Emily Dickinson in her definition of poetry made bold claims that poetry is a genre that rips off the top of one’s head that makes one’s body cold so much that no fire can ever warm it. Indeed, it is this goal that every poet drifts towards, whether consciously or unconsciously. For the poet is burdened with the duty of ensuring that each piece tastes like the nectar of Olympus, and this has often birthed avant-garde expeditions; poets who intentionally break “rules” in order to satisfy the wailing of the Muse. It is from this experimentation that the free verse movement was born, and also the insistence on imagery by Ezra Pound upon his encounter with the Japanese haiku.
Poetry is fluid, like memory. It takes the form of the container. It takes the form of the poet. However, most often the poets who satisfy our thirst for “newness” are those who utilize the manipulation of reality, those who learn to not just use concrete images in their work, but also knead these images into desired forms. For the purpose of this essay, I would love to call it the Principle of Transubstantiation of Images. It would be better to classify it as a sub-genre of the surrealist movement. Where surrealism desperately seeks for haunting images that would unleash the subconscious, the poet who uses transubstantiation not only achieves this, but also induces new images from old ones.
One of the modern poets who has mastered this principle is Romeo Oriogun. In his chapbook “Burnt Men”, the reader is drawn into the realm of the subconscious, a place filled with uncertainty. Yet, Oriogun in his poems, paints images that would normally not be existent; here’s an excerpt from his poem “Wreckage”:
My body leads me to abandoned ships
And I mourn for memories that are underwater,
Memories that left flowers to grow in fallen ships,
This death of ships filled with flowers leaves me in tears
On the surface, this poem simply looks like a piece loaded with heavy metaphors, but upon deep introspection, one finds that the word for this depiction of horror that engulfs the poet’s mind could not have been presented in any other way than to transubstantiate the images in his head, in order to create new realities. T.S. Eliot in his essay “Tradition and Individual Talent” made mention that the mature poet is one who creates unreal emotions from ordinary emotions. This is the ultimate goal of poetry: to pick up drops of the subconscious and morph them into images that haunt the conscious mind.
It should be noted that what makes a poem truly sublime is its ability to shock the reader’s mind into convulsion- whether it be for ecstasy or gloom- regardless of the didactic nomenclature of the work. Even John Milton in his attempt to create haunting images drew from the collective subconscious of images hidden in folklore and religion in his epic “Paradise Lost”; Dante did the same in his “Divine Comedy”. Another modern author worthy of note who has applied transubstantiation of Images heavily is Nayyirah Waheed. In her collections salt, and nejma, the reader is bombarded with images that shock the mind, yet are heavily pleasing to taste.
It is the ability of a poet to not just rely on the surreal images that float in his/her mind, but recreate new realities that make their poem appealing (whether didactic or not). However, a juxtaposition of images that makes no meaning whatsoever in an attempt to transubstantiate leads to poetic suicide.
The poet is to listen attentively to the Muse while they write, ensuring that they does not rip out her tongue in an attempt to produce new sounds. The ideal poet writes first for the self, to heal brokenness- for what pushes one to write than a vacuum occupying the soul- then for the reader, but in so doing, one must learn to be one’s fiercest reader, one’s greatest critic, burying all images that have moved away from shockingly pleasing, to shockingly bland.
A poet is immortal, because he/she feeds the readers with sublime images, thoroughly transubstantiated in the room of the subconscious, the highest example being Christopher Okigbo, in the collective African opinion.
Olawale Ibiyemi is a young poet, currently an Accounting student of Babcock University, Nigeria. He lives in Sango-Ota, Ogun State, Nigeria. The major themes in his poems include death, love, abuse and mental illness.
His goal of writing is first; to ease internal turmoil and also to shed light on the struggles of mental health patients in Nigeria. Therefore, his poems are often of a confessional nature, taking after the likes of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. Another goal that Olawale has for his writings is, being a voice against the oppression of women, bigotry, tribalism and cultural decadence.
Olawale Ibiyemi has won some local poetry competitions. His poem was shortlisted for the Ken Egba Prize for Festival Poetry 2017. His poems have appeared in the anthology These Words Will Cure a Dead Man by Sprinng Literary Movement 2016, 7th issue of the PIN Quarterly Journal 2017, Words, Rhymes & Rhythms website and on other prestigious Nigerian Literary websites. Some of his poems will also appear in the Best New African Poets 2017 Anthology that will be published in 2018.
Olawale also writes non-fiction and can only be kidnapped with a cup of ice-cream; chocolate flavour.