The name Dami Ajayi is not new in the Nigerian literary scene. In 2014 Ajayi’s first poetry collection titled Clinical Blues was the talk of the internet. Clinical Blues, was part of This is Africa’s 100 best books from 2010 to 2014. For a country which still has a poor reading culture, Ajayi’s book exceeded expectations, more so because it was a collection of poetry.
Four years later, Ajayi, who is a Senior Registrar at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital Yaba and a prolific music critic, is set to release his second book of poems this year. The cover of Ajayi’s anticipated book was designed by Victor Ehikhamenor, one of Nigeria’s leading artists who exhibited at this year’s Venice Biennale at the first ever Nigerian Pavilion.
Book clubs, writers, anticipating readers and literary lovers have been sharing the picture of the book cover on social media. The book cover is Ehikhamenor’s Before You Sister Idoto, a reference to Christopher Okigbo’s Heaven’s Gate, which is arguably the greatest modern Nigerian poem. The author’s picture is also similar to that of Okigbo’s photo in Labyrinth, his only poetry collection. Some have gone as far as debating about Ajayi’s controversial book title A Woman’s Body is a Country as having both feminist and patriarchal readings.
Chris Abani, author of Graceland and Sanctificum said “Dami Ajayi writes poignantly about family, loss, trauma, and the mystery of the human psyche with compassion and deep insight. With poems reaching always for the redemptive, Ajayi renders a seldom seen vulnerability in Nigerian poetics leaving the reader with more hope and full of light.”
The Saraba co-founder in an interview with Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún said “the book took much longer to write and was more exciting to work on.” Ajayi says he has “no qualms being open” about his experiences which he hopes are singular as well as universal, adding that he wanted to “show how the noun ‘affection’ becomes a verb.”
These are poems of life turned inside out, where time cheats on writers, and the people and things at the brunt end of our oppressive pleasures come back to haunt us. Dami Ajayi is a poet in love with language and it’s slipperiness. – Mukoma Wa Ngugi
A Woman’s Body is a Country which was initially titled The World According to Affection explores romantic pursuit mostly. Published by Ouida Books, the first book in the Ouida Poetry Series, Harry Garuba described the book as “a work of impressive artistry. The power of these poems lies in their ability to transform ordinary everyday phenomena into memorable, lyrical nuggets of experience.” He described Ajayi as a “very exciting new voice, not just in Nigerian poetry but for the world.”
There is no doubt about the level of expectation the book has garnered. Nigerian poet Jumoke Verissimo commented on the book: “Dami Ajayi journeys into emotional borders that reveal the burdens of transitions, offering us lyrical poetry that reinvents perspectives. Here is the poetry of the quotidian, a philosophic and profound interrogation of relationships, of words, of bodies and their burdens, of times and time. There is poetry here, and it breathes.”
The book is set to be released at the Ake Arts and Book Festival in November this year. If there is any doubt about the relevance and continuous existence of poetry, Ajayi’s A Woman’s Body is a Country has dispelled that.