While I Yet Live, Gboyega Odubanjo

Bad Betty Press, 2019    £6.00

Packing a huge punch

Gboyega Odubanjo is a British-Nigerian performance poet. His ability to create musicality and exhilarating playfulness shines in his poems. His story telling is honest, fresh, and for me, a revelation. He examines identity in haunting terms through the ever-present thought of imminent danger, as expressed in the epigraph ‘I have death in my pouch’.

The poem ‘OBIT’ is a devastating tour de force. The narrator predicts his own death, identifying with all young black men stabbed to death on London streets. The repeats of ‘a young man’/ ‘today a young man’ confront the politics of the act:

i will have been stabbed
and my killer will look just like me so
no-one will look for him

when I hand myself in on-one will believe it because
i will look just like me.

The poem ‘I’ refers to the infamous Enoch Powell ‘rivers of blood’ speech. Odubanjo succeeds in creating a rhythmic found poem.

In ‘If I could travel to any place and any time I would’ the sense of confinement and frustration continues. The narrator tells us he’d go to bed ‘with all the strangers who got my name right’. He refers to ‘empire’ ‘riots’ and ‘the man on the news saying free mandela’.

‘Swimming’ begins hopefully. An ‘I’ and a ‘you’ travel together. Then the ideas of water and drowning take over. The optimism falters:

you stand
pointing new world i stroke
listen to you promising
ocean good blue.

And, later:

and there’s water
i stroke and there’s water
we’re drowning and i
as a boy could not swim

This pamphlet is a searing, unforgettable commentary on staying alive. Black Lives Matter.

Maggie Mackay