Book Review: Mapping Bolu Afolabi’s Carthographer Of Memory


Author: Boluwatife Afolabi

Country of Publication: Nigeria

Publisher: Sankofa Initiative

Year of Publication: 2017

Language: English

Pages :     40

Mapping memory as Boluwatife Afolabi has done in Cartographer Of Memory   is never an easy task. As E.C Osondu, and Chris Abani have pointed out in their works, the human memory is a tricky space to navigate. There is the minefield of suppressed painful memories, which have been dulled by time but can still been keenly felt, like being stabbed with a dull knife. There is also the nostalgia blurred lines between the events that happened and how they were recorded in memory which may mislead the unwary traveler (memory is a journey after all) and is often a source of contention especially for different individuals who have to navigate a shared memory. Thus credit must be given to Afolabi who performs his self-appointed role as the cartographer of memory admirably. It is commendable that he is able to flow from his own individual memories to the society’s collective memory without missing a beat, and without losing sight of who he is or his role as the navigator/cartographer of memory.

The first striking impression the reader gets from Cartographer Of Memory is the depth of feeling in it. Gbenga Adesina, StarWorks Poetry fellow at New York University, in his notes on the collection, describes the feeling in the work as one of tenderness and love. However the perceptive reader soon realizes that the feeling that runs through the individual poems is not just of love, because bubbling underneath the “love”, “tenderness and forgiveness” is perhaps a seething but helpless and ultimately impotent fury, and also a dull throbbing pain and sadness. Of course mapping memory can never be a task devoid of feeling and it is more often than not feelings of wistful nostalgia for lost innocence. That and the dull twisting pain of the painful memories that time never truly heals. The poet admits as much in his own statement (p.10).

The next striking thing is the heavy Wasan Shire influence on the work. In fact the title of the collection instantly makes the perceptive reader think of Shire’s description of her own poetry: “I navigate a lot through memory, my memory and other people’s memories trying to essentially make sense of stuff.” But the similarities does not end there, the theme and style is similar to what Shire would write. So also the economy of expression, the phrases and sentences which though clipped and crisp, are replete with vivid images. Of course the tradition of introspection, extended metaphors, and interrogation of elevated themes is not a new concept in poetry, it goes back to the era of metaphysical poets like John Donne, George Herbert and Andrew Marvel. Thus one can speculate that The poem “Conversations” (p.22) is a nod to those who would draw the same conclusions that this reviewer has drawn on the heavy Wasan Shire/ Metaphysical Poetry influence, that love, pain, and the ability to access and to navigate memory, both individual and collective is not limited to an individual, a particular gender or to a particular language. Thus the poet can feel the same level of poem for the helpless martyrs of Buni Yadi, as he feels for the dying children and refugees of Aleppo, Syria.

Afolabi is not just the guide/mapmaker inviting the reader to be part of the journey into memory, he is also a torchbearer, shining the lights on certain truths and pointing out forgotten landmarks in the individual and societal consciousness. He is a human rights activist and a social justice warrior. However, his weapon is not a gun, or a sword, or a crier’s gong, it is a mirror, that everyone who is brave enough can look in and see their failings. Because the most powerful and lasting change is the one started from within.

With Cartographer of Memory, Afolabi has created a style of poetry not common to African poets of his generation. In a nation (I daresay continent) where history is seen as a divisive subject, and there is a calculated attempt by corrupt leaders to recreate society in their own image by wiping out its memory. In a nation where most poets like their poetry to be a sword or gun to strike at power with visible results, or drums to announce their arrival as important “talkers” to power. There is an aching need for poets like Afolabi, who will navigate the society’s collective memory and hold “histories” “truths” and “narratives” to the light, poets who will hold up mirrors into which society may look, poets who look to give rather than to take .


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