Blurb A collection of poems that is also a memoir and a travelogue by a Nigerian linguist and poet about his stay in the U.S.
Themes Friendship, Family, Love, America and Adventure.
Editing Mostly well edited. A few typos.
Lengthy post alert!!!
Lady B The most important question on my mind as I started writing down my thoughts about Edwardsville by Heart was; would Mo issue a disclaimer or not? 🙂
I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous about reviewing this poetry collection because it is written by a linguist and I was anticipating a complicated or complex read. I smiled, I actually smiled when I read the first poem, Stepping Out because I understood the poem on the first reading (usually takes me at least two tries) and the imagery painted by the words were so powerful, I closed my eyes and imagined it. It also brought back memories of the geese I saw at Warwick University, years ago when I went to visit my sister, who was at the time, a graduate student there.
Mo Couldn’t find the words to describe what Kola did with this book, so I’ll simply say “impressive.”
I once told Lady B that people who are very good at telling a story in their native language- once they master the English language- make fantastic writers. Kọ́lá achieved something with this book, you are enthralled from the preface. The way he describes his encounter with Edwardsville and talks about Papa Rudy, you feel a connection of sorts, but you hold on to one truth (albeit a caveat) that not all experiences are perfect but they are valid and they don’t discount others’ experiences.
Edwardsville by Heart consists of 70 traditional and free verse poems divided into five parts; Visitor (9 poems), Wanderer (16 poems), Teacher, Student (10 poems), People, Patterns (16 poems) and Traveller (19 poems). It’s a memoir and a travelogue so you read about Kọ́lá’s experiences and also learn about Edwardsville, the place and the people.
Lady B This is my favourite section of this book. The poems were easy to understand and relatable. My favourite poems in this section are Stepping Out (of course) and Campus Deer which is humorous in a subtle way. Kọ́lá took a moment which should be annoying and turned it around into a teachable moment. I loved the fifth verse but wondered if it would be understood by a non-Nigerian audience.
I liked Peck Hall People for its simplicity and the end rhymes. And lastly, Meeting Rudy. All the poems about Rudy were poignant, I think because I knew that Rudy had passed away.
I can’t finish the review of this section without quoting a few lines from Three Degrees Centigrade, I burst out laughing at this one:
When the touch of a student’s hands
brought electric sparks to me
in December, I shrivelled at my coming fate.
Practice with a freezer back in Ìbàdàn,
trying out the state in which corpses rest,
provided no relief, then or now.
Mo Reading the poems in Visitor is following Kọ́lá’s experiences as a new student on campus. Stepping Out is filled with the hopes and trepidation of young man away from home in a foreign land. Peck Hall People where friendships are forged and fate is sealed and everyone is noticed. I also learned something new in First Malaria that Nigerians were not allowed to donate blood to Red Cross in Edwardsville. Who knew that?
Meeting Rudy is the most heartfelt poem, having learned about him in the preface gives the poem the punch that one needs to feel the message. Also, Becoming American is a personal favourite:
Sometimes, the country choked with a force
I could not recognise, a strangeness in the air,
a warmth that soothed and smothered
equally. Was that exceptionalism?
Lady B I liked the use of this metaphor “lyrics like honey dipped in redemption” in St Andrews Episcopal. I think I also liked the poem because it was as much about Kọ́lá going to church again as it was about Rudy. Home at Rudy’s opens with these lines “Not red-nosed, though, Papa Rudy / in the fullness of his mirth still / warmed up a room to a glow.” The poem is full of love and laughter and is just heart-warming.
The most memorable poem in this section is Tornado. A poem about Kọ́lá’s experience in a tornado yet he still finds time to insert some clever lines at the end; The road took my drink, a giant-sized / cup, and with it my trust in stoic attendants / who never warned that the road was hungry.
Mo Now we’ve overcome the newbie feeling, it’s time to explore Edwardsville with Kọ́lá. St. Andrew’s Episcopal has a recovering Pentecostal agnostic seeking church again. East St. Louis is my favourite poem here. Another time we got lost, “Máfòyà and I, at a wrong exit / from the highway, and found / ourselves where fear truly lived:”
I recognised the irony of Máfòyà’s name in this situation and chuckled. Máfòyà means “do not be afraid,” in Yoruba. International Institute touched a soft spot and the work done there is truly amazing.
Lady B This section is progressive starting with Kọ́lá’s first class as a student and finishing with graduation. In my favourite, Class Sessions, Kọ́lá describes his first encounter with new classmates in a self-deprecatory manner; “Colour walks into indifference, / an African masquerade / garbed in flowing fragrance.”
Mo Ever imagined the dynamics of culture and position? This section provides enough of it. Every single poem here provides an insight to Kola’s roles as a student and teacher. I read Phonology three times before I understood it, perhaps I was hungry. Graduation Day is familiar and relatable.
Lady B My favourite poems in this section are Driving with Ron and Cold Change. Cold Change reminds me of Telephone Conversation by Wole Soyinka. Perhaps, because of the conversation though recorded as more of a monologue in the poem.
Listen to my excerpt:
Audio Cold Change – Edwardsville by Heart
Mo Meet the people, the curiosity of strangers, the warmth of a welcome, an adoptive mother, a bus driver with no sentiments, lovers and girlfriends. Panty Bomber almost had Kola explaining that Nigerians are not suicide bombers, of course, this was before the scourge of Boko Haram. No Holy Land and Smokers in Glen Carbon are personal favourites in this section.
Lady B This was in my opinion, the most complicated section as the poems weren’t as easy to understand as the other sections.
Overall, I enjoyed this collection. It read like an honest recollection or record of a time in Kọ́lá’s life. The manner in which he used words and figures of speech showed his adeptness as a linguist and poet.
Mo This section for me held so much insight and depth, of each trip and the stories that unfold.
Stories weaved in these poems come together to paint a picture and evoke emotions like long prose. It’s either I have now acquired a taste for poetry or this has been by far a rather enjoyable read which allows me to digest the essence and piece together the stories behind each poem. It’s a plus that it doesn’t feel like a chore. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection of poems.
Edwardsville by Heart is Kọ́lá’s debut book.
What didn’t work?
Lady B No collection of poems can have equally strong poems all through and there were a few poems in this collection which I did not understand or couldn’t connect with but that may just be because I am not an avid poetry reader.
Page numbers 95.
Publisher Wisdom’s Bottom Press.
Damage N5,000 at Ouida Books.
Many thanks to Kọ́lá for sending us a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.