POWER OF POETRY #45: BOLA OPALEKE

To frame this in an analogy, Poetry, I think, is the religion where the worshipper & the worshipped are each other’s salvation. I say this because while I was younger & drawn to poetry (by that I mean Nursery Rhymes), I looked at it the same way a 10th grader would look at Chemistry or Mathematics or History. All that changed as I grew older & developed more intimacy with reading & writing poems. There are certainly the complications of wanting to get published or recognized or awarded, yes, however, when critically viewed, Poetry, to most people, who have professed love for it, is the solemn divine way of getting the mind out of the body & carving a new body for it in words or language or gesture (gesticulations) outside of the norm. Because inside the traditional body, the human mind is mostly caged. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean that in a prison kind of way. But in an exploitative, parasitic or restrictive kind of circle where the instructions from the upper office are mostly controlled by what & what the body is going through at every instance, thereby rendering the mind impeded or, at best, cowed. This can be explained by how, outside of poetry, a set of words or language is traditionally set or prescribed to give meanings to feelings or action/inaction. Poetry is, kind of, reverse to that. & I think this is one of the reasons a few people find poetry difficult or elitist. See this:

Every room in our body / has a window

Through which our pain escapes / its punishment

If you break this down in terms of room, window & escape, you’ll have a different conclusion than if you did in terms of body, pain & punishment. I chose this example because it captures the two worlds described earlier. Literally, the words are simple & straightforward. Where language conditioned our interpretation of words & meanings, this is just a sentence describing how, as humans, we have no control over pain. Right? Well, in poetic parlance, maybe not. Actually, this is the opposite of what was expressed. The writer here attempts to form a creature who makes & unmakes pain. It is how a worshipper becomes the worshipped. It is how both can have their salvations split in two in a single process. I think it was Jericho Brown that said: “Poetry has its own language”. Nothing can be truer in my opinion.

A poet uses the traditional language to talk about untraditional things or, in some instances, vice versa. His uncaged mind briefly dwells in the often inexplicable freedom of the prophetic where the realm is temporarily surreal & unbodied. I draw a parallel between poetry & religion because its many features are sometimes so hard to convey yet so simple to recognize. In one of my poems, I wrote:

Nature is a poet / she wrote

All poems / in traditional form

So we can rewrite them / in free verse

This is another way of saying there is nothing new under the sun. Poets, however, find a new way to say old things as if they were new & that, in my humble opinion, lies the power of that religion call poetry.

In essence, poetry to me, is a conversation with the self, first, then with others; every participant is listening so quietly, yet speaking so loudly. It is a way of liberating the mind & by so doing liberating everything else around it. Like the king in the Bible healed by the power of music, poetry is how the hurting world heals. The power is potent, extraordinary & forceful yet simplistic & plain.


Bola is a Nigerian-Canadian poet.  He holds a degree in City Planning from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. In 2011 he moved to Canada and become a Canadian citizen in 2016. His first poetry collection was published in 2012. This comprised mainly poems written in his teenage years. He was a runner-up in the 2013 Thomas Morton Memorial Poetry Prize and also made the shortlist for the same contest in 2017. His poem “Ila Sisi, Ila Sisi” was also shortlisted in the 2017 Open Frontier Poetry Prize. In 2018, his poem “The Autobiography of Water” was runner-up in the CBC poetry contest.
Bola’s work has been nominated for a few poetry prizes including the prestigious Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net and Bettering American Poetry. Bola is also a recipient of Manitoba Arts Council Writer’s grant.
His poems have appeared or forthcoming in a few Journals like Frontier Poetry, Rising Phoenix Review, Writers Resist, Rattle, Cleaver, One, The Nottingham Review, The Puritan, The Literary Review of Canada, Sierra Nevada Review, Dissident Voice, Poetry Quarterly, The Indianapolis Review, Canadian Literature, Empty Mirror, Poetry Pacific, Drunk Monkeys, Temz Review, St. Peters College(University of Saskatchewan) Anthology (Society 2013 Vol. 10), Pastiche Magazine, and others.
For booking, please contact: bolaopaleke@gmail.com
Contact: bolaopaleke@gmail.com
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