Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Black cover with white arrow shape, lettering black out of that white or white out of cover's blackAt the Speed of Dark, Gabriel Akamo

Bad Betty Press, 2020    £6.00

Light, after dark days

Where were you when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 presidential election? I was reading Gabriel Akamo’s debut pamphlet, At the Speed of Dark. Reading these particular poems at this particular time seemed significant.

Gabriel Akamo is Nigerian-British and in his twenties. In fifteen poems, using a range of forms, he asks questions about his identity and heritage, his family and friendships, his relationship to God, and his relationship to his own body.

Mid-way through the pamphlet is a poem, the long title of which could be a subtitle for the whole collection: ‘on trying to write about blackness and being black as a black male author who doesn’t know what blackness is but feels it needs to be fire and relatable and relevant and personal’.

The poem draws us into a turmoil of 3am thoughts, a struggle:

to speak of something you are but never felt was yours
from day one
when trying to draw yourself
the black crayon never felt right
you’d reach for the brown one every time

The question, Who am I? is variously raised, as is Akamo’s religious faith. In ‘everything to eyelid’, he writes:

According to Omar, I’m always in
conversation with God
[…]
I’m learning to forgive myself, to
stop seeing this body as a mass of
unguided flesh.

In a beautifully tender poem, ‘Wu Tang Name: Lion Midnight’ (after Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘The Shampoo’) he writes:

Lion Midnight washes his hair
with eucalyptus and peppermint
[…]
He reflects
on all the things he has to do tomorrow,
messages he’s aired, the last time he was this soft,
the last pair of arms that properly carried his hair
and head
like this.

(If you’d like to know what a Wu Tang name is, google ‘Wu Tang Name Generator’ — here’s one link — to discover yours. I’ll keep mine to myself, if that’s OK!)

There’s a poem about winter taking and giving light; there’s a poem celebrating gospel music; there are links to Terrance Hayes… There’s so much more I could say about this (dare I say it?) cool pamphlet. It made me feel happy and hopeful.

Annie Fisher