When Oyin’s debut collection, Heartbeat was released in 2015, it was riddled with a kind of uncertainty; one usually found in precocious writers trying to find their voice amidst the conflicting paroxysm of influences. However, with To Bee a Honey, we encounter a poet who does not only revel in the new-found confidence of her scribbling but also in the lush glow of her womanhood.
What immediately strikes one upon perusing this work is its aesthetic beauty. This is not limited to the arresting visual images drawn up on the pages but also the arrangement of the lines; with carefully-planned alignments birthing creatively-shaped poems, Oyin gives us a collection that is a true remarkable sight. Making use of the modern advantages which the new-age document-formatting applications have brought, she stylizes the poems in ways that add to the overall allure of this compendium, heightening its experiential quality simultaneously. A perfect example is a poem in this collection titled the pression, which relies more on the manner of presentation of the words to relay the message, than the actual self-contained meanings of the words themselves.
Every single poem is a brilliance of sorts. BITS, a section of this collection opens with these lines:
When will you stop pun.Ct;ua,ti?Ng the way you love me?
Oyin pays attention to detail like never before, taking her time to make sure the poems themselves are drawings along the lines of the reader’s consciousness.
Despite being rather unusually tame in her assertiveness in the earlier parts of the collection, she descends into a braver and less conscionable voice as the work progresses, tackling abortion laws, sexual objectification of women, the media’s attempted control of black women’s likability, justification of rape, and negro pride.
For many reasons, Oyin’s work is different from her previous. Apart from artistic growth, which is obvious, she has also had a change of perspective, owing to migration. As a Nigerian teenager, fresh out of high school at the time of her first effort, her reality during the publication of To Bee a Honey has changed: she has become black. And being black and woman in America means carrying a lot of baggage, to be apologetic for merely existing. The constituents of this reality have caused an explosion of feminist awakening in Oyin’s heart and we, her readers are the lucky spectators who get to watch her bedazzle us with this scintillating work of art. Throughout the work, we see influences of other powerful women of color such as Warsan Shire, Rupi Kaur, and Maya Angelou, albeit not with the author’s intention.
So, come into the world of Oyin Shoola and get lost in its arresting diction and captivating visuals. At the risk of being accused of over-proclamation, I dare say, welcome to the future of twenty-first century African poetry.
- Kanyinsola Olorunnisola
Founder of Sprinng Literary Movement
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