“Apocalypse is too Greek a word”
3 poems from the periphery by Nigerian poet Ojo Taiye
Soaring temperatures. Polluted waters. Abandoned villages. Dying forests. No birdsong. Moonscapes. And hope. Nigerian artist Ojo Taiye captures the destruction of the natural world in poetry
— Letters from the periphery
there is a fire at the edge of my heart—
in the still hour before a world is drawn
I write I read I write I breathe I god this body
I can’t write poems about beauty when the land
is so eerie, burned & blackened, deaden by flame
& ash. when I think of NSW, I think of moonscapes.
I think of the wallaby & her tiny joey who kept coming
to the backyard’s glut of dark pines, feeding, nuzzling
& watching over the valley. had they survived?
this world folds me in half— I stand alone amongst
these ruins. what does it take to pull an emergency break?
in college, we were told to prepare for the coming devastation.
apocalypse is too greek a word for the burning river to come.
its forty-seven degrees in December & the wool from my eyes
cake into landmines. I listened to the radio & watched blackened
leaves fall from the sky. its stunning how much life there has to be
before you can think of home as a map unfolding— the many years
of wonder stuffed with occasional handful of notes:
summer + drought + lightning + arson = fire season.
— Climate Damages
how horrible & possible it is here.
there is no poetry in drought—
here the earth will always be flame.
the trees nailed to the narrative
of a prolonged heatwave.
slow jet stream—hanging from the air
with the bluntest gum in its throat.
the fire season growing even wilder
on the forest floors down the coast.
do you see? dead storks and a flaming
debris raining down on the village.
it was reported that not even one firefighting
plane was sent. a howl at the pine cones
& the beehives that might at any point fall
on our heads. still under the red glow
of an orange sky and something that someone
mumbled nightmarish summer. in the dark times
of climate anxieties, will there also be garlic
cloves? in the dark times of climate anxieties,
will there also be singing?
— Disaster Film
there is no poetry in a flaming
world. there is no poetry in historic
nightmares. in the raging fire, there
is no poetry. welcome to the future.
here, there are no epiphanies—
only long nights and a hollow heat
wave that will never matter— I mean
poor countries waiting for a salvation
that will never come. what did we learn?
did home become better? in the substantive
ferocity of the devastation, we lost our
names—my mother’s green lungs and clear
streams. in the case of flash floods and
tearful survivors: watch out, all climate
refugees are black (as usual). the trunks
of mangled trees still smolders. there
is no spotter plane that tutelage us—
we are all abandoned like hive boxes
in an empty field. so much kindling on
the forest floors. well, the crises seem
tragic and in one unbroken chain. miles
away from home, I still see an opaque
wall of haze over the sea.
— Quick Q&A: Ojo Taiye
Hi Ojo. Firstly, where are you?
Hi TOPIA. I am currently writing from my mini flat located in the eastern part of the Niger. I love hearing the song of canary birds. It’s harmattan season and the trees are throwing their tawny leaves into the compound. Let me just say this, I love the Big Bang of new beginnings, and endings as beginnings. Every act of transformation starts with a rewarding and exciting first step; a voice that rings out in passionate open-mindedness, boldly embracing the new day as a possibility and prism.
So, why poetry?
I didn’t set out to write poetry, though I was much of a reader while growing up. I was always the last person to leave the local library. I took to poetry when my mother died. Like all poets, there is something about absence, or how a name emerges into your consciousness, about the faces you remember and the lives that are never coming back. My mother died when I least expected – and for so many weird reasons, poetry seems to be my personal connection to the tenderness of one of my greatest heroes. Aside from its transformative power, poetry affords me the opportunity to communicate truth and disperse illusions in the purest of artistic terms.
Tell us something about your world that isn’t mentioned enough within mainstream media.
Even though Africa is estimated to produce just 4% of global emissions – compared to 80% by the most industrialised countries – it’s the continent that pays the highest price. What’s heartbreaking is this system of disinterest defined instead by the ever-smaller circles of empathy. The realities wreck families, lands, and livelihood – yet barely make the news cycle. Given the scale of the destruction and the compressed time to act, we need collective action to save ourselves and the planet.
What brings you joy daily?
I look forward to the morning, the hours after everyone has left for their workplace. It is always a wonderful moment in the early hours of a beautiful day, when much goes silent. There’s stillness in the air, but at the same time, this ambience where everything is happening, and all I want to do is soak up the book of poems I am reading or the poem I am working on.
What role does art have in today’s society?
Art can shed light on certain societal issues, to spur dialogue, as well as contribute in some small way to the struggle for tolerance and open-mindedness. However, to grow a more inclusive society, we will need more than just creative resistance. That said, I believe a just society portrays a community with all its flaws intact. My practice is based on this type of hope. We need to establish more creative platforms to amplify Indigenous and Black voices.
What do you want readers to take away from your work?
Speaking as a poet, W. H. Auden wrote with feigned modesty, “All I have is a voice”, and I could say the same. But, like Auden, I know that a voice is not to be underestimated, provided it can be given reach. Poetry is a way of life and a language to communicate with – the only legacy I would like to offer my reader is empathy. The consequences of climate change are difficult to reckon with. The Earth is being made into a less hospitable place, not only for ourselves but for all the kaleidoscopic varieties of life.
Tell us some Nigerian poets we should know.
I would like to shine a light on four Nigerian poets whose works encapsulate my worldview with an intensity and directness that’s as striking as it is essential. Their knack for musicality, poetic traditions, and witnessing has given voice to the value of Nigerian poetics.
Ayokunle Samuel Betiku, whose poems explore issues related to faith, belonging and the concept of memory is one of them.
Much of Samuel A. Adeyemi’s poetics aims to interrogate identity, as well as the grim realities of a world full of wars, pain, and the glimmering potential of something new.
While his poems are often mournful and lamenting, it is so rare to find a poet like Timi Sanni, whose primary narrative thread is the simple act of witnessing.
Also, without a doubt, Samba Samuel is one poet invested in recasting the esoteric experience.
When it comes to words and lyrics, what’s the last song you’d want to hear during your time here on earth?
(Laughs). ‘We Gon’ Be Alright’ by Tye Tribbett
What’s so good about this?
Poetry can help us make sense of the world. As a conduit for self-expression, it helps us to explore and understand ourselves – and the world in which we live. Poetry affords us the opportunity to imagine the pains and pleasures of others. Its intimacy of tone can make us look slowly, and embody an experience. Plus, it equips us with metaphors to understand what we cannot articulate directly.
Meet the writer
Ojo Taiye is a young emerging artist who uses poetry as a handy tool to hide his frustration with society. He also makes use of collage and sample technique. He is the winner of many prestigious awards including the 2021 Hay Writer’s Circle Poetry Competition and 2021 Cathalbui Poetry Competition, Ireland.
You can support Ojo by reading and sharing his work.