the poems closer to home.
For instance, in “Village Boy,” I believe the author was reaching out to memories from his childhood. It reminds me of memories that keep lingering in my thoughts even as an adult; memories from my childhood I try to hold on to as to lose it is to lose a significant part of my life.
“Do not come knocking on my door
I will not be at home.
I will be listening to re-runs of my
mother’s overripe stories
and my father’s delightful jokes,” (Page 13)
Also, we see a piece of words dedicated to the author’s lover in “A Poem for My Wife.”
“Let her know what our marriage means to me:
In my life, it’s the most beautiful thing.” (Page 84)
In “Hunter,” a reader is exposed to the Nigerianness in the author’s use of the pidgin language. Here, the author goes overboard with his humor and descriptive use of the pidgin language. I find this poem memorable as it helped me relive memories with my dad, primarily when my dad used a Y-shaped catapult to kill a bird in our compound. I have always been fascinated by the whole experience, and as the author ended the poem,
“De bird somersault, land yakata for ground.
Ogbono soup don ready be dat.” (Page 24)
In A Little Violence, I find a lot of poems memorable for their humor, readability, and message, particularly the poems that address gender injustices, such as “It’s a Girl” and “How is Your Wife?” For example, in “How is Your Wife?” the author leaves no stone unturned to demolish roles and meanings that have been associated with the word “wife.”
“When you say, “How is your wife?”
I know what you mean.
You mean how’s the woman
to whom I must be mean.
You mean how’s the one
who must wash and sweep and
cook and clean;
The one who must kneel
to serve my every meal,
to greet me,
to even to talk to me.
You mean the one I slap around
when I feel like it
You mean, how’s my helper who
I must never help
Who I must control and insult.
I know what you mean.” (Page 87)
He went further to change the narrative of what a woman represents in any relationship by describing what the word means to him:
“If you must ask about my lover
and you don’t remember her name,
if you must ask about my best friend
of whom I’m unashamed,
if you must ask about my woman,
the woman of my dreams,
don’t say: “How is your wife?”
Say: “How is your queen?”
Say: “How is the one whose shoes
you love to clean;
whose mugu you love to be?”
From you, these are
preferable for me” (Page 88)
Another poem that captured my attention is titled "At the Airport." The poem's lyrics remind me of the lessons we can learn from seemingly insignificant, uncommon places when we look closer. In the poem titled "To Nigerians in the Future," I join the author in asking the questions in the heart of Nigerians:
“Citizens of the future, I greet you…
Tell us what becomes of us.
Will we rise like mountains or
fade like raindrops?
Will our dreams finally find their souls?
Will new leaders rise?
Will they be Love, Strength, and Faith?”
In an interview with SprinNG, Seun Lari-Williams, when asked the question, What do you love most about being Nigerian? He said, “What I love about being Nigerian is being Nigerian. Being Nigerian gives one a unique state of mind. Our history and our challenges as a people all make you wonder and see life in a way you’re almost certain no one else does. Being Nigerian is being “Street!”
As a reader, you will appreciate his response in this collection that takes us on a journey through the dark and bright parts of living in Nigeria. With wit, humor, and Seun Lari-Williams’ writing prowess, the author captivates a reader with tales that capture Nigeria in its essence.
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.