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In Search of Ferried Nomads: A Review of Romeo Oriogun’s “Nomad”

By Darlington Chibueze Anuonye

Friday, September 16, 2022.

Romeo Oriogun left Nigeria for Ghana, and later moved to the US in 2018, when it was almost impossible to breathe as a young, queer poet living in a heteronormative society. The winner of the 2017 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, Oriogun is the author of three chapbooks, Burnt Men (2016), The Origin of Butterflies (2018) and The Museum of Silence (2019). His debut collection of poems, A Sacrament of Bodies, was published in 2020 by the University of Nebraska Press. In all of these works, Oriogun renders the queer body as a site of historical massacre and unjustifiable violence, meted out by a society incapable of empathy and averse to sexual diversities. His poetry also engages with the consequences of silence, the silence of the victims and spectators of injustice, in a language that is brittle and a manner that is daring. In Nomad, Oriogun continues his tryst with language and truth, expanding his vision to reflect his experience of life, with a maturity of mind that comes from living that life fully. Reflecting on Oriogun’s life, it is nearly impossible to overlook the autobiographical template of this recent collection. 

Published in 2021 by Griots Lounge Publishing Nigeria, Nomad is a collection of sixty-seven poems that, when read together, emerge as a sustained meditation on movements and memories. This motif of exilic poetics is identified by the writer and linguist, Kola Tubosun, in his praise for the collection. Tobosun writes that in Nomad, “Oriogun combines the exploratory intensity of travel poetry with the confessional fidelity of a memoir to paint the journey of a curious child sculpting his truth into questioning words across strange and known terrains.” This is a brilliant observation. Reading Nomad is like listening to a child who, having wandered far away from their home, searches for that lost home in a world in which they are both a stranger and an heir. 

The opening poem of Nomad, “The Beginning,” carries, with such delicate tenacity, the burden of detailing the dislocation of private histories and the privacy of dislocated selves. It opens the seal of traumatic silences and invites readers to come forth and sing about their own lives. Reading these lines, I shuddered at the weight of the exilic consciousness that they provoke: “Our father who art in heaven, what we are leaving behind, will never wait for us.” This exilic consciousness has also been highlighted by the jury of the Nigerian Prize for Literature, who recently shortlisted Nomad for its 2022 award. In the words of the jury, “the collection has a fresh language and a nostalgic engagement with the themes of exile and displacement.”

The poem persona in “A Village Life” is already aware that there is a life outside their quiet rural hometown. The poem begins with a reference to “butterflies.” It is possible to imagine that the persona is one of those butterflies, a nomad who seeks a home in the vastness of the world. This is why they cross “magnificent hills” by “beating their wings,” in an attempt to find a “home in the hands of wild Bougainvilleas.” How revealing! Since Bougainvillea trees are native to eastern South American countries, readers may appreciate the breadth of the persona’s wild imagination. But this is not just a matter of psychological imagining; it is also the beginning of a nomadic life, for as the persona remarks, “Before me was ‘noon’, in its busy voice,” beckoning “the woman/ braiding the hair of a little girl,” while “opening cities/ in her head,” and “offering her a glimpse/ of the future.” Their confessional conclusion expresses the weight of that beckoning world outside their immediate location: “I watched her, trying to see/cities I might call home someday.”   

The gestations of exilic thoughts that feature in poems like “The World Demands from Us Our Existence,” in which the persona laments the disappearance of the things and the people that animate the life of his native land, and “The Beginning,” which conveys the melancholy of the persona, who is at the brink of departing from their cherished home, find full expression in poems like “Crossing into Togo,” in which the persona holds the hardship of life and the tyranny of the political class responsible for the surge of migration ongoing in their homeland, and “Voices,” which bears witness to the ordinariness of life and the extraordinariness of an exilic life. But by the time readers get to the title poem, “Nomad,” they find that the exile, who, for a long time accepted their migrant condition, forged new alliances, built new homes and created new memories, have collapsed under the weight of their foreign fixities and now desire a relocation to their homeland, “at the crossroads of life.”    

Beyond the linguistic and literary enchantments of Nomad, Oriogun’s taste for beauty manifests strongly in the cover design of the collection. Look at that captivating photo by the talented Senegalese photographer, Aldi Diasse, and then ask yourself: “what kind of poet goes to the water, in the company of a photographer, in search of ferried nomads?”     

Image: Griot Lounge Canada

DARLINGTON CHIBUEZE ANUONYE is a literary conversationist and writer. He is editor of The Good Teacher, an anthology of essays that documents the lives and achievements of teachers from the perspectives of their students, curator of Selfies and Signatures: An Afro Anthology of Short Stories, co-editor of Daybreak: An Anthology of Nigerian Short Fiction and editor of the international anthology of writings, Through the Eye of a Needle: Art in the Time of Coronavirus. Anuonye was longlisted for the 2018 Babishai Niwe African Poetry Award and shortlisted in 2016 by the Ibadan Poetry Foundation for its inaugural residency. His writings have appeared in Brittle Paper, Black Boy Review, Eunoia Review, The Shallow Tales Review, Praxis Magazine and elsewhere. He is a review correspondent for Praxis Magazine. 

In Search of Ferried Nomads: A Review of Romeo Oriogun’s “Nomad”

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