Author Olalekan Ajayi in his second poetry collection Questioning Voices asks the questions we’ve all had lurking in the depths of our mind but rather ignore perhaps because there are no clear answers.
Divided into five parts Conversations, Voices, Homeland, Love Themes and Tributes, the authors begins with internal interrogations as – what if his parentage was questionable, and the sun rises from the west and not the east, and rather than a foe his blood relative is staunch enemy; to the ‘Difficult Questions’ – of why people are given the third degree when they in poverty or witness misfortune but never when fortunes are restored; then to the ‘Innocent Questions’ why though of different ethnicities, our souls are colorless, why a man goes tongue-tied in the presence of a beautiful maiden, or kings unsheathe their swords in battle that will eventually lead to the truce they earlier rejected? Stupid questions that seem unhelpful at any situation. And he is not done yet.
He continues in Voices, this time not necessarily questions but in highlighting the voices of peoples and groups long suppressed that denies him sleep – the toiling housewife whose pleasure matters not to her spouse, spinsters, disinherited widows, rape victims, sexually abused male inmates, and politically motivated victims. The poet is driven to note these voices lest they vanish unknown and unheard from history. He goes on to highlight the importance of using one’s voice, of speaking out either as an ‘Eyewitness’, or ‘In Defense of oneself’ lest the natural and lawful rights of liberty one has is taken away for lack of use; because it is in the expression of these liberty that freedom like muscle is expanded to accommodate more truth and build tolerance.
In Homeland, the author speaks of yearnings for his country after a long time away in chase of fortune and fame, only to realize through messages from home, hometown grew worse – as there is no one to tell the leaders who live far from reality that the chasm between the ruling and the ruled had stretched wider since their rule, and the wise that ‘In the Spirit of Election’, they have grown obsequious, fawning to touts who lack knowledge of the nation’s law and history. And so, in what appears like a convenient patriotism, the diasporas declare not to leave the land to feckless politicians and herdsmen to hold the people down.
In a more lighthearted yet serious tone, the author speaks of Love and the varied nature of loving in ‘Because My Heart Yearned’, ‘My Love,’ ‘Suitors’ and ‘Before The Vows’; and Tributes to beloved friends, teacher and mentor whom he speaks up for and aims to pen their voices lest there are lost in history.
Favourable mentions in this collection include ‘Barren No More’, ‘Suitors’, ‘The Old Spinster’, ‘Procrastination’, ‘The Land of the Free’ and ‘At The Intersection’. Female readers can easily relate to the first three that chronicles the plights and woes of women at different stages of life; as they battle fears of spinsterhood, infertility or childlessness often through no faults of their women but which society finds way to make it their fault. ‘At The Intersection’ exposes the denigration of women in our society as the weaker sex but with the twist, that reveals the power a woman wields within and outside of herself. Readers get acquainted with the crushing consequences of not getting to things or missing opportunities when they come knocking in ‘Procrastination’, while ‘The Land of the Free’ is a great imagery of the idiom the grass always seem greener on the other side, and the age old saying one never appreciates what one had until it is gone.
Ajayi’s prowess lies in his ability to pen original lines by eschewing cliched words for descriptive phrases, sharper synonyms, imageries. Though largely written in free verses, which results in enjambment, he often breaks the monotony of words and pace of wording with a 4, 3, 4, 3, 5, 4 stanzoes (not necessarily in that order). He switches up gender from his retrospective musing, and rhetoric to suit the subject in discussion as in ‘At The Intersection’ dedicated to Ruqquayah F. Mohammed. His grasp and presentation of the complexities of female issues addressed is commendable; and initially the rhetoric questions are annoying, however, as the questions lead to more questions, and the reader finds himself adding to those questions, it becomes clear it is a joint quest for answers, or better yet, an avenue to help distill all questions we require responses to.
A drawback to the collection, is that while there are questions, many of them are more musings and narrations. As a result, it holds a diverse range of themes, from political to women issues, love, death, patriotism etc. that makes it difficult to give focus to one. So far, the political theme grapples for attention with themes on female issues and love, the latter which could have made for a different publication(s), and such avoid a six-year hiatus post a new one.
Nevertheless, Ajayi’s poetry makes for an interesting read. perhaps not one to consume in a hurry but one to sit on, chew one, absorb for its message and clever rendering to be honestly appreciated.