Aunty Uncle Poems, Gboyega Odubanjo
Smith/Doorstop Books, 2021 £5.00
The immediate and extended family members in Aunty Uncle Poems are omnipresent, always within touching distance, and there’s much relief and happiness involved in this.
However, there’s also always a sense of threat, of the unspoken that lurks within this book and its connections. In ‘Fam’ we meet what appears to be a literal cast list of family members, including ‘AUNTY 1 — gold tooth. kept the fanta fruit twists in her wardrobe. / may she rest in peace.’ While this poem largely maintains a healthy level of respect for the female members of the family, it’s the menfolk, particularly the older men, who are often painted in a darker light, for example:
GRANDAD — when your dad jokes at the barbecue that you will drink
anything he tempers it with the hope you don’t become this
man. you are yet to find a picture of him in the cabinet in the
A series of subtle insinuations and pressures is woven through the collection, for example the weight and pressure of expectation in ‘World Parent’, with its final stanza:
seeing their son’s work, his parents think, This?
wonder if they bound him too much
in freedom and comfort.
they think their son’s hands spoiled;
soft and pencil-friendly.
they think, instead of lawyer, doctor,
tell their friends of him,
call him architect, do not say of what.
But for me the biggest sense of threat and insinuation is to be found in the frightening found poem, ‘Home’, where the text is taken from the part of Animal Farm where Boxer is taken away.
middle of the day when the van came under the supervision of a pig
braying quick they’re taking him
The poem takes an even more disturbing turn at the end:
the sound drumming of hoofs inside the van
the sound drumming grew fainter died away
Aunty Uncle Poems is very much a collection of the present, but Luke Kennard notes on the back jacket that he expects a ‘major full collection from Odubanjo in the near future’ and I very much hope that’s true. I left the book different from when I went in, and I can ask for no more.
Mat Riches, 368 words