Contributing Editor Nureni Ibrahim

Poetry as an Apostle for Simplicity:
A Review of Tolu Akinyemi’s
I Laugh at these Skinny Girls

“When you lose simplicity, you lose art” – Joseph Campbell’s The Campbell Companion





Book Title: I Laugh at these Skinny Girls
Author: Tolu Akinyemi
Category: Poetry
Publisher: Heart of Words Publishing
Date of Publication: 2015
Number of Pages: 126
ISBN: 97889785359701





Tolu’ Akinyemi is a Nigerian poet who uses literature as an interactive session between the artist and the reader to discuss the multi-faceted aches of the country. He authored Your Father Walks like a Crab (2013), I Laugh at these Skinny Girls (2015), both written for a special audience – people who hate poetry. His works have a characteristic simplicity and humorous undertone and trail behind Osundare’s advocacy for simplicity, “poetry is man/meaning to man.” Akinyemi frames his work using uncomplicated styles, thereby making poetry enjoyable for readers.

In I Laugh at these Skinny Girls, Akinyemi hosts the reader – particularly, one who is conversant – with some of Nigeria’s social issues. The 126-page collection explores a range of themes, including stereotypes surrounding the female gender and the saga of the Chibok girls’ abduction. Each poem in the volume is rendered in simplistic tone, without watering down the seriousness of its theme.
The first poem in the collection titled “276 Girls” revisits the 2014 abduction of school girls in Chibok, a small community in Borno-Nigeria; it lays bare, the nonchalance of the Nigerian government, then headed President Jonathan, in the wake of the abduction by Boko Haram militants: “A fowl is missing from the next village/That night they heard a shriek/A snap, retreating feet and silence/Jona says “who cares?/ It is not my fowl.” The poem further challenges the insecurity that has continued to plague the country, thus; “the men were in no hurry/they waited for dinner/stole the girls and the cutlery”.

“Bring Back Our Girls” creates imagery of the homes of the abducted girls, as their properties lie in desolation: “In the homes of/Two hundred and seventy-six/Helpless family heads/Two hundred and seventy-six/Girls gather cobwebs/No one slept in them yesterday/And today/And forever.”

“The Bus to Abuja” presents the day-to-day scenes of commuting in a public transportation; it details the manner with which hawkers sell roasted corn and chippy fries: “The hawkers came, the hawkers left/But not before they sold their wares/Of roasted corn and chippy fries/And nuts and buns and scrambled eggs.” The poem paints a hilarious, yet relatable picture for the reader by capturing the experience of one unnamed lady, whose sitting posture betrays that of one who is about to fart; a situation that mortifies her when co-passenger, Debola gently touches her shoulder warns her:

The lady in the purple hat
Began to shift from left to right
And slowly made to raise a thigh.
So from behind, ‘Debola had
To gently tap her shoulder pad
And calmly say “Please don’t do that”
“Don’t do what” The lady asked
‘Debola made a pleading sigh
And said “please!
Don’t ease out that fart!”

Another poem, “Saturday” reveals one of the many perceptions of society regarding marriage. In a comical dialogue, the poet lets the reader in on the conversation between mother and her daughter, about Yewande who is about to be wed on Saturday. The mother challenges her daughter’s inability to ‘bring a man home’:

“Do you know Yewande
Will get married on Saturday?”
‘Reveals’ your Mother
About the same wedding
For which you chose the venue.
“Aren’t you two years
Older than her?
Or is it three
Yewande tell me?”

The writer ends the poem with the daughter who is showing optimism that she will eventually marry: “Till there is a sudden silence/And a calm voice saying/ ‘Daughter relax, let your hair down/The world will never run out of Saturdays.’”

The short but idyllic poem “Even Time” is a quintet about the philosophy of love. It gives a pressing reason why love should not be forced: “No one rushes loves/Till she is ripe/Not even Time –/She arrives/When she likes.”

In summary, Akinyemi has masterfully crafted verses, void of the usual complexities of poetry, while effectively commenting on relevant social and political issues of contemporary Nigeria. One can say that, judging from this particular work of art, Tolu’ Akinyemi is a social realist writer who not only used, I Laugh at the Skinny Girls to give voice to otherwise, disregarded issues, but also as a way of encouraging non-poetry readers to appreciate the genre. The collection is an entertaining, thought-provoking and educational read that is highly recommended for recreational reading, as well to persons willing to learn the art of poetry writing.


About the reviewer:
Nureni Ibrahim is a researcher and critic of contemporary writing who lives and writes in Nigeria. He studied English and Literature at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria. He is among the 2017 scholars of the Nigeria Higher Education Foundation, New York. Ibrahim has presented papers in local and international conferences. He once supported Wawa Book Review Africa (as a fellow and young critic) where he wrote review of books published by writers on the African continent. Ibrahim is a spoken word artist and has performed poetry at Ahmadu Bello University Day of Literature, Footprints of David Arts Festival and a league of others. His works are featured in Decent E-News, Queensland, Australia; The Mamba Journal of the Africa Haiku Network, Kumasi, Ghana; Shamrock Haiku Journal, Dublin, Ireland; Best ‘New’ African Poets 2016 Anthology, Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon, to mention but a few. He currently works closely with the associate editor at the Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, United States.