The Secrets I Let Slip, Selina Nwulu

Burning Eye Books, 2015     £6.99

Exploring the sense of belonging

This is Nwulu’s debut pamphlet and is a masterful musing on identity, using a variety of form, prose, list and free verse. Of Nigerian descent, raised in Yorkshire, she writes with flair and energy to express the experience of an outsider. Her voice speaks of borders, the sense of self and where to place oneself in the world.

The introductory poem ‘Our Parents’ Children’ sets out the pamphlet’s theme, the search for a belonging while living on the border between two places which identify as home:

Their footsteps are woven into our birthmarks;
their struggles, the skin under our nails.
This is our inheritance,
passed down like guilty heirlooms
we carry this through to
the other side of reinvention.

‘Two Sides of a Coin’ examines the dichotomy of identifying with two contrasting cultures. The narrator observes a girl who looks like her, behaves like her but lives in Lagos, speaks Igbo in half songs, a confident joker with a sway in her hips. There’s no hint of Yorkshire undertones — though both sigh and drag their feet — but a strong sense that life is a gamble:

Sometimes I see those two versions of myself
like two sides of a coin: heads — here, tails — over there.

In the moving and expressive ‘Homecoming Pts I and II’ the narrator explores her emotions during a trip to Nigeria, a place throbbing with sound and colour. She discovers any prior sense of belonging now feels alien. Despite the language which ‘speaks in songs woven with echoes and blood ties’, she is ‘out of tune, its meanings ducking out of my hands’. In Pt II some sense of resolution is achieved. The Nigerian and Yorkshire elements find a connection:

Exiled into each other
we declare ourselves as found countries.

This lively collection offers a powerful insight into the dual worlds of Nigerian and English identities.

Maggie Mackay