Author: Sarah Aluko
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Year of Publication: February 3, 2017
Number of Pages: 148
Reviewer: Oyindamola Shoola
Recently, I was speaking with a new author who was in haste to publish his first book and also set unrealistic standards towards writing and publishing his second book. I told him what many new writers and soon-to-be authors do not understand which is that, the first book they publish could be the opening or closing opportunity for the other publications that will come afterward. I continued by saying that as writers, we bear the responsibility of ensuring that our first book is written and published well because it may define our readers’ interest in what comes next from us. However, if you make a mistake or poor decisions in writing and publishing the first book, the second book could be a better come back when you learn and make corrections from the first experience.
While having this conversation, I was brought back in my thoughts to the prologue of Firstborn by Sarah Aluko who cautiously penned her first book to perfection. Sarah has written with the same passion and admiration that a mother uses to look at the body of her first child upon birth.
Sarah Aluko opens Firstborn with a section titled Dusk that talks about romantic love. Her unique use of words accompanied with imageries reminds me of Rupi Kaur and Pyrokardia who have done the same in their works. In Dusk, Sarah discusses the complication of romantic relationships and the power of words in making one submit to their partner’s will.
One of my favorite poems in Dusk is on page 14, where Sarah writes,
I love him like a best friend
Yet he kisses me like a husband
And I respond to him as his wife
He embraces me like a father
And I accept it as a loving daughter
He defends me as if he were my brother
And I support him like a sister
For no soul could ever understand.
Our simple but complicated,
Forever-loving, forever-changing, forever-growing
For mere mortals could never comprehend it.
This poem infers to me that to love or be loved could mean being one for a person while simultaneously being all for them, unlimitedly.
In another poem titled You- part (iii) Sarah writes;
Love is you.
A constant reminder that
God has not forgotten me…
Sarah’s words have a way of softening one’s heart by clarifying the possibilities of what love can or cannot be. Like she writes on page 21, her poetry appeals to the deepest parts where we aren’t very conscious of, in our existence and relationships with other people.
In the second part of Firstborn titled Twilight, which is longer than Dusk, I sense a symbolism of growth through the pain and new understanding expressed in Sarah’s words. This part of the book is more emotionally choking as Sarah writes about men from a different perception. In one of the first poems in the section Twilight, Sarah writes,
Mother says some men are bandits
Coming to take what they have not earned
She says bandits make temples out of bodies
Worshiping all night long, on their knees
Singing sweet songs of devotion
That is always forgotten by morning
Continuing this poem, the temple transforms into a body where the bandits now live in and make her a stranger in her own house. The character teaches from her brokenness and is unashamedly vulnerable to be seen in the process.
In the middle of Twilight, we fall into a subsection titled Therapy Sessions. This part of the book is one of my favorite because it gives a raw presentation of how simple things can wake up clothed in any color they want, when an individual is struggling emotionally. Sarah Aluko answers the question How are you? in different ways, and there are some responses which makes one’s heart drop. Sometimes, she says I am fine, but another time Sarah writes,
My heart is on fire.
Everyone run out
Run for cover
Before the flames
There will be nothing left of you
In some poems, Sarah discusses anger and how it encourages one to make rational decisions or ask unnecessary questions. In a poem on page 74 of Firstborn, Sarah writes,
When he has left you
You will be tempted to answer stupid questions
Was I good enough?
Was I pretty enough?
Maybe if I said something sooner?
What if I just kept quiet?
Maybe if I pushed too hard?
Maybe I didn’t fight hard enough?
Trust me, do not do it
This poem reminds me of many conversations I have had with several women who have experienced one form of intense emotional pain inflicted by someone else. What is fascinating is how women tend to feed their perpetrator's lack of conscience while swallowing responsibilities, blame, and shame that do not belong to them.
In the last part of Firstborn titled Dawn, Sarah redirects her energy to focus on loving herself and reclaiming her worth. She writes poems that do not show perfection in the circumstances that she faces but builds courage and resilience in pulling through. In Maya Angelou's’ words, Dawn shows a writer that is not limited by survival but who thrives with passion, compassion, and style.
In her self-reclamation, we read poems like one titled I am on page 132 where Sarah unapologetically holds characteristics that others may find threatening to their poor self-esteem. Sarah writes,
I am backbone
Too much fight
Too much sweat
Too much blood
Too much love
Too many hours of labour
I am my mother’s words
Too much beauty
Too much passion
Too much fire
I am too much of what I have been through
Too much woman
Too much black
Too much black woman
So it is okay,
if I am too much for you to handle.
Firstborn by Sarah Aluko brought me through a process of self-reflection and allowed me to realize many things. First, that if one is loved well, one can never be loved too much. Second, with being whole comes the fear of brokenness and third, that one can never be too broken to be put back together. I also learned that vulnerability is powerful enough to break the façade of strength that other people’s expectations forces us to wear.
Sarah Aluko is a Nigerian-British Author and Poet. Sarah Aluko’s poetry speaks of womanhood, femininity, love, loss and heartbreak. As a result of this, she has built a following of thousands of young people on social media who consume her poems ferociously and share them widely. In 2017, Sarah Aluko released her debut anthology, Firstborn on International Women’s Day, which was long-listed for the Out-Spoken Prize for Poetry in the same year. She was also commissioned to write a piece for the technology giants, Microsoft, to mark the launch of their new Surface Pro as well as a piece for Nasty Women, the global art movement that campaigns to end violence against women. Aluko has worked with England’s largest organization for performance poetry and spoken word – Apples and Snakes.
Since Firstborn, Sarah Aluko has been listed as part of Nasty Boy’s Creative Class of 2018- Nasty 40, which is a list complied of 40 creatives in (or from Africa) to celebrate the next generation of Africans shaping youth culture. The list has been featured in Okay Africa, Marie Claire, Dazed and Hunger Magazine. In addition to this Sarah Aluko was once again long-listed for the Out-Spoken Page Poetry Prize for 2018. Further, she was part of the Barbican’s Art Hack in tandem with the Basquiat Boom For Real exhibition. Too Young For What? which was organised by Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning as an explosion of creativity across 48 hours in the Barbican Centre.