‘Gbenga Adeoba was born and raised in Akure, Nigeria. In an interview, he said,
“About a decade before I was born, a traveling neighbor left his stacks of books with my father but never came back to retrieve them. The neighbor’s books, my father’s, and old newspapers and magazines occupied quite a chunk of my childhood. I found Niyi Osundare’s writings, a book of nineteenth-century narrative poems, and The Complete Works of Shakespeare in that lot. There was also the late Akínwùmí Ìsọ̀lá’s Ó le kú, which has some of the best love poems I have read.”
Too bad someone didn’t leave us a stack of African poems to read when we were young. We would be a lot less ignorant of the larger world of poetry.
Adeoba writes about difficult subjects, chiefly migration, with a restraint that feels less angry than elegiac. He puts us in the scene. This poem, like most of his poems, is simple, straightforward. There’s no time or need here for dressed-up language. What is here is the bare truth, yet lyrical.
We can feel the wash of the sea in “Seafarers.” The short, three-line stanzas pull us back and forth. The sea draws the migrants to it in the same way the language of this poem hums and keens. And what a beautiful image, the sea-birds as “a cloud of winged witnesses.”
It’s amazing that these graphic poems are not from Adeoba’s own experiences. He writes about the early slave trade and about present-day migrations. “Seafarers,” for example was written from a news report about a Nigerian boy comforting his sister after they were rescued from an overcrowded boat trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy.
Adeoba says that his poems are political in that they hope to “alter other people’s ideas of the kind of society they should strive after, and to “offer my way of seeing and thinking ... without being polemical.”
Adeoba’s poems have been shortlisted for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize. Since then, he has completed an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and received the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poetry. His first full-length poetry collection, Exodus, was published earlier this year, with a stunning cover photograph by Adeolu Osibodu, as part of the African Poetry Book Series.