Clinical Blues by Dami Ajayi

Clinical Blues image

Genre Poetry

Blurb Shortlisted for the 2012 Melita Hume Prize (UK) and the 2015 ANA Poetry Prize, Clinical Blues, Dami’s Ajayi debut collection has already been tagged a classic book of poems. Published by the now-rested WriteHouse Collective, this poetic meditation on coming of age, science and humanity is a rewarding read.

Themes Love, Death, Suffering and Music.

Editing Inconsistent capitalisation of titles. Grammatical error noticed may be as a result of poetic licence.

Review Reading poetry for academic grades is one thing, reading it for leisure is another. For this review, we have presented our findings as people who love reading for pleasure and enjoy reading the occasional poem. We’d say our experience of poetry is elementary.

The poetry collection is divided into three parts; Love Poems, Hospital Poems and Barroom Reflections.

Love Poems: This part has seventeen poems on the subject matter of love and relationships. The author writes about love, lust, sex, the housewife, the woman’s anatomy. But the poems aren’t about the lovely and mushy part of love. Most of the poems are about the darker side of love and failed relationships.

Lady B My favourite poems in this part are Konji Blues and Measuring Resistance. The author uses a lot of metaphors and similes which brings the poems alive. I liked the vivid imagery created in the first poem, Promenade:

Aren’t love songs boulders

Sitting stiff in the rivers of

Thought? ready to irrigate

The Soul with promise of


Similarly, I liked these lines in Love Songs as it conveyed the message in the poem graphically: “I relive your landscape, \ Anthills of Igbara-oke; fresh air \ Crisp like mint currency.”

Mo I particularly love the Domesticated Couplets, The Anti-Valentine Poem and Memories Revisited because they were simple enough to grasp and I understand the subject of the poems.

Hospital Poems: This part has eleven poems about day-to-day life in a hospital. We’ve read poems about death and illness but none talking about these from the perspective of a medical practitioner. Overall, it read like an autobiography of the author–a collection of autobiographical short stories. The poems, Portrait of a Poet and The Life of I are out of place here.

Hurford Titi, 2010, a short poem about a child left behind in hospital by her mother evoked strong feelings of empathy. The Life of I about writers is short, punchy and tragic, with striking lines like:

So many dismissed thoughts of an author

Misfired missives that blot virgin A4s.

Revised versions of the Life of Pi

Are squashed balls, curdles of a waste bin.

Standout lines in this part are from The Romasinder Skits: “I have been clean six days \ Haven’t been human for five.”

In Graffitti Too, these lines created a clear image of a highway in Abuja: “But sirens are road disinfectants \ For government Land Cruisers.”

The poem subtly criticised government’s failure to provide basic amenities. The standout poem in this part is, Requiem for an Asphyxiated Neonate, a tragic poem: “They will take your death as a wave of fate’s wand \ Comfort themselves on a creaking bed \ Fondling sour breasts.”

Barroom Reflections: This part has thirteen poems about various subject matters including music, politics, the growth of technology and Nigeria.

Mo In my favourite one- Libretto for Fela– The author used Fela’s music to create beautiful verses. He used poetry to explain the songs, writing in his own words what he thinks the songs say. Each one depicting the imagery of the titled song.

Lady B I connected with Bouazizi’s Ashes about Mohammed Bouazizi who set himself on fire and became the catalyst for the Tunisian revolution. It ends with these lines: “But only one brave man / Roasted himself first, catalyst / For change.”

I also liked Golgotha, a poem about Nigeria: “In so far as it lies / Within the confines of / Flora’s christening.”

The author makes many references to Highlife music in the poems. In the first poem, Promenade, he writes: “I listen to Highlife. / Love songs, Olaiya’s.”

In Nashville Postcards: “And straightening, I’m dancing Bata / To the Highlife of this Higher life.”

In Measuring Resistance: “Where Highlife music floats on ghoulish oars.”

In A Libretto for Fela: “Highlife is eating smoke.”

We had mixed feelings about this poetry collection. It had some good poems and some poems which didn’t work for us but which had some good lines. However, the overall feeling was that the writing was heavy handed with unusual words and references to obscure things such as: “In a Beckett play” in Promenade and “And you bear no orchids, Miss Blandish” in Nashville Postcards. These references were looked up, thank goodness for google! It was in equal parts, interesting and frustrating to constantly look up many such references in the poems, it made one feel as though the poems were for a specific audience.

Clinical Blues is the author’s debut collection of poems. He has a new poetry book out, we look forward to reviewing that in due course as it would be interesting to see how his writing has developed over time. We’ve read prose by this author and we think his writing in prose is more confident than his poetry. You can read a sample of his prose here: This is Lagos Captured in Songs.

Number of pages 184

Publisher WriteHouse Collective

Damage N500 on Okadabooks

Rating 6/10

You can buy a copy of Clinical Blues on Okadabooks.

We would love to hear from you in the comments section, so please, let us know what you think.

Categories: Poetry

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