By ‘Yinka Elujoba |


In Chapter III of “First Breath” in The Sahara Testaments, Tade Ipadeola begins like this:

Marrakesh is a hummingbird standing still in the sun
A thesis in motion, stilling tongues and dialects

Places are in essence, a collusion of appearances, and appearances are the fuel of metaphors. One of the many curses of the poet is his inability to separate himself from the penetrations of appearances.  A poet’s embrace of a place is deeper than a passing glance—it is a traversal of the third eye of the soul, a peeling of the shell to reveal the internal graphology of a landscape. For example in “Lisbon”, Tranströmer fails to find a dividing line between trance and reality in his visit to Alfama:

Laundry hung in blue air. The walls were hot.
The flies read microscopic letters.
Six years later I asked a woman from Lisbon:
‘Is it true, or have I dreamt it?’ 

In critiquing the poetry of places it is easy to focus on a poet’s description of a place. However the real inquisition ensues when we begin to acknowledge how a place describes a poet. To leave this out is to allow an escape of elements—elements that are the culprits of inspiration. There are questions to be answered, like, how much penetration does the mood of the landscape have on the poet? If it had been a rainy night, would the lines have differed? What is the origin of the immersion in the opening lines of Christopher Okigbo’s “The Passage”?

Before you mother Idoto,
naked I stand;
before your watery presence,
a prodigal

To read J. P. Clark’s “Ibadan”, for instance, is to read a convolution of what is a city. An inquisition into the poetry of a place is incomplete without a spreading out of layers of its geography. We must also interrogate the mood of the atmosphere in which the poem was written.

Perhaps we will eventually dedicate more debates to the effect of psychogeography on poetry. For now it will suffice to understand that when Tade Ipadeola says “Marrakesh is a hummingbird”, it is not mere poetry but an ethereal translation of essence because for the poet these words are born out of a communion with the cartography of the place.


Yinka Elujoba is a Nigerian writer. His works have been published in the Klorofyl MagAerodromme and forthcoming in the new issue of Saraba Magazine. He lives in Lagos and sometimes in Ile-Ife.